Tag Archives: foliage

Aphids before the Storm

9 May

At the moment, the main insects on my radar are the 17-year cicadas that will crawl out of the ground any day now, cover everything in sight, deafen us with their mating songs, lay eggs, and then drop dead. They have yet to emerge from hibernation, at least in my neighborhood. I’m happy to delay the moment as long as possible, even if it is an historic event. Raking a blanket of cicada carcasses off the lawn isn’t among my favorite gardening activities.

Capitalizing on this lull before the storm, however, another insect group took up residence in the rose garden — aphids.  I am a welcoming sort, but not when it comes to critters trying to suck the life out of my newly planted roses, which are just beginning to bud.

 
So I squirted them. As carefully and naturally as possible. I added 2 tbsp. dishwashing liquid and 2 tbsp. vegetable oil to 32 oz. of water in a spray bottle and then sprayed each of the roses — buds and foliage together, sliding off as many aphids as I could with my fingers (that’s where the oil comes in handy).


Victory! The aphids are all gone (for now), but success came at a price: the soap slightly burned the foliage.


Should the aphids put in another appearance, I may need to reduce the amount of soap in the solution — and/or rinse the roses afterward. I didn’t rinse this time because I knew it would rain later that day and it did, but obviously not before the damage was done. On the plus side, the roses are pest free, though some of the leaves are a bit speckled. Safe to say, gardening is a never-ending learning process, and I have a lot to learn….

Next task: watching for the aphids’ cousins to emerge — yes, cicadas are related to aphids.

Fall Foliage

10 Nov

Flowers are fantastic, but foliage can add interest to any garden long after the flowers are gone. Admittedly, my gardening philosophy is very, very basic (roughly on par with my gardening skills), but one element of that philosophy is that every garden needs a diverse range of foliage: different colors, patterns, shapes, and textures. And if you can find a perennial with foliage that changes color in the autumn (or presents you with some other dramatic display, such as plumes), that’s an added bonus.

Here are two plants that have been putting on a show in recent weeks:  Porcupine Grass, with plumes shooting at least 8 feet in the sky  (plus close-up of the plumes) — and Crape Myrtle (Siren Red), whose foliage appears to change color depending on the time of day:

  

  

Birth of a Montauk Daisy

26 Sep

Montauk Daisies are cheery flowers to behold, even they are sure signs the season is nearing an end.  Cheery they may be, but shy and reserved they are not. When I first planted my two Montauk daisies, they were small little things, but they soon expanded exponentially, smothering a few other flowers in the process. The relatively fragile lilies in their path were no match for the bush-like Montauks. The ease with which the daisies established their dominance reminded me yet again of the importance of checking a plant’s spread. I kept looking at them as they grew, and grew, and grew, asking myself how this came to pass, since they were so little when I first planted them. In this respect, they remind me of my children.

For the past month, I have been waiting very patiently for them to bloom (the daisies, that is). They take their time; the first buds appeared in the center of the lovely dark-green foliage on September 1, but the first flower did not bloom until today. However, it was worth the wait. Here is the birth of a Montauk Daisy:

 

High Five

3 Sep

While the asters usher in autumn, I thought I’d take a moment to give a shout out to a few plants that have kept going, and going, and going–and are still going; the ones that have added color to my garden for three or more months. It was tough, but I chose the following five to honor this time around:

1. Euphorbia (Ascot Rainbow)–with its gorgeous foliage and bubble-like flowers, it has been putting on a show since late March. This photo looks straight down into the middle of the plant.

2. Hybrid Tea Rose (Double Delight) — it has been a delight since the end of April, with  fragrant flowers and lovely new foliage

 

3. Gaillardia (Fanfare-left, Oranges & Lemons, right) — it has been a bee magnet since the beginning of May

 

4. Verbena Bonariensis (Brazilian Verbena)–a tall, gently swaying plant; also in bloom since early May

5. Gaura (Passionate Rainbow) — though it did not bloom at all this year (its first in the garden), it has been flashing its foliage since May

Tis the Season for…Crape Myrtle

31 Jul

It’s that time of year. All over our neighborhood, Crape Myrtles (also known as Crepe Myrtles) are in bloom.  The long-flowering trees and shrubs originated in Asia, but made their way to the southeastern part of the United States more than 200 years ago after a pit stop in Europe. With so many different sizes and colors to choose from, there is bound to be a Crape Myrtle for almost every garden.

