Plant Oddity – Pumpkin On A Stick

Use pumpkin on a stick in fall displays

Halloween is around the corner and people are starting to decorate with the many types of pumpkins available at the farmer’s market. The past 10 years have seen an explosion of all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes of pumpkins, but I am in love with a diminutive one, which actually isn’t a real pumpkin, but an eggplant., specifically Ornamental Eggplant, (Solanum Integrifolium). For different types of real pumpkins, go to my Pumpkin Eye Candy post.

Pumpkin on a Stick seed packet at Botanical Interests

Ornamental or Food?

Falling in the eggplant family, the little pumpkins, Solanum integrifolium, are not really pumpkins, but an ornamental used in stir-fried Asian dishes. I grow this cute ornamental jack-o-lantern for jazzing up my Thanksgiving table and fall flower arrangements as it dries nicely and lasts a long time.

Native to Southeast Asia, it grows 3 to 4 feet tall with very large fuzzy leaves that grow from a purple thorny stem. It towers over other eggplants in my garden and the plant looks remarkably like Bed of Nails or Solanum quitoense, profiled in Plant Geek Alert.

Bed of Nails

Culture

Around for over 125 years which makes it an official heirloom vegetable, it has also been called Pumpkin Tree and Pumpkin Bush. Planted directly in full sun in your garden, the plant needs steady moisture and benefits from regular fertilizing as it grows large fast. Pretty soon, the insignificant blooms appear, followed by pale green nubby fruit that turn into their final pumpkin ribbed shape a few weeks later. Insects like to gnaw on the leaves as you can see but deer and rabbits leave it alone because of the wicked thorns.

Started from seed in my greenhouse, by early spring, the plants (with stakes) grow quickly and are ready to plant in the garden as soon as we are frost free
Pumpkin on a Stick growing in my veggie garden has thorns and can get tall (3-4 ft tall)

Harvesting

In late summer, the fruit changes to a scarlet color and when frosts start to hit, the eggplants turn their final rich orange color. You can harvest up to a dozen pumpkins on one plant. When you pick a stem of pumpkins for fresh use, cut the stems and use as is. If you want to dry the pumpkins, hang the entire stalk upside down in a cool dry location, removing leaves. This treatment prevents the fruits from sagging. Fruits will shrivel and the orange color will intensify. For eating, pick the fruits when orange and use in stir-fries.

Cutting my pumpkin on a stick plants
Remove all the leaves and hang to dry
Available in the fall at trader Joe’s

Pumpkin on a stick at the wholesale florist

Butterfly and Bee Magnet, Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Flower with a Monarch

If you want to grow the ultimate flower buffet for butterflies and bees, try Joe Pye Weed.  When there isn’t much else blooming, Joe Pye will surprise you with fuzzy pink umbels of flowers that flying insects clearly relish. I planted only one plant of the great late summer bloomer, Eupatorium dubium, ‘Little Joe’, which has spread to cover an area about 5 feet by 5 feet.  After 5 years of growing this plant, I have found it not to be invasive but it definitely spreads. When it goes beyond its bounds, it is easy to pull it up.

A patch of ‘Little Joe’
My poster available in my Etsy Shop includes other butterfly and bee magnets
I have a nice clump of Joe Pye right in front of my greenhouse

In late summer, my ‘Little Joe’ patch has formed a nice clump in front of my greenhouse; it has finished blooming but I keep it up for structure. It will get taller as the summer progresses.

‘Little Joe’ tops out at 4 feet tall, as opposed to the more commonly grown ‘Gateway’ which can get up to 7 feet high and can flop. I hate to stake flowers, so picked ‘Little Joe’ to avoid that fate.  Now there is another cultivar called ‘Baby Joe’ which only gets 2 to 3 feet high which I need to try next.

Joe Pye is a native wildflower which grows along streams in the wild near my house.  It gets enormous! I stayed away from it for years because of the size and difficulty in siting such a large specimen.  But I am in love with ‘Little Joe’ which has beautiful burgundy stems.

The burgundy stems of ‘Little Joe’ look fantastic against a brick wall
This is a mid-September garden border with the Joe Pye placed towards the back; shorter flowers in front keep it upright

Once the flower starts to bloom, I am sure to see at least a half-dozen different types of bees and butterflies landing, and the other day saw 5 Monarchs resting on my one plant!

Swallowtails on Joe Pye; this is the full size one that towers over me!

‘Little Joe’ comes in a ‘garden friendly’ package of a plant that is easy to grow in full sun to part shade and has sturdy stems that will support the flower heads and won’t bend or flop.  The plant is drought tolerant and fragrant with mauve purple flower heads which can reach 12 inches across!

Dried seed head of Joe Pye

The flower persists for weeks and the seed heads will last through the winter and will provide food for the birds when food is scarce. What is not to like? A tough beautiful, easy to grow plant which provides entertainment. I visit it every day to see what insects and butterflies have made a visit. For more information on planting pollinator plants, go to my posts Creating Monarch Waystation and Plant These For the Bees. Also, my Garden Plan for Pollinators is a good resource.

