The Year of the Pepper

In the veggie garden this year, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash all bombed. Rotting zucchini plants were everywhere and tomatoes that peaked early and then languished was the norm.  The mid-Atlantic had record rainfall and it seemed every day there was a chance of showers. And shower it did! Non-stop for five solid months, it was mud season all summer.

Raised beds would have helped with my veggies garden as they help with drainage

From May through July 2018, much of the East Coast, especially the Mid-Atlantic, experienced rainfall up to 300% of normal according to NOOA. The soggy summer was described this way by NOOA, “in June and July, the epicenter for heaviest rains became focused over the Mid-Atlantic, as monthly rains near Washington, D.C. through central Pennsylvania easily eclipsed 200% of normal”. The rains here in Maryland have been so heavy that May to July was the wettest in the state’s 124 history. This pattern continued into October. Also, the heat was turned up so I call this summer our “tropical rain forest year”. It felt heavy and humid every day which translates to Heat + Humidity = More Disease. 

Mad Hatter is one of my favorite varieties; If you keep them on the plant, they turn red

The wet weather affected my vegetable garden yields greatly, and any vining veggies, like cucumbers, squash, and melons, totally succumbed to disease from wet conditions.  But to my total surprise, my pepper crop reveled in the rain and heat and broke all records for producing quantities of peppers. We have been eating peppers at every meal- sweet, hot, and slightly hot are all producing prodigiously even into the end of October.

Piles of peppers

I used all AAS Winners (All American Selections National and Regional Winners) for seed which have been tested for garden performance all over North America from a panel of expert judges. Reliable new varieties that have proved their superior garden performance in trial gardens is the way to go for me. Like a stamp of approval from experienced gardeners, my AAS peppers included: Cayenne Red Ember, Hungarian Mexican, Escamillo, Mexican Sunset, Habanero Roulette, Mad Hatter, Pretty N Sweet, and Mama Mia Giallo.

I grew some bell peppers for stuffing also

Growing all my plants from seed, I planted about 20 different transplants out in May and forgot about them for the next two months. Peppers thrive on neglect and yes, I neglected them while I constantly tried planting new cucumbers and squash to no avail. I didn’t harvest one. But when I totally despaired of my vegetable garden, the peppers started to come in and are still producing.

Growing some of my peppers in containers was the best choice I made this year. The ones in containers excelled and when frost started to hit in late October, I whisked them into my greenhouse, where they are still producing.

I placed my containers of peppers in my greenhouse

Peppers 3 Ways

What to do with all this bounty? I have tried these three ways this season.

Drying peppers
Piles of dried peppers; I store in the freezer as I found that they got moldy otherwise

Freeze Drying

Wash peppers and let dry. Cut in half and lay on a dehydrator tray and dry for about 24 hours. Store the dried peppers in plastic freezer baggies, and store in freezer. Pull them out as needed.

Freezing

Wash peppers and let dry. Chop peppers up into pieces and place in freezer bags. I like to mix red and green pepper together. I freeze them in small quantities that are recipe-ready.

Place chopped peppers into freezer bags squeezing any excess air out

Blackened

My favorite treatment by far: Wash your peppers and dry. Heat up some canola oil in a fry pan until hot and sizzling. Dump your peppers in one layer and stir to flip them to all sides until blackened. Squeeze juice of one lime into the pan and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Eat by biting the pepper right off the stem that will include the seeds. Delicious! Watch out for the hot ones!

Saute and blacken
Ready to eat

 

Toad Lilies-Orchids of the Fall

Toad Lilies, watercolor by Laura Jones

An under-used and under-appreciated perennial in the U.S, Tricyrtus or Toad Lily, is gaining in popularity. Called toad lilies because of the spotting like a toad, these beautiful flowers thrive in moist deep shade to partial shade and come back year after year. In addition, the flowers have warty, sack-like bumps at the base of the flowers that appear “toadish” to some. The bumps are actually nectaries where the nectar is stored.

The bumps at the base of the flower are the nectaries

Toad Lilies, Tricyrtus hirta, are in their fall glory right now in mid-October. Growing all year-long, with layer upon layer of foliage sprays, in October the flowers surprise me and emerge from the axels of the leaves with diminutive spotted flowers. Deer tend to leave them alone for the most part, but there are exceptions where I have seen them nibbled.