Our Siren Red is a relatively small variety–it will only be about 10 feet tall when fully mature, which is just right for our townhouse yard.  Of course, I also thought the Porcupine Grass was just right for our yard, but failed to adequately imagine what 8-foot tall clumps of  vibrant ornamental grass would look like at their peak; with two of them on either side of the Crape Myrtle, it is in danger of becoming the filling in a Porcupine Grass sandwich. I’m hoping the Crape Myrtle will soon outgrow the Porcupine Grass. If not, I’ll have to think of a Plan B.

I chose the Siren Red because of its size, and also because of its beautiful deep-red flowers. With crimson-colored new-growth foliage that turns green, and berry-like buds, every part of Siren Red is a pleasure to behold:

  

Asparagus Forest

29 Jul

Come spring, and for as long as it’s available, asparagus holds a place of honor in our house. We are especially fond of very thin stalks, tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted at about 425 degrees until golden and slightly crispy at the tips. Cooked this way, asparagus never lasts more than a few minutes on our dining table and no matter how much I make, there is always at least one child looking mournfully at the empty platter. But… until this weekend, we had never seen asparagus growing, and it is as lovely to look at as it is to eat.

We made a whirlwind trip to Vermont and were lucky enough to see an old family friend, Beth, who has an asparagus forest. All it took was one look, and I decided that I absolutely have to try planting some asparagus next year, even if we will not be able to sample any of it for a while as it gets established.

Normally, the tender shoots that people eat are snapped or cut off just above ground level. But left to their own devices, the shoots grow tall and get woodier, the buds on the tips of the asparagus open and produce a wispy mass of branches and berries that turn bright red when ripe (though note that the berries should not be eaten). The little berries set against feathery foliage look ethereally festive, and when I saw the asparagus plants after a rainy afternoon, they were glistening.

 

 

2010: An Unplanned Garden and the Philosophy Behind It

19 Jun

I did a lot of thinking and thumbing through gardening books during the winter of 2010 in preparation for our future garden, but basically, I am someone with more optimism than concrete knowledge of garden design (or in fact, gardening in general beyond the bare basics).  I do not know how to propagate, have rarely had to divide my plants, and can’t be bothered with elaborate plant care beyond deadheading, watering, mulching, fertilizing every once in a blue moon, and keeping them somewhat tidy. I realize this is anathema to real gardeners, and one day, I hope to become a real gardener. In the meantime, I will keep planting things and hoping for the best. In hindsight, this operating procedure of diving right in and tweaking as I go is not new. It is the underlying principle by which I have painted the interior of our houses, but that is another story. I will only say that it helps to have an understanding husband who likes the end result and puts up with the tortuous path I take in getting there.

But back to the garden: we started digging out three flower beds in the summer of 2010, after hosting an Easter Egg Hunt in our bare, grass-only yard, at which point it became quite clear that hiding colorful plastic Easter Eggs in a sea of flat green requires a lot of creativity.

My very simple gardening philosophy was the same then as it is now:

  1. Flower type: Perennials all the way, with a very occasional annual or two to liven things up as needed.
  2. Color scheme:  Hot (purples, fuchsias/wine reds, oranges, and yellow).
  3. Foliage: Different leaf shapes and colors (variegated and non-variegated) are essential.
  4. Height: It  matters! Flower gardens need a different mix of plant heights. Also, taller plants can help form a natural privacy screen along fences shared with neighbors.
  5. Bloom period:  Plant flowers with differing bloom times, to ensure at least some activity in the garden from early April into October.

2012 example of hot-colored perennials with diverse foliage and differing heights: Garden 2

Armed with these few concrete thoughts and a very preliminary list of possible plants that could meet my requirements, I ventured out to the local nursery. What always happens is I cannot find many plants on my list, either because the specific variety is simply not available (or is not common to my area), or I am visiting the nursery at the wrong time. So then I end up with plants not on my list. On the plus side: there are some beautiful plants in my garden I might never have considered had they not caught my eye at the nursery. On the minus side: as with clothes shopping, it is easy to buy something beautiful in the store only to realize once you are home that it just doesn’t look quite right on you no matter how hard you try to make it work. A far corner of my garden now features these spur-of-the moment horticultural purchases, the ones that don’t quite work in the main flower beds.  But I am now no longer swayed by a pretty bloom unless I know it will fit and make the garden look better by its presence.  I’d like to say that is also true of pretty dresses….

Next: Phase 1.