Available in my Etsy Shop, my plan for a pollinator garden includes Joe Pye Weed
Count the bees!

Ailanthus Webworm moth on Joe Pye
Eupatorium dubium 'Little Joe' Plant
Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’ Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cool Flowers-Early Spring Bloomers

Nigella damascena or "Love-in-the-Mist"
Nigella or “Love in the Mist”
Love in the Mist is an apt name for these blue jewels held in a green mist of foliage
Beautiful poppy, photographed by Pam Corckran
Beautiful poppy, photographed by Pam Corckran
Honey Bees love poppies

Winter is the time to sow your Cool Season Annuals as soon as the soil can be “worked”. This term is gardening slang for soil with a texture that is neither mud nor frozen! After determining that my soil was ready by drawing a rake through it, I gathered my cool season annual seeds together with plant stakes, sharpie for marking, and my favorite multi-bladed sowing rake. On the menu for sowing was Poppies, Bells of Ireland, Love-in-the-Mist, and Calendula.

Bells of Ireland
Calendula comes in both yellow and orange

Calendula seen at Great Dixter, UK

Calendula seed packet on wooden stake
Calendula seed packet on wooden stake

Cool Season Annuals differ from annuals that you sow after the danger of frost is past because the seeds need cold temperatures to germinate and cool temps to grow well in the garden. When hot weather hits, they are history and I pull them out to make way for annuals that relish the hot weather. Poppies are one of my all-time favorite flowers and I make sure to plant plenty. If you are into blue poppies, go to my post on Blue Poppies.

Blue Poppy at Longwood Gardens
‘Lauren’s Grape’ Poppy
Annual poppy, I don’t know the variety
Lady Bird Poppy at Great Dixter
Lady Bird Poppy
An annual poppy blooming in June
An annual double poppy blooming in June

My honey bees love the poppies and go into a frenzy when they are blooming.

Growing quickly in the cool temperatures of late winter and early spring, the cool season annuals are old-fashioned flowers that you would find scattered in an English cottage garden. Best sown outdoors, these flowers are frost tolerant and grow quickly to give you a much-needed dose of color after the long winter. If you want to plant edibles like brassicas, go to pegplant  who writes an excellent blog on gardening and is a fellow GWA member.

 

‘Love in the Mist’ seed head catching the rain drops

Raking the soil with my sowing rake is the only preparation needed. I broadcast sprinkle the seeds as evenly as possible, using dry hands, then tamp down the soil firmly with the rake, not adding any additional soil. Sprinkling the surface with bits of straw or leaves helps keep the soil moist and hopefully hides the seed from wandering birds. I spray a light mist of water on top to moisten the surface and wait with anticipation.

Striped seed head of Love in the Mist

Sowing seeds with my favorite rake

 

Sowing seeds with my favorite rake

Raking the soil
Sprinkle straw loosely over the planting bed to hold in moisture and hide seeds from birds

Beautiful form of Love in the Mist

Popping up quickly through the leaf litter, weeding and sprinkling with water is necessary if we hit a dry spell. Then it is time for the color show! Cutting flowers from these early blooms make great arrangements in the house.

Poppy seed heads are great dried and used in arrangements
Poppy seed heads are great dried and used in arrangements
Nigella or Love-in-the-Mist seed pods are beautiful
Nigella or Love-in-the-Mist seed pods are beautiful
Double fringed peony
Double fringed poppy

Fore a great video on planting cool flowers, go to Cool Flowers, a great website by Lisa Ziegler.

Mistletoe – A Sprig of Romance and Legend

Mistletoe clumps perch high in a tree

Have you ever been in the check out line at the grocery store and seen packaged Mistletoe with white plastic berries? A familiar sight around Christmas, I was always intrigued about this plant but never knew much about it.

A recent trip to the coast of North Carolina opened my eyes to the stomping grounds of this interesting parasitic plant. Driving along the highway in December from the coast of North Carolina to Asheville on a long drive, I had plenty of opportunity to notice the native vegetation and I noticed large green clumps held high up in deciduous trees. Once the leaves drop, you are able to see large birds nests and other debris caught up in the bare branches and these leafy green balls stood out to me. I realized immediately that they must be Mistletoe and soon saw many of the evergreen balls dotted throughout the forest.

Botanically, Mistletoe  is especially interesting because it is a partial parasite, a “hemiparasite”. Being a parasitic plant, it grows on the branches or trunk of a tree and actually sends out roots that penetrate into the tree and take up nutrients. But like any other plant, it can produce its own food by photosynthesis. There are two types of Mistletoe. The Mistletoe that is commonly used as a Christmas decoration (Phoradendron flavescens), is native to North America and grows as a parasite on trees in the west in central California, and the east coast. The other type of Mistletoe, Viscum album, is of European origin and very different from the North American, as it is a green shrub with small, yellow flowers and white, sticky berries which are poisonous like the American cousin.