Hairy spotted flowers look like tiny orchids
Arching stems display the flowers

Growing on upright arching stems the entire plant is attractive. An easy to grow perennial, more people should consider growing these gems in the shady areas of their garden, along with hostas and astilbe.

 

Lasting for weeks, the flowers look like jewels on the stems

Filling an important blooming gap in the garden, these plants bloom in October into November when few other plants are flowering. In the lily family, Tricyrtus is a Japanese species of hardy perennials found growing on shaded rocky cliffs in Japan.

Bees love the flowers

Because there isn’t much blooming in the garden in October, bees flock to them and they are an important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees when there isn’t much for them to forage from. And since we have had a record amount of rainfall this summer, the toad lilies are lush and beautiful.

Toad Lilies drape over a wall

For a complete evaluation of this interesting species, check out the notes published by the Chicago Botanical Garden .

 

“Hairy Balls”- A Different Kind of Milkweed

I love arranging with “Hairy Balls” for a unique centerpiece
Hairy Balls starting to form tennis ball size  pods

Visitors looking over my garden in the fall, always ask what the strange-looking plant is that is forming large hairy pods. Growing in my veggie garden, because of the amount of space the plants take, my Gymnocarpus physocarpa, or “Hairy Balls” are a conversation starter. A Milkweed family member, another common name is Balloon Plant. Native to South Africa, this plant is an invasive in tropical climates, but in my zone 6-7 area, winter cold keep it in check.

Hairy Balls in full glory

Here are some facts about this amazing plant:

  • Fast growing annual Milkweed, hardy in zones 8-10
  • Can sustain lots of munching monarch caterpillars late season
  • Nectar source for monarch butterflies
  • Long stems with pods make beautiful table centerpiece
  • Last viable Milkweed species before fall frost
  • Start seeds at least 6-8 weeks inside; easy to germinate in about a week
  • Flowers aren’t super showy, but still attractive
  • Fewer pollinators use this than native Milkweed
  • Pinch back the plant to make it bushier and with a stronger stem
  • Place in the rear of a border as it can top off at 6 feet and may require staking
  • The pods become ripe when they turn a tan color and burst open with the fuzzy seeds
  • I save some seeds for planting in early spring in my greenhouse
The single flowers are pendulous instead of a large ball of flowers in the common Milkweed

Though some people have told me that monarch caterpillars have ignored their Hairy Balls, I found at least a dozen of them on my plants at once.

You can see the white substance on the pod at the bottom which is why these plants are called Milkweed

When all of my common Milkweeds are done,  Hairy Balls Milkweed is going gangbusters into October and ending with our first hard frost. I have had these plants look good up to Halloween with active caterpillars.

The ripe balls turn tan and burst open with seeds

Starting these seeds in my greenhouse in early March is essential to Hairy Balls producing the balloon shaped pods by the end of the summer. For most of the summer, these plants grow up and branch out and then August/September hits and the pods start to appear after a flush of small dangling flowers.

The nondescript flowers start forming pods in September
Split a hairy Ball open and you will find hundreds of seeds

For my monarch populations, this Milkweed is important as it still is standing with plenty of foliage late into the summer/early fall. My other common Milkweed are totally denuded and finished when Hairy Balls hits its stride. For my post on other milkweeds, go to Got Milk….Weed? and Plant Milkweed for Monarchs. 

Common Milkweed has very different flowers and pods
Common Milkweed have long narrow pods

Fall Anemones-Deer Resistant & Long Blooming

 

Floating above the border on long springy stems, Japanese Anemones are a stalwart perennial that lasts for years. Many perennials are short-lived, lasting only for a few seasons, but I have had Anemones bloom for me in my garden for over 30 years. Reliable and deer resistant, they come in a variety of pinks, reds, and whites.

Dancing in the slightest breeze, the dainty flowers are great for floral arrangements in the fall. Commonly called Windflowers, these herbaceous perennials are different from the bulb anemones that bloom in springtime. An autumn bloomer, Japanese Anemone grows well in moist soil conditions and can take part sun or part shade. I find the flower color is actually best with some afternoon shade.  They steadily spread when happy.

