Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Tiniest Waterlily

Many posts ago I wrote about the world's largest waterlilies, the Victorias http://troybmarden.blogspot.com/2008/03/aquatic-giants.html, whose giant floating leaves may reach 8 feet in diameter in a well grown plant and whose night-time flowers approach nearly a foot in diameter. At the far opposite end of the spectrum is the diminutive Nymphaea 'Helvola' or 'Pygmaea Helvola' which, with floating pads only 2 inches in diameter and tiny yellow, star-shaped flowers only an inch-and-a-half across, can be easily kept in a tabletop water garden where it will grow and bloom just as beautifully as its larger pond grown cousins.

I became a fan of 'Helvola' when I was a college intern at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA where it held court in the water gardens along with its hardy and tropical cousins from around the world, growing just as well in a large pond as it will in a small tabletop bowl.

Growing requirements are the same as for all waterlilies: Full sun (minimum 6 hours per day) and, once growth commences in spring, a monthly feeding of a good waterlily fertilizer. This usually comes in a hard pellet that can be put underwater without dissolving and be pushed right down into the soil at the roots of the plant where it will slowly release its nutrients over a month's time. 'Helvola', being miniature, needs only about 3-4 inches of water over its crown.

Remember that the ultimate spread of a waterlily's leaves over the surface of the water is directly related to how deep in the water it sits and how long the leaf petioles must grow in order for the pads to float on the surface of the water. So, if you want to keep 'Helvola' at its smallest size, keep it as shallow as possible so that the petioles only have to grow a few inches in order for the leaves to float. In deeper water (not more than 10-12 inches, please, since it's a mini), in a pond, for instance, 'Helvola' may spread across the water's surface to a size of 3 feet, but the pads and blooms will remain miniature.

Did I mention that 'Helvola' is hardy? That's right! This diminutive creature is hardy to Zone 5 and in winter, can be dropped a little deeper in the pond (below ice level) or it can actually be removed from the water and stored in its container in a garage or storage room as long as it doesn't freeze solid during cold weather. In spring, simply repot with fresh soil, place back in the water garden and in a few weeks, Voila!, new growth and blooms for the rest of the summer. If you're growing it as a tabletop specimen in a small container, simply pour out the water and remove the entire container to a cold, but non-freezing location for the winter, refilling and placing back outdoors once spring weather arrives.

So if you're looking for a beautiful waterlily that will perform beautifully both in the water garden or in a container, look up little 'Helvola'. It's sure to impress!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Best Day of Summer

The best day of summer has come early this year! No, no... not the first day of summer. The best day of summer! The day when you sink your teeth into the juicy, sweet, ruby red flesh of summer's most perfect fruit.....the first tomato! Oh yes, I picked the first tomato today and I just wanted to brag a little, in case you haven't picked one yet. It is a contest, after all, right? Who has the first tomato?

That's a little unfair, I know. Some of you live up north where tomato season won't start until at least mid to late July and others of you, who live further south, have long beaten me to the punch. However, in my garden, today was the day for the first tomato of the season! I do have to make a confession: It was just a little ol' bitty cherry tomato--but it was the first one of the season and there are hundreds more to follow!

So how did I savor this first tiny little mouthful of summer? The only way you can. I stood right there in the garden, wiped the dust off on my shirt, wrapped it in a leaf from the neighboring basil plant (strategically located for just this purpose!) and popped it right in my mouth where seeds and juice exploded on first bite. Yum!

The tomatoes are growing like gangbusters. They've loved all of the rain we've had this late spring and early summer and after only 6 weeks in the ground the cherry tomato is all the way to the top of it's 5-foot-tall cage. The others are a little slower, only about halfway up their cages, but growing and setting fruit very well. That, of course, will stop in this heat, so I'm glad they had the chance to set some fruit early. Once the night temperatures stay above about 73 degrees or so, fruit set comes to a screeching halt. Fortunately, I think we're supposed to have a couple of nights in the upper 60's in the upcoming week (even though the daytime temps are still going to be miserable) and that will allow for the flowers that are open now to set fruit, too, so hopefully there won't be too big a gap in the harvest later this summer.

