Archive for August, 2011

Architecture On Loan

Many details you find in architecture and design are borrowed from plants.  The acanthus mollis L.- (Bear’s Breech) is one such plant.  I’ve always loved the Corinthian column, with its curving leaf details.  I’ve incorporated the column into my home and garden.  One can definitely see how the bloom and foliage are on loan to architecture for added interest in buildings, furniture, trims, and decorative items.  So the first time I saw one in the garden center, I had to have it!  That was about nine years ago.  It’s given me great pleasure ever since.   I’ve been able to divide it, since it sends out shoots through it’s rhizomes.    I’ve also purchased some other varieties.  Some years it’s abundant with bloom, other years it’s not very productive.  What I’m calling a bloom is actually a stem of tubular white to rose flowers surrounded by three purple bracts.   There is only one stem of bloom this year.  Perhaps the heat is to blame.  It usually appears in mid summer and last quite some time.  Either way, bloom or not,  it’s a very interesting plant having large leaves that add texture.  Do be careful though;  it has a spiny nature and hides a thorn.   As an added benefit, the blooms dry well for arrangements.  I’ve included it in my Tuscan garden since it is native to the Mediterranean region.

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I emerge as soon as the sun set this time of the year, and can often be seen hovering before flowers as I sip nectar.  Occasionally I can be seen in daylight zooming around the garden, especially late in the season.  I am an amazing flier and have often been compared to a nocturnal hummingbird.

I am easily recognized by my large size, big eyes, furry brown thorax and six white stripes, tan band down each forewing with a row of white-lined veins across the forewings and by my pink and black hindwings.  Unlike my more svelt butterfly cousins…I have to beat my wings very fast just to stay aloft…a characteristic that enables me to hover in mid-air like a hummingbird.

Being a mainly nocturnal flier, I prefer white or other pale tubular flowers which are easier to see in the evening.  During daylight I can often be seen feeding at red or other brightly colored flowers…quite a contrast to my night-time color preferences.

The larvae of some of my more distant cousins can be quite destructive when emerging in your tomato or pepper patch.

Please post your answer as a comment.

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Bible Gardens

What a nice tour.  Great ideas for my daughter, who teaches kindergarten at a Lutheran School in Grand Rapids.  She was inspired.  We enjoyed wonderful fellowship afterwards as well at Jennie’s home.  My only regret was not being able to stay and walk around.  Another time maybe.  Jennie you certainly are an outstanding host.  Your sweet corn was the best I’ve ever had.  Loved your coleslaw too (and I’m not the only one from the comments).  Thank you for giving us such a great lesson at the gardens and  your entire family for hosting a great feast from your bounty afterwards.

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Sensory Gardens

Thank you Naida and Chris for your hard work yesterday morning.  The beds look great!  I’m shocked at how much we accomplished.  I finished the Island bed and the one by the bench last night.  Just have a few to pull under the Weeping Willow tree. I’ll take care of that in the next few days.  How rewarding it was when I left yesterday morning to see a family at the picnic table (gingham table-cloth and all) under the Willow preparing for a picnic lunch.   Again last evening folks were enjoying that same table, without the branches in their faces.  That made it all worth it.  It was nice to have community members thank us for what we were doing.  I’m happy it is so appreciated.

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So soon a complete article will be written and will show the completed Sundial Project at Veterans Park.  All credit to those involved will be given at that time.  But we thought it might be nice to just post a few shots of the location and some of the progress.  If you’re in the area, stop by, it’s almost complete.  They were setting the hour stones this past Saturday.

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We really need to work on the Childrens Sensory Garden beds.  They are overgrown with weeds.  I’m working on them a bit at a time.    However, I need some volunteers to help me out.  Once they are done, it’ll be much easier to keep up.   With the hot weather , morning has been my choice of time.  This week we are to get cooler weather.  With group of volunteers  we could get them done in no time.   How would This Thursday be for some of you? (Aug. 11)  Let me know if you can help.  I’ll be there both in the morning for a few hours and again Thursday evening about 6:00pm for a few hours.  It would be nice if we had a group there for photos working on this community project.