‘Pamina’ Anemone is a lovely fuchsia double

Japanese anemones can grow 4 feet tall. Some taller varieties may need staking to keep them from falling over. ‘Honorine Jobert’ a wonderful white heirloom variety is one of my favorites, but needs a little help in staying upright.

‘Honorine Jobert’ is one of the tallest varieties at 4 feet tall
Growing by my garden gate in October, ‘Honorine Jobert’ sometimes needs staking

Spreading by underground runners, the plants can be divided every few years to keep them in bounds. In the spring, you can dig them up and divide them and give some away or spread to other parts of your garden. When frost hits them, cut them back.

Designing With Anemones

Anemones planted in a mass

Japanese anemones are great additions to part sun gardens paired with Joe Pye Weed, Monkshood, Hosta, and Bergenia. They look best when planted in a mass and have  room to spread. Check out my recent post on Joe Pye Weed.

Newer Varieties

Fantasy’Red Riding Hood’ is a short variety
Closeup of ‘Red Riding Hood’

Since so many people have small gardens and can’t accommodate full-sized perennials, shorter varieties of Anemones are on the market and more are coming out. I thought I would hate them as one of the beauties of Anemones is the winsome willowy stems. But the shorter varieties are very floriferous and create a pop of color, albeit with a whole different form. Clumping forms of 12 to 18 inches tall, the plants are covered with blooms to make an instant color statement.

Fantasy ‘Pocahontas’ in a greenhouse
Fantasy ‘Pocahontas’ is a short variety with double blooms
‘Honorine Jobert’ planted around a garden bench

When your coneflowers and phlox are fading from the late summer/fall garden, Japanese Anemones fill a gap in the blooming show that starts up with asters, sedums, and aconitum or monkshood. Forgetting about them all summer long with just the foliage showing, the flowers pop up out of nowhere and you remember why you planted them! For information on Monkshood, go to my post on Monkshood-Deadly Blue Beauty.

‘Honorine Jobert’ with Aconitum or Monkshood

 

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)

Hardy Hibiscus- Blooming Powerhouse

 

‘Cherry Cheesecake’ hardy hibiscus

Forget the fussy tropical hibiscus houseplants for summer color…. instead plant the tough, hardy, perennial hibiscus with flowers up to 12 inches across! Especially if you live in areas where winters are freezing, the hardy hibiscus makes more sense. Hardy hibiscus starts slowly in mid-summer and then explodes with colorful crepey blooms in late summer.  In a perennial bed, in early spring you can see the dead stubs that are left over from last year mark the spot where the beautiful flowers will appear in August. Worth waiting for, the dinner plate sized flowers last only a day, but like daylilies, produce a succession of blowsy, vibrant blooms that can cover the plant.

I like to place hibiscus blooms in a floating bowl arrangement

Coming in reds, whites, pinks, and lavenders, hibiscus is part of a confusing group of plants with many common names-hibiscus, rose mallow, althea, rose of sharon, giant mallow, swamp mallow, among others. Growing as far north as Zone 4, the genus hibiscus has both tropical and non-tropical species and is the state flower of Hawaii.

Tropical

If you live in Florida or Hawaii, you can enjoy these wonderful flowers all year round with the tropical species coming in yellows, oranges, and other wild colors. Frilly, doubles, bi-colors, variegated foliage, tropicals need the full sun to bloom their best.

A great foliage plant, variegated sea hibiscus makes a statement
Fifth Dimensions Hibiscus

Tropical Hibiscus ‘Fifth Dimension’  is one of my favorites. Emerging in the morning an orange/bronze color, as the day progresses, it morphs to yellow and silver. You can see a time-lapse of this process at Longwood Gardens. 

Tropical array of blooms

Longwood Gardens is where I see the most fabulous tropical hibiscus ever. But they have the greenhouses for overwintering these beauties.

Frilly and colorful, tropical hibiscus are stunners
Another tropical beauty

The Hardy Hybrids

Lil Kim, a dwarf hibiscus hybrid is adorable

I am more interested in the hardy hybrids, which I call ‘yard shrubs’, that are winter-hardy and display their fabulous flowers all summer into fall. Deer tend to leave them alone also, which is an added bonus.

The Hibiscus syriacus or ‘Rose of Sharon’ hardy ones are very familiar to people as an old-fashioned shrub. Finding these shrubs in older homes is common, but many new cultivars are coming out with different colors, double blooms and larger ones.

