Everyday Gardeners

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Plants

Coin-shaped seed pods have earned Lunaria the common names of ‘money plant’ and ‘silver dollar plant.’

When I was young, one of my mother’s close friends had a garden tucked with all sorts of interesting things, such as  dill, horseradish, and strawflowers. But my favorite plant was her Lunaria because it yielded bouquets of silvery, translucent disks. Though named the “money plant” or the “silver dollar plant”, to me the seedpods looked like bundles of tiny moons tethered to the earth by slender but tenacious stems. The Latin name ‘Lunaria’ means “moonlike.”

Last year, my 7-year-old son discovered “money plant” seeds at the nursery and was instantly attracted to the idea of growing money. Lunaria is easy to grow, though we actually forgot we had planted it until this summer when the distinctive pods emerged. The Lunaria plant itself looks unremarkable in the garden, with broad, floppy leaves and clusters of shy, purple flowers. When the seedpods sprouted, they looked like flattened sugar peas. Then they turned a dirty brown that definitely looked unappealing (in fact, when I harvested a Lunariaplant this summer and left it on a patio table to dry, my husband tossed it on the compost pile). But peel back the dry husk and a shiny, papery moon reveals itself, ready to last for years in a dried flower arrangement or on its own.

The green seed pods and purple flowers of Lunaria.

My son, though, was a little disappointed he couldn’t spend the “money” we raised in our garden.

 

The dry, brown seed pod husks peel off easily to reveal translucent surprises inside.

Lunaria, a member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family, originated in Europe and migrated to America with early settlers.  The plants are biennials, growing one year and flowering the next. The seeds sprout easily, making them a nuisance in tidy gardens. They bloom spring through early summer. In Zone 5, where I garden, the pods were dry and ready for cutting by early August.

 

How to Grow:

Direct sow Lunaria seeds in the spring and cover lightly with soil, then water.

Lunaria thrives in most soil types (even my clay!), prefer sunny sites but deal with partial sun. Fertilize once a year, if you’re into that sort of thing, and water if they seem droopy (but remember that Lunaria dislike consistently soggy soils). After the seedpods have turned brown, they are ready for harvesting. If not quite ready, you can hang upside down and dry for an additional week or two. Then simply peel off the brown layers on each side of the pearly “coin” and your Lunaria are ready for display.


 

Nothing has served as a better “welcome home” greeting this spring than my  Suncatcher tulips.  The tulips began blooming in mid-April and continue to dazzle my slowly-waking front yard with petals of brilliant yellow and cherry red. They are the first thing I see as I return home, sparking life into the southwest corner of my front yard where all passers-by stop to admire their rather optimistic cheerfulness projecting above the brown pine needles and hesitant green spikes of new spiderwort.

Last fall, when I hastily poked a dozen holes into the slope of my front garden, I gave little thought to the fat tulip bulbs that had just arrived from Longfield Gardens. Pressed for time, I covered the bulbs with soil and promptly forgot all about them until pops of color announced that winter was over. Even my young sons noticed the tulips after they first bloomed. “They should have named these ‘Rainbow Tulips’” decided my 8-year-old. “Because these tulips have the first three colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow.”

For those who live in the colder climes, where months of gray and brown prevail, a clutch of tulips planted along driveways or front entrances makes an ideal greeting. Returning from work at the end of the day seems like arriving at a little spring party (and shouldn’t it be that way this time of year?).

 

 

 

 


Buckwheat grows next to asparagus at the Food at First community garden in Ames, Iowa.

Buckwheat possesses a dainty charm, its frothy white blossoms buzzing with bees above its kelly-green leaves. And buckwheat makes an excellent cover crop in the veggie patch once you’ve harvested your early-summer lettuce and peas.  Just a little interesting discovery I learned last weekend during the second annual Edible Garden Tour in Ames, Iowa.  The garden tour involved eight different gardens (both community and residential) scattered across town.

I had gone to reap a few ideas for my own front-yard garden. Along the way I met people passionate about edible gardening, sustainable agriculture and community involvement. I also found pretty, red-stemmed okra and masses of rudbeckia luring beneficial insects into the garden. I found tomato plants heavy with fruit and blueberries just starting to turn red.

Garden tours serve as wonderful motivators to try something different,such as cover crops to add nitrogen to your soil and suppress weeds. Which is exactly what I will do, before it’s too late in the season.

Rudbeckia swarms with beneficial insects in this lush residential edible garden.

Food at First grows, collects and redistributes food items to those in need in Ames, Iowa.


A few years ago I tilled up the entire lawn in my front yard and planted herbs, veggies, fruits and edible flowers, but I had a dilemma. How should I handle the strip that runs between the sidewalk and street curb? I certainly didn’t want to eat anything that grew in street grit and car exhaust and was irrigated by passing dogs. Over time, that strip has turned into my test garden for perennials and a few annuals, such as this bunny tail grass (Lugurus ovatus). Bunny tail grass is like the adorable kitten of the botanical world. It makes me smile every time I see it bobbing playfully in the breeze. My 5, 8 and 10-year-old sons can’t pass bunny tails without giving the silky-soft seed heads a quick stroke.

I started the grass seeds in my pantry early last spring and transported them outside the first week of May. The grass is doing quite well in my fairly dry curb strip and has been very low maintenance. Right before the first major snowfall, I plan to clip a few bunny tails for dried flower arrangements. Until then, they can amuse my family and passers-by.


