Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rainy days and gardening catalogs

We received over 3 inches of rain this week. Despite the fact that I was off work for spring break, I'm not going to complain. Most of the rain actually occurred at night so I was able to get some much needed weeding accomplished. The garden is looking good although I still have lots to do.

The gardening catalogs have been steadily arriving in the mail since January. I don't get as many as I use to because I don't order as much but it is fun to see what new plants are available.

Since our gardening real estate has diminished and more shade also limits what we can grow, I try to refrain from going nuts. Good on the pocketbook if not the spirit!

One plant on my wish list this year is this miniature buddleia called "Blue Chip" - I know this is a sun plant but I can find a spot for it somewhere! It is advertised as growing 24"- 36" tall and would probably do well in containers. I think this plant was on the market last year so if any of my readers are growing it, I would like to hear about your experiences with it.

The "Blue Chip" buddleia comes from Proven Winners, a brand that I have come to trust. Whenever I see this label in a plant, I always give it a second look. The Proven Winners company tests plants in all areas of the country and the ones that are offered in your nurseries are supposed to be geared toward your particular area.

Here is a plant that I actually saw yesterday at Porter's Garden Center in Muscle Shoals. It is Hydrangea paniculata "Quickfire." I almost bought it but decided to give more thought to the spot where I want to put it. I actually practiced restraint - imagine that! We already have tons of hydrangeas - over fifty varieties of the mophead varieties. Only a few paniculatas though and they are so trouble-free to grow.

Here are some more Proven Winners plants that caught my attention. If I come across any of these at the nurseries, I'll certainly be tempted.

Begonia "Mandalay Mandarin" I think begonias are experiencing a popularity boost. Two years ago I found Begonia "Bertini" at Home Depot and was amazed at how well it performed. I looked forward to growing it again this year but wouldn't you know, I couldn't find it anywhere. I won't make that mistake this year and will mail order it if I have to. Or perhaps I will try this variety, which looks similar.

Another plant that I just recently discovered are Abutilons (aka Parlor Maples or Flowering Maple). They are fantastic container plants. This one is called "Fairy Coral Red."

This Weigela "My Monet" has been on the market for several years and I've always wanted it. Anyone growing it?

Thanks to the folks at Proven Winners for giving me permission to use their photos!

Other interesting plant introductions are coming from Terra Nova Nurseries.

Echinaceas have become wildly popular due to the dramatic new colors. This one is called "Mac n' Cheese"

I've never had luck with growing coreopsis as a perennial but aren't these stunning?


"Strawberry Punch"

And finally, a very interesting rudbeckia called "Henry Eilers".

(Thanks to Terra Nova Nurseries for permission to use their photos).

So, what is on your plant wish list this year?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Early spring flowers

It has been a beautiful week so far! I'm off for spring break this week and have been busy in the garden. Rain is forecast for tomorrow and unfortunately for the remainder of the week. It had better not rain the rest of the week or I will not be a happy camper!

Here are some of the plants that are blooming now:

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) I've had this for a long time and it always come back faithfully every year. I should really plant more.

Mohawk Viburnum (Viburnum x burkwoodii 'Mohawk') - a stunning shrub and so fragrant.

Lunaria (Money Plant)

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Weeping Higan Cherry Tree ((Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula') - a very fleeting tree but truly lovely. This grows next to our patio. You have to look up from a distance to see it to best advantage.

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

Contorted Filbert (aka Harry Lauder's Walking Stick) (Corylus avellana) always has something of interest no matter what the season.

Daffodils are still lingering -

Camellia 'Taylor's Perfection'

Chinese Snowball (Viburnum macrocephalum) will turn white in a few weeks. I get more comments on this shrub than any other.

Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica), another favorite shrub of mine. We have both the single and double varieties. This is the double.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Yoshinos are blooming!

This is one of my favorite trees and I look forward to it blooming every year.

When I took the top photo on Saturday, there were hundreds (thousands?) of bees humming above my head. It sounded like I was at an airport.

I have recommended this tree to a lot of people and when asked to describe it, I usually tell them that it looks like cotton candy. I later learned that the yoshino is a short-lived tree which is very sad but I'm hoping ours will last the rest of my lifetime.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Camellia - state flower of Alabama

Our state flower used to be the goldenrod. I remember learning this in grade school in the late 1960s but it turns out that the state flower was changed to the camellia in 1959. I guess school textbooks were not updated that often back then. Why the change? Well, some garden society ladies thought that the goldenrod was undeserving as the state flower and many considered it a weed (it was initially chosen by school kids in 1927 as their favorite flower). So, the state flower was changed to the camellia in 1959, and since there are different varieties of camellias, Camellia Japonica was specifically selected as the state flower in 1999. I don't know why it took forty years to do this.

I don't resent this decision and I have nothing against goldenrod (in fact, I grow it in the garden) but I'm absolutely gaga over camellias. I got the camellia fever a few years ago and planted a lot of them. Most are still very small. I think camellias are the perfect flower and I marvel at their symmetry and beauty.