Bunches of mistletoe for sale at $3 a bunch at a farmers market in North Carolina

One of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore, Mistletoe was believed to bestow life and fertility,  a protection against poison, as well as an aphrodisiac. Sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids, it was used in symbolic ceremonies. Gathered at both mid-summer and winter solstices, the custom of using Mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions and has become associated with many folklore customs. In the Middle Ages, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits and over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. These customs were brought to the new world with the immigration of Europeans and native Mistletoe, though a different variety, was here in abundance.

A bunch of Mistletoe  in a tree

Mistletoe is found in a variety of deciduous trees throughout the U.S., in plant hardiness zone 6b through 11. I live in zone 6b in Maryland, so Mistletoe could be found here! And in fact, according to the Washington Post, in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, an 18″ diameter ball of Mistletoe lives in a tree only four-foot high off the ground! Hardy as far north as New Jersey, its preferred habitat is tidewater areas, thus my sightings on the North Carolina coast. Most of the Mistletoe sold on the East Coast during the holidays is collected from North Carolina. Botanists have noticed a march northwards as well as more abundant specimens which they attribute to climate change or global warming.

The glistening white berries each contain a seed

Bright green oval leaves approximately 1 inch long and one-half inch across line waxy bright green stems up to 20 inches long, make Mistletoe an attractive plant. Bright green male or female flowers bloom in fall, followed by white berries in winter. Containing oxalic acid, Mistletoe can be toxic to some animals, including humans. Birds consume the berries, excrete the seeds which fall onto other suitable host trees. Once germinated, root tendrils penetrate the bark and start forming the typical clump of evergreen foliage. These clumps can reach five feet in diameter and weigh up to 50 pounds. Since Mistletoe is a parasite, a large population of Mistletoe plants on a tree will weaken it and hasten its demise.

But the plants are important to wildlife and as well as to humans. Extracts from Mistletoe are used to combat colon cancer that are more effective than chemotherapy. Mistletoe-killed trees provide nesting sites for cavity dwelling mammals and birds. And the living clumps of Mistletoe provide shelter for many birds. Three kinds of U.S. butterflies depend on mistletoe for survival: the great purple hairstreak, the thicket hairstreak and the Johnson’s hairstreak. These butterflies lay eggs on Mistletoe, and their young eat the leaves. The adults of all three species feed on Mistletoe nectar, as do some species of native bees.

Johnson’s Hairstreak, photo from Wikipedia, Alan Schmierer

The kissing custom may date to at least the 1500s in Europe. It was practiced in the early United States and each time a couple kissed under a Mistletoe sprig, they removed one of the white berries. When the berries were all gone, so was the sprig’s kissing power.

Finding Mistletoe at a local North Carolina farmers market, I snatched several bunches to take home with me for decorations. I asked the farmer who was selling the bunches how he could harvest the clumps high in the tree and he told me that he shoots them down with a shotgun!  Thinking he was joking, I talked with others at the market and they confirmed this. Rarely is Mistletoe found at an accessible height and I had no idea shooting was an option.

Making a Kissable Mistletoe Ball

Start with a moss-covered ball of oasis

Snip your branches into smaller pieces that contain both foliage and berries
Using fern pins, U-shaped pins, insert pins into stems and attach to base
Fern pins are used to attached the sprigs of Mistletoe
Finish it off with a bow and hang with fishing line

For more Christmas decorating posts, try Williamsburg Christmas, Christmas Wreath-Ordinary to Extraordinary, Holly Love, Boxwood Christmas,  Mantel Magic,  Succulent Christmas. 

Dahlias-Divas of the Garden

From July to a killing frost in October, dahlias dominate my garden with their many petaled lushly colored flowers. Except for a true blue, you can find just about every flower color in a dahlia. Sizes can vary from an enormous 12 inch dinner plate to small button pom poms. Bee magnet blooms cover my plants that are excellent for cutting and using in arrangements. 
Bringing armloads of blooms in the summer will decorate your living space for weeks

Originating with the Aztecs, and arriving in European gardens in 1789, by 1927 F. F. Rockwell, author and founder of Home Garden Magazine,  reported that dahlias ranked in “the leading position of all bulbs grown in America.” For fascinating details on this beloved flower, go to Dahlia Archives of Old House Gardens.   Old House Gardens carries a wealth of heirloom varieties of all kinds of bulbs that you can’t find anywhere else.