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Mystery Bug #1

Really-Pink-Katydid_thumb2This insect has an uncommon genetic mutation which results in its bright pink color. It is found in our area during this time of year. Name the mystery bug. Bonus if you can name the mutation! Post your response as a comment. Winner gets bragging rights!

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I confess, I love using every odd container that doesn’t look like a clay pot for my garden containers. As many of you know, I obsess about food and my “batterie de cuisine” is proof. Canners, roasters, skillets, colanders, wicker food gift baskets from Harry and David, galvanized wash tubs and yes, a fish poacher (I have 4) are put into service to hold my annuals and cherry tomatoes. The list can be endless. Just remember, the container needs good drainage, my power drill takes care of that. If I don’t like the color, spray paint is my best friend.

Perennials shrubs and small trees can also be potted in a container, but I am programmed to plant those in the ground. Fall is busy enough with removing annuals from the ground, planting next spring’s bulbs and raking, so just thinking about replanting a potted blueberry shrub in the ground gives me vapors.

Since this article really isn’t about me but planning great containers, a few reminders on how, what and where need to be mentioned. It might be a tad late for this year’s showcase but as gardeners’ say, “wait until you see my gardens next year”.

Planting Techniques

To improve aeration and to add weight to the container, line the bottom with pebbles, broken pottery or a few rocks. If the container is large and if weight is the problem, fill discarded onion or potato sacks with the plastic peanuts for bulk (thanks, Jennie).

Container Media

Prepared soil-less mixes are preferred for containers. The basic components of these mixes are organic matter and perlite, vermiculite or sand. Standard mixes are free of disease organisms, weed seeds and insects. (I can supply those all myself). A common proportion is 2 parts organic matter to 1 part perlite, vermiculite or sand. I add additional organic matter from my compost bins. Add a slow-released granular or powdered fertilizer to the soil-less mix. Nutrients are washed away much faster in a container than a plant in the ground.


Fill your container half full with potting mix. Moisten the potting mix; it should be damp not wet. Remove the plant from its original container, loosen its roots and stand the plant in the soil. Fill the pot with more soil, making sure to get rid of any large air spaces in the soil. The root ball should be level with the surface of the potting soil. Leave some space between the top of the soil and the top of the container so water and soil will not run out of the top.

Two common mistakes are underpotting and overpotting. A good rule of thumb is that the root ball of the plant, when in a pot, should have about 1 inch of soil around it. Water the plant thoroughly.

Watering and Fertilizing

As mentioned previously, most containers, including hanging baskets, will need daily watering. If the top layer feels dry to the touch, water that container until water runs through the drainage holes. Apply a water soluble or liquid fertilizer every few weeks once the plants are established.

Now comes the fun part-plant selection

Or maybe the most stressful

See the big picture when combining plants. We are all familiar with the “spillers, fillers and thrillers concept. The best way to assemble a winning container combination is not to be shy about mixing and matching plants at the garden center. Walk around with your plants and stand back when pondering a possibility. Don’t be too swayed with flowers already in bloom, they come and go; we live with SHADE so foliage is my place to start. Plants with interesting leaves can bring structure, texture and color to a design. Focus on a plant that catches your eye and match it to other plants. Choosing a blend of glossy, matte or fuzzy leaves adds another level of interest. Look for color compatibility, paying attention to intensity among those plants. This doesn’t mean that having a bold contrast in that mix won’t work, it can.

Don’t forget, when you do choose plants, consider your site and the plant requirements.

Late-Season Gardening

If Peter Rabbit or Japanese Beetles have wreaked havoc on your container, don’t despair, drive to the garden store and buy a few new replacement plants. August is the time for bargains and mums. A perfect time to try a few new combinations, besides, I have 3 more fish poachers to fill.

Patio Garden-small spaces, Frank’s Nursery and Crafts

Designing Great Containers, Fine Gardening May 2009

Office of Public Programs, U.S. Botanic Garden July 1991

Georgeann Brown

1992 Master Gardener Class

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