This is peak season for the camellias and almost all of ours are blooming. Here is a sampling:

'Dr. Tinsley'

'Taylor's Perfection'

'Nuccio's Pearl'

'Professor Sargeant'

'Spring Festival'


Sunday, March 15, 2009

March Bloom Day

We've had a rainy weekend, getting around 3" - it started raining on Friday and didn't stop until late Saturday night. It was a long slow rain, the kind that is great for the garden. It was wet today but I managed to get out and take some photos (although I should have been weeding!)

Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) is still a young tree but the blooms are increasing year by year.

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) has bloomed the longest that I've ever seen. It blooms so early that the frost usually gets it.

Alabama Snow Wreath (Neviusia alabamensis) is a great shrub.

Another great shrub, Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) - it is hard to see the blooms in the photo. Fantastic fragrance!

Right now, the star of the show is the camellia. There are so many blooming that I plan to do a post on them later in the week. The following photo is of the oldest camellia in our garden. This is 'C.M. Wilson' and the pink blooms are the true color. The red mysteriously started appearing last year. I'm wondering if the growth is coming from the rootstock, like roses sometimes do?

An unidentified camellia that I rescued from the Unitarian Church. It was dying there and I think it was planted too close to the foundation of the building and the extreme alkalinity was killing it. When I dug the plant up, there were chunks of powdered concrete all in the ground. Camellias do not like this! It seems to be on the rebound.

Chinese Witch Hazel (Loropetalum chinense) - I hope I can get a full shot of the entire plant later - it is massive.

Epimedium (aka Fairy Wings) (Epimedium versicolor 'Sulphureum') is a great plant for dry shade.

Euphorbia Despina

Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

Last, but not least, the hellebores are still going strong.

Carol at May Dreams blog invites us to show what is blooming in our gardens on the 15th of every month. Visit her blog for links to more blooms.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Poncirus Trifoliata Ahead - Proceed with Caution

The Hardy Orange (Poncirus Trifoliata) is blooming and it is quite a lovely sight in the garden.  Shooting up into the sky about 12 feet, it continues to make me a little uneasy. I mean really, would you want to get into a wrestling match with this guy?

Last week, I cut a huge limb off of this plant and mind you, I took my time and was very careful. I kept having visions of falling into it and impaling myself in its vicious thorns.

Hardy Orange is somewhat of a novelty plant - the pretty white blossoms appear in early March and in the fall you get the beautiful fruit that looks like small oranges. After the leaves fall, the thorny structure makes an interesting focal point in the winter garden. I think it would be a wonderful specimen for a Japanese garden but oddly, I don't think I've ever seen one.

This is a fairly carefree plant with one irritant - seedlings pop up all under it, often in thick clumps. I just take a shovel and scoop them up and I try to pick the oranges off the ground before they rot. Not a plant for everyone (and surely not for a garden where children would be playing) and a plant that must be treated with respect!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Prune roses when the forsythia blooms

That is how the old saying goes and it is true - the best time to prune roses is when the forsythia shrubs start to bloom. Here in north Alabama, that usually happens in late February and early March.

We don't have a forsythia in our garden but we planted a few at Michael's salon. As you can see, they are in full bloom.

I grow mostly old roses which do not require the severe pruning that hybrid teas do. One exception are the miniature roses. They are pruned hard. The following photo shows the miniature rose "Sweet Chariot" before pruning...

and after pruning...

Shrub roses do not require as much pruning. Generally, I cut them back about 1/3 and remove any dead canes. Here is the rose "Daydream" that was planted last year -

after pruning -

Cuts are made right above outward facing buds (if you look at the stems of roses, the buds are easy to spot).

Some roses (especially older ones) may be denser in growth and have smaller canes. An example is this "Weeping China Doll" -

Because it has so many canes, pruning by hand can be time consuming. For jobs like this, I just use my hedge trimmers and go back and cut any jagged edges with the hand pruners.

Climbing roses do not require much pruning either with the exception of removing dead canes. Here is a climbing rose that I'm growing on a tripod (not very well I might add). Notice that Isabella always manages to find a snoozing spot within camera range - she's such a ham!

Large shrub roses like this "Buff Beauty" are probably the scariest and most difficult to prune. This rose is centered in the garden and has free range to grow. Unlike most of the other roses in the garden, it is not restricted by other roses and plants. Unfortunately, it got much larger than I expected it too. As a result, it blocks the view of the statue and the wall behind it (I wanted an unrestricted view from the opposite end of the pergola).

I'm afraid to prune this rose back too much because it has such a beautiful cascading shape when it blooms. (The following photo was taken several years ago before the wall was completed)

For now, I'll just remove all the dead canes, which were considerable, and lightly prune the tips of the longer branches. Even though the girth of the rose hampers my design plan, I'd rather have a beautifully shaped rose.

When it comes to roses, don't let pruning scare you. I learned many years ago that not pruning can affect the health of a rose and even lead to its decline.