Diva dahlia
Dahlia tubers dug up in October ready to be stored over the winter
Easy to grow if given adequate sunlight and rich well-drained soil and plenty of moisture, these shrubby plants grow from tuberous roots, or tubers. Depending on how severe your winters are, they may require digging and storing indoors until planting time next spring. For this reason, many buy new ones every year. 
Getting ready to plant newly arrived tubers from Longfield Gardens
Hundreds of flower forms and colors can confuse people about what varieties to plant but I see this as a great opportunity to try new ones every year and also to go back to my favorites. But remember, the larger the flower, like the dinner plate size (7 inches +), the less flowers it will produce. Juanita, a lovely ruby-red smaller flower (4-5 inches), will produce dozens of flowers compared to a dinner plates’ couple of flowers at a time.  
Pam Howden is a beautiful peach tinged with yellow, seen at Longwood Gardens
Gallery Art Deco, Cafe Au Lait, and Diva are my favorites from Longfield Gardens. There are so many favorites and new ones to pick from! Swan Island from Oregon carries hundreds of varieties and I like how they stamp the name on the tuber so you can even see it when you dig it up for saving. You always have the name even if your tags fade in the sun. Brandon Michael and Hulin’s Carnival were outstanding selections from  Swan Island this year.
Brandon Michael from Swan Island
Sunlight
Select a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day, preferably more. If you can grow a tomato in a spot, you can grow a dahlia. Tolerating partial shade, dahlias will still bloom but less blooms will be available for cutting. And to produce more blooms, dead head and bring the fresh cuts in to enjoy.
Clown-like bloom, not sure of this variety
Hulin’s Carnival
Juanita dahlia, a prize-winning ruby-red, available from Old House Gardens and Swan Island
Not sure of this one
Cafe au Lait dahlia flowers are in shades of cream, pink, and tan

Soil

Heavy feeders, dahlia tubers should be planted in loose fertile soil. Add compost to the soil before planting. Don’t plant in soggy soil; they need good drainage to be successful. Soil temperature must be over 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring and I check this with my instant read cooking thermometer. Tubers can rot if planted in wet cold soil in the spring.
Thermometer says the soil temperature is 61 degrees
Campos Gibby dahlia seen at Longwood Gardens

Planting

Plant tubers by digging a hole three to six inches deep and laying the tuber in it with the growing tip up. The growing tip or bud is obvious as a fresh emerging shoot coming out of the fleshy brown tuber. Cover with soil but don’t water until well after growth emerges. Plant the tubers about 18 to 24 inches apart because they produce bush-like plants.
Planting a Cafe au Lait dahlia tuber in the spring that has already sprouted
York and Lancaster, an heirloom dahlia from Old House Gardens

Care

Staking can be done with tomato cages or with stakes and twine. Most dahlias need to be staked or you will have a plant with branches that will flop on the ground and have misshapen flowers. Water if you don’t get at least an inch of rain per week and the plants benefit from feeding lightly with a granular or liquid fertilizer of a general use fertilizer, not high in nitrogen. High nitrogen will produce more foliage than flowers. Dahlias like cooler conditions so flourish especially well in the late summer when temperatures start to moderate.
Seen at Longwood Gardens, dahlias are lined out in rows and at the end of the row, stakes are hammered in and tied with twine
A newly planted dahlia tuber with a tomato cage and twisted sprouts that have already started to grow while being stored

Saving/Storing

Frost will hit your plants sometime in October or November and they will go from glorious specimen plants to blackened wilted skeletons overnight. Check your weather report and before a hard frost is forecast, cut off every flower and bring it in to enjoy for another week. Once the plants are frost killed, you can start digging around the root ball carefully to remove the shrunken star fish like tuber that is nestled a few inches under the soil. Wash off any soil with a hard stream from your hose and dry in the sun. If you leave you tubers in the ground, I have found that some even come back if the winter hasn’t been too cold. Some people don’t save them, preferring to buy new ones every year.

Wash off your tubers in a crate for easy cleanup

Cut the stems a few inches above the tubers and store them in a container full of peat moss and perlite. I only place two layers of the tubers in a container, as I find that the bottom layers tend to rot more often than the top. If the tubers are too wet, they might rot, so I check them after a couple of weeks of storage to see how they are doing. If they are moldy, I scrape off the mold and add some dry peat moss. You are going to lose some of the tubers, but I have a success rate of about 75% saved tubers.

Storing tubers in peat moss
Using a large rubbermaid container that has a layer of peat moss and perlite

Alternative Method of Planting/Saving

Another method is to plant your tubers in 1 gallon plastic pots early in the spring. When the weather warms up, plant the whole pot in the garden and cover with soil. Leave the tuber in the pot and roots will come out the bottom drainage holes. When frost hits, dig up the entire pot, cutting off roots that are outside of the pot and bring the pot inside and place in a cool dark place for the winter. When shoots come up in the spring, top dress with compost and plant outside for another season of bloom.  I read about this method on Old House Gardens and want to try it next season.

Another method which a friend swears by is to dig up the tubers and shake the loose soil off and place in a large trash bag, leaving all the clinging soil attached to the tubers.  Store the trash bag in an unheated garage that won’t go below freezing. Easy and effective!

Pom Pom Dahlia
Pom Pom form of dahlia
Bees love the single type of dahlias because they can easily get to the nectar and pollen

Arranged in a bowl

 

Heirloom Annuals

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Bachelors Buttons are an old favorite with the most intense blue color

Old timey annuals are back in! Pushed to the side for many years in favor of newer, supposedly better cultivars, I always remember growing these as a child and seeing them in my parents garden. I couldn’t wait to squeeze the snapdragon flowers to make the “mouth” open like a dragon when I was little. Or being fascinated by the pansy faces that I grew and pressing them between the pages of a phone book.