The following is a guest blog post from Katie McCoy Dubow.

The winter blues affects us all differently, but surrounding yourself with fresh, colorful plants all winter is sure to be the cure for what ails you.

With color, texture, drama and a touch of whimsy, indoor plants instantly liven up any room with their individual personalities and will help you beat the winter blues this year. Whether it’s a terrarium full of succulents or the bold colors of an amaryllis, there is an indoor garden that will fit your style, mood and taste.

Besides what they give back in aesthetics, one of the greatest things indoor plants do is provide much needed humidity in the winter months and freshen the air year round.

Here are four, easy indoor garden styles to brighten up your home this winter:

Craft a mini garden with maximum impact.
Terrariums are a popular garden style because they require little maintenance to flourish, yet have an endlessly elegant look.  The key to success is choosing the right plants. A great variety to start with is Golden Club Moss because it thrives in a low light, high moisture environment. Other great starter plants include water-retaining, light-loving succulents and cacti. They’re virtually indestructible and come in many colors, shapes and varieties.

Learn how to make your own terrarium.

Create inner peace.
Creating this indoor garden will help calm and relax your mind. Every aspect of a Zen garden — its nature, construction and upkeep — is designed for contemplation and reflection. Rocks and sand make up the basic elements, but beyond that it’s up to you. NativeCast’s dish containers work perfectly as a base for your Zen garden because of their size and shape.  Have fun with it and think of it as an ever changing work of art.

Photo credit: NativeCast

Even more Japanese garden inspiration.

Make your room come alive.
Greenery is growing in surprising places. Just look up and around. Now you can get your nature fix inside with your very own living walls or vertical gardens. If you have the time and resources, or want a visually dramatic look for a room, living walls are the ticket.

Garden expert at Costa Farms, Justin Hancock, says that living green walls are a great way to maximize the benefits of houseplants by purifying the air and beautifying spaces. Try hanging one in the kitchen planted with herbs for fresh kitchen flavors all year long.

With more and more companies selling these kits and supplies, it’s easy to re-create these gardens over a weekend.
 

Make your own living wall.

Pop a color that will last all winter.
Growing bulbs indoors in the winter lets you enjoy the colors and fragrance of spring even though it’s still months away.  But now’s the time to get started.

First, choose your bulbs. Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus from Longfield Gardens are perfect for indoor gardening because they don’t require any chill time. I like to plant bulbs every week in the winter, so I can have blooming flowers all winter long.  Paperwhites will bloom in four to six weeks, amaryllis in six to eight.

Photo credit: Longfield Gardens

Here are my top 12 favorite ways to decorate with amaryllis.

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Katie McCoy Dubow is creative officer at Garden Media, a PR firm specializing in the horticulture industry.

 

 

 

 

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I’m truly a plant geek at heart. I get giddy at the thought of new plant varieties. I get anxious at the end of an Iowa winter, awaiting the first sign of green. That’s why I plant spring-blooming bulbs. While it’s almost tedious to have to plant them in the fall (I’ve been tending to the garden all year now, I’m ready for a break!), I understand it’s a necessary chore to help cure my inevitable cabin fever come spring.

Recently, Longfield Gardens shared with me a series of tulips that have me completely mystified. A particular type of tulip that has me as giddy as a school girl in a candy store. A variety of tulip you have to have — above all other varieties. Are you intrigued yet?

{dramatic pause}

Have you heard of tulips that change color as their bloom matures?

{eeek!}

{happy dance}

Bashfully, I admit, I had not heard of such a thing! And naturally, I have to have them. They’re like a two-for-one special: Early blooms bring one color and as the flower ages, you get another!

Get your trowels ready folks, your garden deserves some color-changing tulips. Here is a brief summary of each tulip, but I encourage you to visit Longfield Gardens’ website to learn more.

Shirley

I’ve been crushing on Shirley for a long time now — and can’t wait to see her in all her glory next spring. Surely she’s a winner — right? :)

Shirley’s Details from Longfield Gardens:
A color-changing tulip that opens creamy white with lilac-purple stitching around the edge of each petal. As the blossoms mature, the color slowly spreads until the entire flower is laced with soft purple. Read more here.

Moulin Rouge

This tulip is so romantic, especially after seeing how Longfield Gardens displayed the blooms in a vase. Moulin Range would be the perfect pick-me-up.

Moulin Range’s Details from Longfield Gardens: 
This color-changing tulip puts on a new show every day. It opens creamy white with striking raspberry-pink accents. As the flower matures, the petals become more colorful, until they’re almost completely suffused with cherry pink, rose and crimson. Read more here.

Flaming Purissima

For a more delicate touch, Flaming Purissima belongs in your garden with its classy, white-to-pink blooms.

Flaming Purissima’s Details from Longfield Gardens: 
Welcome spring with this elegant, early-blooming tulip. Like all Emperor tulips, the flowers change day by day, opening ever wider as they mature. The colors also soften from pink to snowy white. An ideal companion for daffodils and hyacinths. 
Read more here.

So, which tulip is your favorite?
What? All of them?
Yeah, me too.
Better order now! I heard these beauties go fast!

 

Image credit: Longfield Gardens.


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