‘Merlot’ hardy hibiscus
Hibiscus syriacus which many people call Rose of Sharon
Closeup of Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Marina’ which is a blueish violet
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Diane’

Easy to grow in full sun or partial shade, the hibiscus clump will put on a huge show for about a month and then will pop out bunches of flowers for several succeeding weeks.

I cut the shrubs stems back in late winter or early spring and wait for the spring shoots to start appearing. Because hardy hibiscus appears so late, this is the perfect shrub to plant spring bulbs and early annuals nearby to fill in the opening. Once the early spring flowers are done and gone, the hibiscus is putting on good growth and will shoot up quickly.

A bumblebee is loving this Swamp  Hibiscus, Hibiscus coccineus
Even spent flowers are beautiful

 

Bee Catnip-Mountain Mint

Bringing bugs into the garden is the new norm, not spraying with insecticides every insect that alights on a leaf. A sea change in how gardeners operate is in motion and most gardeners are embracing it with gusto. Seeing the Monarch numbers plummet recently has brought home the importance of home gardeners taking charge and embracing this change for the better.

Mountain Mint flower
Mountain Mint flower

Wildlife Value

Not all plants are equal in their ability to support pollinators with nectar and pollen. Penn State has conducted a series of trials on different pollinator plants that evaluated plants for their numbers of insect visitation as well as for their vigor and blooming. Go to their site at Penn State trials to check it out. Not only the number of insect visitors is important, but also the diversity.

I will be profiling a series of plants in the next year that are really important to pollinators- be it honeybee, native bee, hummingbird, beetles, butterflies, or flies. Top of the list is a little-known mint, called Mountain Mint which blooms for 15 to 16 weeks.

Early growth of Mountain Mint in the spring
Early growth of Mountain Mint in the spring

According to Penn State trials, overall, the single best plant in both 2012 and 2013 and 2014 for attracting both pollinators and total insects was Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum). A 30-inch-tall, wood’s-edge native perennial with grayish-green leaves and pale-pink summer flower clusters, it is hardy in zones 4 to 8. Originally discovered in Pennsylvania in 1790, this plant increasingly is being rediscovered by savvy gardeners and added to landscapes.

The sheer number of insects that you see on Mountain Mint is amazing; The entire plant buzzes
The sheer number of insects that you see on Mountain Mint is amazing; The entire plant buzzes

Uses

Mountain Mint is both edible and medicinal. Raw or cooked, the flower buds and leaves are edible and have a hot, spicy, mint-like flavor that makes a great spice or seasoning for meat.

An aromatic herb used in potpourri and as a bath additive, Mountain Mint will freshen laundry in the dryer. Thrown into a drawer, it will keep clothes fresh and moths away. Said to be a good natural insecticide, the dried plant repels insects but the growing plant attracts them! Containing pulegone, the same insect repellent found in pennyroyal, it repels mosquitoes when rubbed into the skin.

Mountain Mint positively dances with all the pollinators that are attracted to it.

How To Grow

Mountain Mint grows up to 2 to 3 ft. tall, usually branched on the upper half, growing from slender rhizomes (underground stems) usually in clusters. The lance -shaped leaves are 1-2 inches long and light green turning to almost white as the plant matures. Blooming in late summer to early fall, flat clustered flowers top the plant with 1/2 inch long pale lavender blooms. Gather tops and leaves when flowers bloom and dry for later herb use.

Not attractive to deer, Mountain Mint will also grow in tough dry shade conditions. Being a typical mint member, this mint travels! So, place it in an out-of-the-way place that it can run free.

Mountain Mint is one of the best nectar sources for native butterflies, and is a nectar filled landing pad for all pollinators.

Mountain Mint label at Heartwood Nursery
Mountain Mint label at Heartwood Nursery

Sources

Many good nurseries will carry this plant. Locally, you can find it at Heartwood Nursery , a great native plant nursery in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania. I found the plants on-line at The Monticello Shop in Charlottesville, Virginia, and even on Etsy and Ebay.

