Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Astilbe Straussenfeder 'Ostrich Plume'

Today's featured garden choice is the Ostrich Plume Astilbe. I chose this astilbe because of it's uniqueness amongst the other varieties. I remember seeing it years ago when I had my landscaping business. I walked into a local grower's nursery and saw this astilbe blooming in one of their perennial borders. It was magnificent and definitely a showier version of it's siblings. I instantly fell in love! I inquired about it and the grower told me that it was hard to find because people don't realize it's ethereal quality. So....... most growers won't take the risk of it not selling to local garden centers. Hmmm...isn't that what life/business is all about?..taking risks? I digress. The reason I like it, as with most plants I choose, is because it is different from what everyone else likes. I like popular plants as much as anyone but I tend to drift towards what no one else seems to have the imagination to try. :)

This astilbe is hardy from zone 4 thru 8. It grows to a higher height than most, 2~3ft high with a 1~2 ft spread. Per photo, this astilbe grows in clumps and the large, loose, weeping panicles of pink bloom June thru July on arching stems. Stunning!! Like all astilbe this one prefers a part to full shade position in your garden with moist, humusy, organically rich soil. Whatever you do, the astilbe must not be allowed to dry out because the leaves will start to curl and turn brown....that's just uncalled for ugly. You will be able to tell when this astilbe needs to be divided because it will produce fewer flowers and leaves. Normally...most perennials like to be divided every 3~4 years so you should have a gardening bible, of which I call a calendar, to know when anything has been planted.

I do hope you will experiment with this beautiful gem and as alway....Happy Gardening!


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hydrangea Serrata 'Preziosa'

In case I didn't mention this in my last post, all the plants I will be writing about are either planted in my shade garden or I want to add them in the near future.

Today I am excited to present to you a hydrangea that I feel has gotten very little exposure since it's introduction in 1961. I first saw this beauty in a gardening magazine about 10 years ago that featured an article on Heronswood Nursery and I fell in love!!! I realize that the general public likes the big showy mophead varieties (the mentality of seeing something shiny I but this particular hydrangea gives you a multitude of visual interests throughout the growing season.

First, it is a serrata which is also commonly called a Sawtooth type of hydrangea. It is on the small size growing 3~4 ft. in height with the same width. It's blooms, as you can see in the picture are a mophead style but much smaller. They begin white, pale green, pink or lavender and mature through the season to an intense mauve and mottled with a darker burgundy color. What more can you ask for in interest? I will tell you. The leaves which have a toothed edge emerge tinted with purple. As they mature they change to green and then back to red and purple hues in the fall. Wait! There is more! The stems vary from green with a maroon tint to dark maroon color. I think this hydrangea is at it's peak of beauty in the early fall when these colors seem to be intensified with the other colors of nature surrounding them.

This beautiful slice of gardening heaven is hardy to zone 5a to 8a. In the zone 5 area it is a good idea to protect it from winter conditions ie: wind, too much snow or not enough, and heaving caused by thawing and freezing. Simply use burlap to surround the plant and fill in with a loose leaf mulch. Please give it a protected afternoon shady position in your garden with an acidic soil content. This hydrangea blooms in midsummer on old wood so do not prune it except for removing spent flowers and weak or winter damaged stems in early spring. It also has no serious insect or disease problems. Believe me, you will NEVER regret having this beauty in your garden :) Happy gardening!!