Pansy flower
Violas in a container

With all the new intros of flowers, people forget the old-fashioned flowers that our grandmothers grew and enjoyed. ‘Flowers with a past’, or ‘flowers with history’ intrigue me even in the face of the slant in favor of perennials in recent years. So many people when they hear that a plant is an annual dismiss it as not worth the time and money to plant. But even in a garden of plant snobs, there is room for a diverse choice of antique flowers.

Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower is extremely easy to grow
Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower is extremely easy to grow

Never having given up on clarkia, cleome, calendula, cornflower, and cosmos, I have never stopped growing these neglected blooms and invite other flower lovers embrace them as well. Neglected but not forgotten, all these flowers should be planted and enjoyed by another generation.

Edible Nasturtiums are easy to grow
Nasturtiums
Nasturtiums

Heirloom annuals are plants that have been cultivated for at least one hundred years, and some for much longer. Unimproved flowers that hybridizers haven’t got their hands on, antique annuals bloom profusely all season long and set seed so that you can collect them to flower for another year. Even better, many reseed to continue growing for the next season. Many are tall and graceful, not short and stocky hybrids that fit into containers and smaller gardens that are more prevalent today.

Sticky cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower
Sticky Cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower

Difficult to have something in bloom all season long, a perennial border is just shouting out to have annuals inserted in empty spots so you can have a constant parade of blooms.

Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland
Beautiful ruffled Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland
Sweet Peas at Falkland Palace in Scotland
Sweet Peas at Falkland Palace in Scotland
Closeup of Sweet Pea
Closeup of Sweet Pea

Perennial purists who will not allow an annual to cross through their garden gate are missing out on the dizzying palette of flowers that flower and die in one season. Perennial is a term that can be interpreted several ways. I have some short-lived perennials that only last two or three seasons, like lavender. The drainage issue always does this picky perennial in. So, the term perennial could mean – lasts for many seasons, like a peony… or perennial for a few seasons, like some of the new Echinaceas. Echinaceas don’t seem to last very long at all and yet they are called perennials.

I love all the new Echinaceas, but they seem to last only a couple of seasons
Poppies are one of my favorite annuals
Poppies are one of my favorite old fashioned annuals
Blue poppy
Blue Poppy

When most perennials are on their last gasp in late summer, many annuals are still running strong with little care. A bit of dead heading, sometimes staking, and an infusion of fertilizer is enough to keep them in good form all summer. Some annuals like Poppies, Love in a Mist, Bells of Ireland, Clarkia, and Larkspur are definitely cool weather plants finished by June. See my post on Cool Season Annuals.

Purple Larkspur makes a fine foil for pink Poppies
Cool season Bells of Ireland
Cool season Bells of Ireland
Unusual on the east coast, Clarkia is an annual that does better on the west coast
Love in a Mist is aptly named
Dried seed pods of Nigella or Love in a Mist

Cultivated for thousands of years in the Americas, Zinnias are a true antique classic. According to Burpee’s website, “Zinnias are undemanding annuals that simply need full sun, warmth, and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. If soil is poor, incorporate lots of compost or leaf mold”. Like many old-fashioned annuals, Zinnias do better sown directly into the garden instead of being transplanted.

Zinnias draw butterflies

Plumed Celosias are bursting with new cultivars but I really like to grow the unique Crested Celosia. I love the brain-like texture of the velvety bloom and it dries beautifully.

Good for drying, crested celosia has a fascinating bloom
Good for drying, Crested Celosia has a fascinating bloom

Blue Lace Flower
Blue Lace Flower

Blue Lace Flower, Trachymeme coerulea, resembles a purple Queen Anne’s Lace and would look good in a cottage style garden border. Coming from Australia in 1828, you can find this plant reseeding year after year into beds without any special care. Great for cutting and bringing into the house like many heirlooms, arranging with any of these long-stemmed flowers is a delight.

Larkspur and snapdragons from the garden make a fine arrangement
Larkspur and snapdragons from the garden make a fine arrangement
Annie's Annuals is a nursery that specializes in Heirloom annuals; this is one of their demo gardens
Annie’s Annuals in San Francisco is a nursery that specializes in Heirloom annuals; this is one of their demo gardens

All of these heirlooms draw pollinators in droves to their open faced flowers, with easily available pollen and nectar. To see more plants and flowers that attract pollinators, go to Plant These For Bees.

Plant These For The Bees poster available on Etsy
Mexican Sunflower is a butterfly magnet and easy for butterflies to nectar from
False Queen Anne’s Lace or Ammi majus is a great filler flower for arrangements
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A great cottage border of heirlooms Zinnias and Verbena
Love Lies Bleeding or Amaranthus
An arrangement with Bells of Ireland and Love Lies Bleeding

Heirloom Annuals

False Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus

Hollyhock, Alcea rosea

Clarkia

Love Lies Bleeding, Amaranthus

Spider Flower,  Cleome

Snapdragon, Antirrhinum

Larkspur, Consolida

Cosmos

Sunflower, Helianthus

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena

Heliotrope

Balsam, Impatiens balsamina

Sweet Pea, Lathyrus

Four O’Clock, Mirabilis

Pansy and Viola

Lobelia

Flowering Tobacco, Nictotiana

Love in a Mist, Nigella

Poppy, Papaver

Dusty Miller, Senecio

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia

Blue Lace Flower, Trachymene coerulea

Zinnia

Verbena, Verbena bonariensis

Calendula, Pot Marigold

Petunias

 

Black Goes With Everything

Black Iris
Iris ‘Black Suited’

Black is Beautiful

There has been an explosion of black flowers and foliage in the past couple of years in the gardening world.  It started out as a trickle and now is a tsunami of everything black! When I go to the nursery and look at new cultivars of annuals, perennials, and shrubs – all shades of black are represented.