Silvery Beauty-Silver Falls Trailer

 

Silver Falls is a great trailer for containers

Silver Falls, Dichondra argentea, has been in the gardening world for a while now but I don’t find that gardeners use it very often. Too bad! This plant makes an easy to grow spiller/trailer out of containers and a great low ground cover. An annual native to northern Mexico, Arizona, and western Texas, it thrives in hot dry conditions. A Proven Winner plant, I buy at least a flat of it in the spring for my containers.

 

Here are some quick facts about this great plant:

Features

  • Vigorous, fan-shaped silver foliage on silver stems; very heat and drought tolerant
  • Cascading plant that works in containers and looks good on stone walls
  • Grows 2-6 inches high, space in the garden 18-24 inches apart
  • Needs part sun to sun
  • Hardy to 20 degrees
  • Ideal for containers, hanging baskets, and ground covers
  • Works well with Creeping Jenny trailer
  • Hardy to zone 8 or 9

    Silver Falls planted in a free standing table container with Creeping Jenny in partial shade
Dichondra, Silver Falls
Silver Falls seen at Longwood Gardens

Definitely not deer proof but deer don’t prefer it. They only eat Silver Falls if there is nothing else tastier on the menu. Also, if you get it going so it has some size to it, deer tend to leave it alone. Get it through the juvenile and tender stage, and deer will browse on something else.

Cold tolerant, Silver Falls can last through some winters; here it is seen in a container at the end of November
Because of the small scale of the trailer, Silver Falls is useful for miniature gardens

My Silver Falls dripped out of my window boxes and rooted in the ground underneath. I let it do its thing as I thought it made a great ground cover. And yes, this is a vigorous (but not invasive) plant and I welcome the speed that it drips or cascades as once really cold (below 20 degrees)weather hits, it is gone. In the mid-Atlantic region here in Maryland, that means that it lasts until January.

Ground cover Silver Falls rooted in from a window boxIn Austin, kit is hardy and forms a great, closely woven ground cover in hot sunny areas.

Ground cover in Austin Texas
Silver Falls works well trailing out of containers

 

Silver Falls seen at the Ripley Garden next to the Smithsonian in D.C.

Black Beauty Lily

 

Lilies are my favorite flower. They last a long time in the garden, are usually fragrant, make great cut flowers, and pollinators flock to them. Oh, and they are so easy to grow! All these attributes make lilies my go-to flower to plant every year. But some lilies just increase in number and come back year to year….. that is my all time fav-‘Black Beauty’, Purchased from Old House Gardens, my lilies have formed two breath-taking clumps that last for at least 6-7 weeks in July and August. When they start to bloom in July, I am in my happy place!

Swallowtail on Black Beauty Lily

Old House Gardens says this about Black Beauty-“Though absolutely gorgeous – with 15-40 turk’s-cap flowers of dark raspberry narrowly edged with silver – ‘Black Beauty’ is even more prized for its wonderful vigor and long life in all sorts of gardens. In fact, you’ll often hear it called “indestructible.” (It’s even lily-beetle resistant, researchers say.) The first lily voted into the NALS Hall of Fame and one of our customers’ favorites year after year, it’s one of the 20th century’s very best. Sturdy 5-7 foot stems, mid-summer, zones 5a-8a, from Holland.” 

I agree with that assessment completely and the only downside for this lily is I do have to support it after it reaches 6 feet tall. If a storm comes through, the stems will sometimes break off or bend down to the ground. But that is a small price to pay to have this beauty in my garden. Sphinx moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds flock to this beauty and my garden is humming  with activity when these gems are blooming. Indestructible and coming back every year, this lily will outlive me!

Garden Blue

Blue really stands out in a garden:  Chinese Moon Bridge at Les Quatre Vents in Quebec
Blue Corydalis

As a landscape designer, when I ask a client what colors they want in their garden, they invariably will say that blue is top of the list. So, I am always looking for good blue perennials and annuals to satisfy this urge. Blue is also the most popular color in the world so I understand where this is coming from.  Who doesn’t love blue? Lots of blue flowers populate garden catalogs, but some are not suited for my extreme hot/cold climate of the mid-Atlantic, though I can still covet these varieties. If you live in a more forgiving climate, like the Pacific Northwest, you are fortunate and can load up on many of these plants.