I've been able to get another small section of the garden weeded and under control, so slowly but surely it is all starting to come together. I took some "before" pictures a few days ago when I was out working, so they should make for some good before and after shots in the future. A new plant post to follow soon! Hope everyone's gardens are surviving this early heatwave and if you're fortunate enough to live somewhere where the heat isn't a problem yet, then send some of that cooler weather our way! We're already 10 degrees above normal for this time of year and that doesn't bode well for August, but at least I'll have a crop of healthy, gorgeous tomatoes to keep me going out to the garden every morning!

Monday, June 15, 2009


One of the groups of plants that I have always admired--even lusted after--but have never experimented with much is Kniphofia, the "red hot pokers". Even as a child, I remember seeing those full color pictures in the Wayside Gardens catalog (and many others) and thinking that there just couldn't be a much prettier or more impactful flower. I don't know whether it was just the flowers, which looked to me like some sort of fanciful orange fireworks bursting in mid-air, or if I had already started a lifelong love affair with all things "spiky" and sword-like in texture. Probably, it was a combination of the two, even if I didn't know it at the time. That affair carries on today and, I have to admit, it carries on torridly with a Kniphofia named 'Lola'.

It is no secret that I like my plants big, and 'Lola' is certainly a big-boned gal. With spiky green foliage rising to nearly 5 feet tall and as wide and with brilliant orange blossoms approaching a foot long and carried on sturdy stems reaching nearly 7 feet tall, she's one of the biggest of all of the red hot pokers. I'm not sure that any others exceed her in size. I love Tony Avent's description of 'Lola' in his Plant Delights Nursery catalog (which is where I bought mine, by the way, http://www.plantdelights.com/), saying that 'Lola' is, "as we say in the South, a real honker". She's also very well adapted to our climate and has proven her worth both in my garden, as well as the gardens of several clients.

I had just planted my new plant last fall and was concerned this spring that 2 degrees this winter may have been more than 'Lola' could handle. She died all the way down to the ground, leaving no sign of live foliage whatsoever and while I knew that Kniphofia would often resprout from "root cuttings", I was afraid that the crown had been killed and the setback may have amounted to several years' worth of growth. I needed not have any fear. 'Lola' came firing back from below ground (the crown obviously did not freeze), and is even going to have her first flowers, even after a brutal winter.

One of the other things that I love about 'Lola' is her flowering time. The flower spikes are just now emerging and won't peak until around July 1 for me, lasting for approximately a month in good shape (starting next week and lasting until mid-July). Once flowering ceases, the foliage remains great looking, adding bold, spiky texture to the garden for the rest of the season. Kniphofia 'Lola' looks great with Hemerocallis 'Hyperion', Verbena bonariensis, Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' and many other garden plants with similar bloom times. If you like your plants, big, bold and simply fabulous, 'Lola' is your girl!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hemerocallis 'Double River Wye'

Hello everyone! It has been almost a month since I posted last. A lot of great things have been going on and I have been in the process of moving my office to my home, which has taken a little longer than expected. I've had very limited and extremely slow internet access up until just a few days ago, so now I'll be back on a regular basis. Things are continuing to happen in the garden and there'll be lots to tell as summer progresses.

One of the things that's happening now is the flowering of the daylilies. I only brought one with me to the farm and it's one of my favorites. I found it at a local nursery a few years back and have never seen it again, although I do know that a few places offer it for sale online. It's called 'Double River Wye' and looks almost like a double-flowering form of the old standard 'Hyperion', another one of my absolute favorites. It's just a little smaller in stature than 'Hyperion', standing about 30" tall when its in bloom, with narrow almost grassy foliage. It has multiplied very well, even in a container, and when I do get it in the garden a little later this summer I think I'll be able to divide it into at least three good pieces.

The flowers are almost what I would call a "loose" double, or perhaps even semi-double. They don't have that full, overblown, rose-like appearance that some of the doubles do, and while I like those, too, there is something infinitely more charming about the "looseness" of the petals in this particular flower. It has a charming, old-fashioned kind of appeal. It doesn't re-bloom (or at least hasn't), there are no eyezones or watermarks or piecrust edges, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good garden plant. It presents exceptionally well, with the stems carrying the flowers well above the foliage (one of my biggest pet peeves with many of the modern hybrids is that they often have their flowers buried in the foliage).

I'm anxious to get it in the ground and see what happens when it really has good soil and an unrestricted root run. I think it's going to turn into a great garden plant!