Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Frost

Well, it finally happened. The first frost. We had skated by a couple of nights when the temperatures looked as though they were going to sink, but then stalled out in the upper thirties. Not last night, though! It was a brisk 26 degrees when I woke up this morning and there was an absolutely gorgeous frost on everything. If I hadn't had an early appointment I would have taken the time to get the camera out and get some photos.

The restored grassland just outside of the confines of the fence was particularly beautiful, the frosty plumes frozen in place and glistening as though encrusted in diamonds as the sun began to peek through the trees. The birds were all atwitter, too, flitting and fluttering in and out of the shadows, looking for the last good seeds that the grasses have to offer up. There must be a bounty of natural food right now, as the traffic at the birdfeeders is almost non-existent--a few doves, a titmouse, the 4 bluebirds (usually at the birdbath) and a very chatty nuthatch.

I love to watch him scale headfirst down the trunk of the white oak in the back yard and he IS a chatty little thing. Cheep. Cheep. Cheep-cheep. Territorial, too. He'll flit over to the seed tray, rustle around a minute, pick out a few tasty morsels and then flit back to his tree trunk. Let someone else fly into the seed tray, though, and look out. Nuthatch on the loose! Maybe that's why I don't have many other birds. One little general is running them all off!

It's getting colder, though. It won't be long before their natural resources are depleted somewhat and then the birds will be back in droves. It will be my first winter in the new house, so I can't wait to see what different kinds of birds will begin to converge on the feeders once winter really sets in. For now, it's just the few frequent visitors and I'm patiently waiting for them to tell their friends about all the treats awaiting them atop the oak-covered knoll they (and now I) call home.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's no secret that I'm a plant nut. I wouldn't be on here doing all of this blogging if I wasn't! I'm particularly interested in variegated plants and thought I'd share one of my absolute favorites with you. Eucharis, commonly known as Amazon lily, isn't all that rare in its own right, but about a year ago, a good friend and fellow plant geek shared with me an extremely rare variegated form of the plant that I have never seen elsewhere. As a matter of fact, if you try to "Google" it (odd how that word has become a verb, huh?), you'll come up empty-handed! I didn't think there was anything that Google didn't know!

You'll see in the photograph at the right that this form has longitudinal stripes running through the leaves, sometimes narrow and other times taking up large sections of the leaf. Every leaf is different and adds all kinds of character and charm to the plant. At one year old, the mother plant has now been potted into an 8-inch clay pot and actually fills it out quite nicely. In addition, I have three babies, all of which are variegated just like mom and are growing nicely.

Another unusual aspect of this plant is that each new leaf is actually green when it first unfurls and the variegation develops as the leaf ages. The older the leaf, the brighter the variegation becomes. The color of the variegation is also affected by the amount of light the plant gets. In full shade, the color remains a more muted yellow-on-green, but with just a little morning sun, the variegation brightens up to a creamy white. Because the variegation develops in stages, the leaves appear in all three colors on the same plant--the newest ones in the center of the plant being almost solid green, the middle leaves being green and yellow and the oldest leaves showing the creamy white variegation.

Flowering occurs in spring and early summer with the large white flowers typically borne in pairs atop a long stalk that may reach 18" or so tall. I do let the plant rest slightly in winter, putting it in a cooler location (not cold) and letting it dry out just slightly between waterings (I never let it get dry to the point of losing leaves--it's evergreen and doesn't need to go dormant).

There are about 30 or so species of Eucharis, all told, and most of them make good subjects for houseplants. Eucharis amazonica and the hybrid Eucharis x grandiflora will be the two most commonly available. They're tolerant of low light and some degree of neglect and will still reward you with beautiful foliage and flowers. Take a moment to search a few out on the internet and see what this beautiful group of plants has to offer. You'll be glad you did!

New Features

Just a quick note to everyone about a couple of new features on the blog! You can now subscribe to the blog via email! I know there have been some folks who have been unable to subscribe through the other methods, so I'm trying something new that is offered through "FeedBurner". I'd love it if a few of you would sign up and then let me know for sure that things are working properly. You should receive an email notification anytime I publish something new and you don't have to have a "Homepage" or be associated with a major group such as Yahoo!, Google, etc. At least that's the way it's supposed to work! If it doesn't, please let me know.

You can also become a "Garden Notes Follower", which allows you to publish your profile and links to your own blog, as well and helps us to create a big, online gardening community. I've already signed up as a "Follower" on several fantastic gardening blogs. I'll post those in my profile under "Blogs I'm Watching".

The other improvement is that you can now search the blog posts by topic. If you'll just keep scrolling down the page you'll see the topics listed on the righthand side. That way, if you want to see what I've written about a specific subject, it's only a click away. Stay tuned! Lots more to come!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Autumnal Musings

The smell of wood smoke hung heavy in the country air this weekend. In the mornings, especially, the sweet smoky fragrance drifted by on the gentle breeze, reminding everyone that it was time to stock up on firewood if we intend to keep warm this winter. Thirty-eight degrees at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning when I first awoke was actually a welcome respite from the 80's that we experienced earlier in the week. I did have the good sense to go back to bed, mind you.