A black foliaged smoke tree sets off the white Alliums

Bat Orchid

The Bat OrchidTacca chantieri  is one of my favorites but needs to be grown in a greenhouse. An exotic plant with flowers that mimic a bat in flight, deep purple to black, with ruffled wings and long, hanging filaments, the flowers last for weeks. Large, attractive leaves surround the bloom.

Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers
Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers

‘Black Magic’ Hollyhocks

These blue-black, tall, stately plants look good in any garden. They should be planted at the back of borders to give a beautiful classic garden look. They flower mid to late summer.

Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls
Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls

 

Black Magic Hollyhock
Black Magic Hollyhock

You have to know how to use black for the best effect. I like to place black flowers or foliage next to very bright intense colors, such as hot pink or lime green to get the biggest impact. The black color gives the eye a rest when you pair it with bright vibrant colors. If you place black plants next to darker hued plants, it just doesn’t work and the black color fades in the background. So use black carefully and site it with some thought.

Anvil of Darkness Iris

'Anvil of Darkness' Iris
‘Anvil of Darkness’ Iris

The bearded black Iris’s are particularly showy with the velvety falls of  black draped against the foliage.

Black and White Iris
Iris ‘Full Figure’

How to Use Black Well

Black plants can also echo other plants that have black stems, black venation or black undertones. I find that if you have a boring or blah border/container, black instantaneously ramps up the visual interest. It can become a focal point if you have a particularly beautiful black plant and enhances nearby plants.

Black in a container makes it stand out
The black foliage of ‘Purple Knight’ Alternanthera picks up the black venation of the petunias

There are all different hues and variations on black and sometimes the amount of sunlight a plant receives will affect the coloration. Also, juvenile foliage will generally be a darker, more intense, shade. In the plant trade describing many of the black plants, you hear adjectives such as chocolate, deep burgundy, midnight, dark purple, or coffee.

The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out
The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out and picks up the venation of the larger leaf

Jack in the Pulpits

Arisaema sikokanum with chocolate coloration

The Japanese Cobra Lily, Arisaema sikokanum, is an elegant cousin to our native Jack In The Pulpit. The spadix is a pure marshmallow white which gives the flower such great contrast.  It looks like a flower all decked out in black tie ready for a party. And the scarlet berries make this expensive plant worth the money for their multi-season interest.

An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit
An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit

Petunias

Black petunias don’t seem natural. But I really like their velvety texture and tones and the Black Phantom one is a stunner and has real ‘wow’ impact .  Many black flowers are black wannabees because they are more a dark purple, but the black petunias are closest to the true black color.

‘Black Phantom’ petunia

black Petunias
Black Petunia playing off of the black Phormium

Black Elephant Ears
Black Elephant Ears

 

Chocolate Ajuga used in a container

Black Sempervivum ‘Dark Beauty’
Black Parrot Tulip
Black Parrot Tulip
Black Hellebore
Black Hellebore
There are even black tomatoes
There are even black tomatoes

Rotten Botany-Stinky Wonders of the Plant World

Corpse Flower in full bloom
Corpse Flower in full bloom

Blooming flowers brings to mind sweet-smelling blooms, not repulsive odors, but there are quite a few flowers that fall into the later category. Carrion flowers, also known as corpse flowers or stinking flowers, emit odors that smell like rotting flesh. The blossoms attract mostly scavenging flies and beetle as pollinators. So even the pollinators are odd and different. The flowers may even trap the insects temporarily to ensure the transfer of pollen. Attracting beetles, flies, and other pollinators is the purpose of the decaying flesh odor and without fail, the flowers are interesting and beautiful in their own unique way.

Bud of the Titan Arum
Bud of the Titan Arum

Titan Arum

The Titan Arum, Amorphophalus titanum, has a massive bell-shaped flower almost 9 feet in height, on record as the tallest flower in the world.   During bloom, the tip of the spadix which is the long structure emerging from the center, is around 98 degrees F, which helps the perfume disperse, which in turns attracts carcass-eating insects. According to Wikipedia, “Analyses of chemicals released by the spadix show the “stench” includes dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid(sweaty socks), benzyl alcohol(sweet floral scent), phenol (like Chloraseptic), and indole (like human feces)”. Quite a mix!

Titan Arum, from Wikipedia
Titan Arum, from Wikipedia

After flowering, a single shoot emerges in the place of the blossom, which is the size of a small tree, standing up to 30 feet tall and 15 feet across. The plant grows from a corm (like a bulb) which weighs up to 150 pounds and is native to the equatorial rain forests of  Sumatra. Imagine encountering this plant in the wild!