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hydrangea Arborescens

I am a HUGE fan of hydrangeas and wish I had enough room in my garden for ALL of the varieties but alas I only possess enough space for a few well chosen favorites....kind of like your friends :) Hydrangea Arborescens is one of those favorites, also known as the Smooth Hydrangea, the "Annabelle" variety being the most widely known and popular. I have added it to my shade garden for obvious reasons but there are many other reasons to have it in your garden as well:
~easiest hydrangea to grow
~fast rate of growth
~adaptable ph
~long flowering period (June-September)
~in general, trouble-free

This hydrangea grows 3-5 ft. in height and 3 to 5 ft. and larger in spread. It multiplies by suckers from the roots which means it is very easy to share with your friends :) It is hardy from zone 4 thru 9 but the further south you are the more afternoon shade and moisture it will require. It transplants well and will reward you if you provide it with a rich, well-drained, moist soil. The hydrangeas favorite position...NO, not that kind... is a site with morning sun and afternoon shade. It will definitely let you know when it requires a drink of H2O, the leaves will not only droop but they will develop a dog-earred look over a period of time. There is a list of possible diseases and insects that bother it but I don't like negativity so we won't go there. The truth is, I have never experienced any of the problems the "experts" list and I have been growing this hydrangea somewhere in the United States for 15 years. This shrub flowers on new wood so you can prune it back hard in the spring or you can let it go then prune it after it's initial flowering and you should get another bloom cycle in September.

The disappointing characteristic of this particular hydrangea is the fall palette....basically, there is none. The leaves turn yellow, the flowerheads brown and it just looks like a very unattractive you know anyone like that? I might suggest that you harvest the flowers while they are that beautiful shade of light apple green and dry them for a nice winter bouquet or even a wreath. I still have my dried Annabelles in a vase from last season....still beautiful I might add! If you have a spot in your garden for this flowering shrub I would HIGHLY recommend that you add it now and you will surely be rewarded. Happy Gardening!!


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lament of a Garden Center Employee

I remember when I started gardening..many moons ago. I sat down with a few books from the local library and started a little something called RESEARCH. Those of you who don't comprehend what that is a fact finding mission where you gather information, analyze it and come to a conclusion. Plain and simple...right? To me, there is a straightforward approach to finding out information you require for any project, let alone gardening. There is an abundance of information out there concerning the act of manning a shovel or water hose but like anything else, you must decide what is truly best for you and experiment. Gardening is about using your God-given brain and trial and error to find what works.

I honestly enjoy discussing gardening and giving good advice.... BUT... can anyone tell me why millions of people descend upon their local garden centers each spring like a bunch of hungry locusts and drive those of us who work there to the point of madness with idiotic questions and I might add, the same questions over and over. Then also tell me why most of my conversations go something like this: Scuse me! Can you help me? I have an area that is such and such a size and I want a plant that is drought tolerant, blooms all summer, and doesn't get any higher than this(as they show you with their hand how tall off the ground they mean), and I don't really have time to fuss with it. Inside my head I am choking this individual within an inch of their sorry existance...but I smile and gather all the pertinent information and try to come up with an idea as I flip through my cranial rolodex. As with many of the customers, I finally give them a suggestion and the reply is "I don't like that" back to the choking image I go and think of another direction to turn. The problem is that most people want the biggest bang with not a lot of work. Hmmmm...imagine that! Hence the lazy, self indulged gardener. Yes, the same one who instead of taking time to enjoy the beauty around them says to me(because I am the first person they see) scuse me! you work here?(as the company name screams off my tshirt)....where are the vegetable plants? I point ten feet away and turn back without uttering a sound.

I can certainly distinguish between who is genuinely trying to understand and has done a little homework and the ones who just get an idea stuck in their heads because they saw something they like and want it in their very own yard. Sorry's the wake up call....nature does not...I repeat, does not alter itself so you can be the envy of all your neighbors. The very act of gardening is supposed to bring a calmness to a few hours of your day. Mother nature rewards you when you pay attention to things like natural light, wind direction, water requirements and most of all, using the gifts she has provided to get the best results, instead of the man-made super problem solvers. Coexisting in harmony with nature is the key to a beautiful sanctuary. You can see who is a true gardener just by looking at the natural beauty they have surrounding them.

We are now starting to wind down from the height of the season and the craziness but please do us ALL a season be a little less demanding, a little more patient and... FOR PETE'S SAKE DO A LITTLE RESEARCH!!!