Blue Corydalis

There are a few named varieties of this beauty, notably ‘Blue Panda’,  ‘China Blue’ and ‘Blue Heron’. A shade loving perennial that looks like and is a relative of bleeding heart, the finely cut blue grey foliage topped with clusters of azure blue flowers, flowering in mid to late spring, Corydalis dies back in the summer and can flush back with more flowers in the autumn, but hates heat, so I can’t grow this beauty. Needing evenly moist soil, this great pick comes from China and is available from Plant Delights.

Masses of blue corydalis blooming in the UK
Stunning color
Blue Centaurea

Blue Centaurea or Perennial Bachelors Button

I can grow this one and love it. The cornflower-blue, fringed blossoms of this  easy to grow perennial attract butterflies like magnets in the garden. Centaurea blooms from early to midsummer and dies back in the late summer. Beautiful in cut flower bouquets, it will self seed prolifically.

 

Anchusa

Anchusa

Anchusa is another old-fashioned flower that I only see in the UK. I used to grow it years ago and can’t find it anymore at local nurseries, but after seeing it flower in England, I am going to try it again next year. A short-lived perennial that blooms in spring and hates humidity, I can still grow this little gem for spring color. I put this on my list for next year.

A great blue and white combo- Anchusa and Orlaya

 

 

Anchusa used at the Chelsea Flower Show

Balloon Flower

Balloon flower

Balloon Flower, Platycodon ‘Sentimental Blue’, is a sun-loving deer resistant trooper in my garden. Covered in puffy balloon shaped flowers that explode in color, lasting a long time in bloom. ‘Sentimental Blue’ is a dwarf variety topping out at 12″ tall and the easy to grow clump is literally covered with blooms in mid summer.

 

Virginia Bluebells

Heralding springtime bloom, I add to my Virginia Bluebell, Mertensia virginica,  population every year. Blooming in April with trusses of true blue flowers, these will disappear in later summer where other summer bloomers take over. A spring ephemeral that forms large colonies over time, the flowers start off pink and gradually turn a beautiful shade of blue as they mature. I often see bumblebees visit the flowers which last for at least a month, and then disappear. Preferring woodland conditions- rich moist soil I have no problem growing them in my clay soil here in the mid-Atlantic.

Love in a Mist

Love in a Mist, or Nigella hispanica, is an annual which I sow in early March when the weather is still chilly. I scrape off some soil and sprinkle some seeds and by June, I am rewarded with a cloud of blossoms which bloom and turn into interesting seed pods.

Coming in an array of blue shades, Love in a mist will bloom in the spring and form beautiful seed pods
The seed pods dry beautifully

Blue Salvia ‘Victoria Blue’

Blue annual Salvia

Salvia farinacea, another annual that I grow for its true blue color is planted every year in my garden. Easy to grow in full sun, I cut the flower wands for drying and use them in dried flower wreaths and arrangements. Drying true to color, they add a huge color focal point to any arrangement.

A cut bunch of Salvia ready for drying
A dried arrangement with blue Saliva
Dried Salvia

Scabiosa

Scabiosa ‘Fama Deep Blue’

Scabiosa or Pin Cushion flower grows in full sun to part shade with huge (3-4″) flowers. The stunning flowers are fewer in number than the more commonly seen ‘Butterfly Blue’, but spectacular.

Scabiosa ‘Fama Deep Blue’

Offering up double blossoms begging to be cut and placed in an arrangement, it blooms off and on all summer  Nodding flowers held on top of long stems, the flowers can last up to a week in a vase and longer on the plant. Also in a white form, you need to dead head to keep the flower show coming.

Bulbs & Tubers

Spring color is easy to add with fall planted bulbs, by planning a little bit ahead. Grape Hyacinths, Camassia, Scilla,  Iris, and Agapanthus, are my top picks for blue splashes.

Grape Hyacinth ‘Valerie Finnis’
Scilla peruviana
Japanese Iris
Agapanthus
Bearded Iris
Iris ‘Lecture’

 

Camassia bulbs make a great color statement in the spring

Accessories

Anything that you add to your garden – benches, obelisks, bridges, glass balls, etc., is a blank canvas for you to amp up color impact. Forget natural teak benches! and include something with color instead.

Blue obelisk
Add glass balls for color
At Chanticleer, blue painted chairs add a pop of color
Blue Bug
I would love a real peacock to ornament my garden!
Clematis