Growing for 7 to 10 years, before blooming for just 3 days, the flower will open quickly when it is ready, about 3 inches per half hour. Sought after by botanical gardens around the world because of the numbers of visitors flocking to see it, the flower is incredible in person. I had the opportunity to see it first hand at the Floral Showcase in Niagara Falls last summer and was blown away by the sheer size of the bud.

Closed bud of Arum Titan at Toronto Floral Showcase
Closed bud of Arum Titan at Toronto Floral Showcase

Stapelia

Stapelias are also known as carrion flowers and are small, spineless, cactus-like succulent plants. Usually grown as potted plants, the flowers are hairy and generate the odor of rotten flesh. The color of the flowers also mimics rotting meat, which again attracts flies and beetles-no surprise there! The flowers in some species are quite large, notably Stapelia gigantea which can reach 12 inches in diameter.

I have grown these for years as houseplants and the flies flock to the flowers when open and they really do stink with a foul odor.

Stinky Stapelia is a succulent
Stinky Stapelia is a succulent

Dutchman’s Pipe

Dutchman's Pipe
Dutchman’s Pipe

If you are looking for a striking vining plant, try a Dutchman’s Pipe or Pelican Flower (Aristolochia macrophylla) or Pipe Vine. The plant is a woody vine that produces flowers shaped like curved pipes and large heart-shaped leaves hardy to zones 8 to 10. Again, the flowers attract pollinating flies with their foul odor and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Usually growing 10 to 15 feet long, you need a trellis or other support. The large heart-shaped leaves alternate along a woody stem. Tinged a plum color with speckles, the flowers appear in late spring and early summer.

The flower uses an ingenious way for pollinators, usually flies, to enter and prevents the flies from exiting until the pollen actually has been released within the base of the flower. See this great video by Janet Draper, Smithsonian horticulturist explaining the mechanism.

Once used as an aid to childbirth because of its resemblance to a human fetus the appearance has led to another of the vine’s names, birthwort. Aristolochia  is a potent carcinogen and kidney toxin, so the plant is very toxic. But because of this property, the pipe vine is a host plant for many butterfly species, including the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, thus making themselves unpalatable to most predators.

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Dutchman’s Pipe growing in greenhouse

Alliums All Season Long

Allium schubertii
Allium schubertii

Once in a while a plant comes along which I fall in love with instantly and I can’t do without – in this case Allium schubertii! It is in the onion family so is unpalatable to deer-hooray! A pink or purple fireworks display, Alliums are under-appreciated perennials that will persist for years in your garden with little care.

 Another allium which is a little bit smaller

Another allium which is a little bit smaller
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Sprayed seed head in garden

 

Alliums are great for long-lasting color in flower, and the seed heads live on for years afterward and can be used for decorating, especially for fairy gardens and Christmas.

Dried allium seed heads sprayed gold and silver
Dried allium seed heads sprayed gold and silver

A showy starburst pink flower 12 to 18 inches wide is its trademark (Schubertii), held only 8 inches high, and then it dries right on the plant to a sturdy seed head. If you don’t pick it by early summer, it will become a tumbleweed in your garden. I find the seed heads everywhere after a windstorm as I have dozens of these plants.

Alliums in my garden
Alliums in my garden

Alliums

Of course, there are lots of alliums out there, but I love the soccer ball size of the Schubertii! The bulbs require good drainage and my alliums must be happy as they come up year after year. Planted by bulb in the fall, alliums are not eaten by squirrels either as they have an oniony taste.

Alliums
Alliums planted with Amsonia

 

A large grouping of a smaller allium
A large grouping of a smaller allium

 

So- hardy, deer, rodent and deer resistant, and no care- why aren’t they more widely planted? Probably because they are pricey. In the fall, you frequently see the 3 to 4 foot tall Globe Master allium which could set you back $10 for a single bulb. The other varieties are a little less expensive, but not as easily available in stores.Allium Schubertii

Allium Schubertii

Bees love alliums
Bees love alliums

For the recent Baltimore Symphony Decorator Show House, I strung a half dozen dried seed heads together and suspended them over the fairy garden in the landscape. I had a lot of comments about this feature and most people had never heard of alliums or ornamental onions. This fall I will be adding to my collection.

Seedheads of allium suspended over fairy garden
Seedheads of allium suspended over fairy garden

PicMonkey Collage

 

Allium

 

 

Alliums intermingle with other flowers nicely
Alliums intermingle with other flowers nicely

Deer Combat-Using Deer Proof Plants Is the Best Strategy

Electric fence around veggie garden
Electric fence around veggie garden

 

I have done lots of plant portraits on my blog and always mention if it is “deer proof” or not.  As a designer, I am constantly updating – adding and subtracting plants from a mental list in my head that are reliably avoided by deer. I don’t want to plant a perennial or shrub for a client that disappears in a day or a week. I want something that deer won’t even consider including in their daily buffet choices.  Consolidating some of my favorites in one post was my goal, so that someone who is planning a new garden or renovating a “deer torn zone” that they call their garden, will be able to use a variety of plants other than boxwood, daffodils, and plastic!