The chill in the air really makes me want to get out and garden! I know that probably seems backwards to some, but it's time to finish (or start!) all of those tasks that it has just been too damned hot to do for the past several months--like getting into that corner of the garden that "got away" this year and is now 5-feet-high in things that have seeded in, taken over and are threatening to strangle a few very desirable plants. Out, cosmos! Out, zinnias! OUT, cleome! And even the Verbena bonariensis has become a cotton-pickin' pest! Out, out, out!

It will all reseed and be back next year with renewed vigor, anyway.

Next year, though, I'm starting early. No feeling sorry for little seedlings that appear in unwanted locales. They're out, desirable or not. A weed is simply a plant that is growing in the wrong place, right? Famous last words.

For now, though, this cooler weather has my gardening gears turning at full speed. Time to get plants in the ground, trees and shrubs, especially. And heaven knows all of these poor little plants that I have, who have so patiently waited for 4 years for a permanent home, deserve to finally have their roots in real soil! Oh, it won't all happen at once. As with any garden, this one will be a work in progress. But these nice cool, sunny days sure do make it easier to get out there and really go at it full bore and not feel like you're going to pass out 30 minutes into the task.

There are a lot of weeds yet to pull, garden spaces to clear, paths to lay, soil to condition, holes to dig and visions to turn into reality, but isn't that always the way of the garden? It has been for me. I have an impatient friend who asks, "When is the garden going to be finished?" My reply? "Never, if I'm lucky!"

Happy gardening, my friends, until next time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pennisetum 'Fireworks' Not Much Spark

I always try to be positive in my approach to writing, to gardening and, I hope, to life in general. At the same time, especially when it comes to new plant introductions, I feel like it's my responsibility to be honest, even if honesty means giving something a mediocre review.

I hate to say it, because Pennisetum 'Fireworks' was a plant that I was really excited about. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it! I had seen the preliminary photos of it last year at the Perennial Plant Association Symposium and a burgundy, pink, green and white variegated pennisetum was RIGHT up my alley! A say-something plant that would rock the garden and the containers that I used it in.

Unfortunately, in every place I used it, it fell flat. It just didn't hold its variegation well at all. In full sun (where fountain grass prefers to grow) it simply turned burgundy. Yes, there was some pink at the base and occasionally a little streak of green or white, but from more than 3 feet away it looked just as burgundy as the standard old Pennisetum 'Rubrum' planted just a bit further down the garden path. In more shade, it colored up better. There was more of the variegation and it extended further out into foliage and made for a little better show. But fountain grass doesn't really like the shade, so the plants were weak, wispy, and by the end of the season, downright floppy with few to no plumes.

My understanding is that there are several new introductions of this plant that may hit the market as early as next spring (hopefully). Selections have been made for even stronger, brighter variegation and that bodes well for the plant. I can't wait to see what the new plants look like and I'm certainly not passing judgment until I can grow them for myself. It sounds to me like we're headed in the right direction--selecting the best of the best from tissue culture and moving forward with those as new and improved versions of what has the potential to be an absolutely stunning addition to the garden. Time will tell and I'll be first in line next spring to give these new plants a shot!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rudbeckia 'Henry Eilers'

Well, I've done it! I've found ANOTHER new favorite plant. Are you surprised? I didn't think so. This time it's a Rudbeckia.
Rudbeckia is a genus that I have always been incredibly fond of. Rudbeckias get a bad rap sometimes because of the market saturation by 'Goldsturm' (which is an outstanding plant, by the way.) There are, however, a LOT of other rudbeckias out there, many of which are simply fabulous garden plants. 'Henry Eilers' is no exception.

I first saw this plant on a garden tour in Columbus, OH about a year ago and was incredibly impressed by it then. We were able to get a few plants of it this spring at the garden center and I planted a few in the display garden where it performed very satisfactorily and was stunning this fall when paired with the royal purple berries of the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) that it had woven its way through during the course of the summer.

Where it really performed, though, was in the garden at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Nashville. I'm not sure if it was the exposure, the irrigation, the good soil, the extra fertilizer or a "perfect storm" of all of the above, but 'Henry Eilers' was the buzz of the garden from July onward and is just now (Oct. 3) finishing up its show!

It's a little taller than some rudbeckias, but considerably shorter than others, so it makes a nice middle-of-the-border plant. When it reaches blooming height, about 4 feet, it's just a tiny bit on the lax side, so I'd recommend pairing it with something shorter and sturdier in front of it that will give it a bit of support. Or pair it with a shrub like the beautyberry in a way that the stems of the rudbeckia can grow up just through the edge of the shrub and be supported that way. Otherwise, you may have to stake. (Well worth any effort it might take.)

In the display garden at Moore & Moore ( it was in a leaner, drier part of the bed, so that may have accounted for it being just slightly, slightly less showy. In the other location it was in the richest, blackest, most organic, well-fertilized and irrigated soil we could give it and it absolutely shined! You can see for yourself in the photos above, and I think you'll agree. Put this one on your list for next year! See you in the garden!