Most people know that daffodils are immune from deer because they are poisonous
Most people know that daffodils are immune from deer because they are poisonous

Solutions for warding off the Bambi plague are legion. There are deer fences, deer sprays, deer gadgets such as water sprays, repellents, and ultrasonic solutions, which work sometimes, but deer get used to anything. Electric fences are the most effective but impractical for many people. Making the plant choices unappetizing and not on their menu, is really key to combat the deer problem, forcing them to search out greener pastures, like your neighbors!

Don't plant hostas or day lilies in deer frequented areas
Don’t plant hostas or day lilies in deer frequented areas

Deer tend to beat the same path through properties, so be aware of this and plant really unappetizing selections along these routes, avoiding attractive favorites like hostas, daylilies, and azaleas which attract deer for miles around.

Learn Deer Dislikes

Because of fuzzy leaves, bitter taste, or strong fragrance, there are plants that deer universally will not touch. A few are obvious because of the pungency of the foliage and flowers, like lavender,  catmint, and Big Root geraniums. Brushing against these plants releases a strong pungent odor which is your clue that deer will hate it!

Favorite Deer Proof Perennials

Deer proof for me simply means rarely touched, if ever. I have seen Hellebores nibbled on once or twice, but I think deer tried it and then rejected it as inedible.

Hellebores 

Floating Hellebore blossoms
Floating Hellebore blossoms

One choice that everyone should plant who have deer browsing are Hellebores.  See more info at, What is Deer Resistant, Blooms in the Winter, and is Deer Resistant? . A tough shade loving perennial, a full stand of Hellebores will stop you in your tracks, and wow you with their beautiful blooms that can last for 4 months. A little pricey initially, these stalwart plants will repay you many times over the years for your investment.

collage of helleborus
Collage of Hellebores

Catmint

Catmint or Nepeta is a beautiful choice that I have found universally rejected by deer, but loved by cats. It is a great edger, reliably comes back every year and is drought tolerant. Blooming prolifically for weeks, a cut back in midsummer will begin a new round of fresh blooms until frost. This is an unsung hero of perennials! And don’t worry that hordes of cats will descend on you. I have found my cat visits this plant only occasionally.

 

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Cat in the catmint or nepeta

 

Lambs Ears

Fuzziness or hairy leaves is also a big indicator of a deer repellent plant. Just consider Lambs Ears, the softest wooliest leaf, almost like a cashmere blanket, and deer will spurn this totally. On the other end of the spectrum, deer regularly browse on hollies and roses, the prickliest plants in my garden. Go figure!!

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Lambs ears, Stachys byzantia ‘Helene von Stein’

Salvias

Salvias are my go-to plant for deer infested areas. Another strong fragrance plant that deer disdain, salvias are a diverse group of plants that bloom for weeks and weeks during the summer, so you could plant just salvias in your garden and get bloom all season long in a spectrum of luscious colors. Check out my post on Salvia Amistad to see great selections.

Wide variety of salvias
Wide variety of salvias

Agastache

Agastache or Anise Hyssops are gaining in popularity because of the staying power of the blooms- about 3 months, and the attractant power for pollinators. Just stand by an Agastache in full bloom and you will notice a cloud of insects covering the blooms. Hybridizers are coming out with a new palette of colors, like yellow, oranges and reds, but I find that the old stand-by ‘Blue Fortune’, is the most reliable.

Agastache or Anise Hyssop
Agastache or Anise Hyssop

Big Root Geraniums

Geranium's autumn color
Geranium’s autumn color

Named because of the large fleshy roots that hold the foliage up, this extremely fragrant ground cover, Geranium macrorhizzum, thrives in all kind of conditions – sun, shade, wet, and dry. It is a very tough plant that blooms with nodding flowers in spring, and turns a russet color in the fall. In mild winters the foliage will remain, shrinking down a bit, but remaining for most of the winter.

Geranium 'Karmina'
Geranium ‘Karmina’

Alliums

Alliums
Alliums

In the onion family, Alliums are perennial bulbs known for their star like flowers that are quite spectacular. Easy to grow as accent plants, the seed heads are useful for dried arrangements.

Dianthus

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Dianthus, Tiny Rubies

Looking for a stellar edging perennial with evergreen blue-green foliage that is covered in bright pink flowers for weeks?  Dianthus is your plant!  Not many perennials have evergreen foliage, and dianthus is one of the best. Easy to grow and easy to split up and move around. Buy just a couple and end up with many.

 

Dianthus
Dianthus

 Iris

Variegated Iris
Variegated Iris

When I am looking for a plant to give some vertical height in a garden, that is tough and attractive even when not in bloom, I turn to the Iris family. The variegated form is a bonus, striking gold-toned foliage!

Iris
Iris

If you are on Pinterest, go to my board of deer resistant plants. Here are further examples of beautiful perennials that deer avoid. Take your pick for a beautiful garden!