Spare the rod

My nemesis the sunflower.

bird seed sunflowers

Self sown sunflowers from birdseed backed up by variegated giant reed grass (Arundo donax ‘gold chain’).

Harmless and full of promise is how they appear in the spring, now two months later they’re acting more like closing time at the bar.  Sloppy drunks hang all over one another, sprawl across the beds, and smother the other sober little plants which have yet to grow.  If it weren’t for their summertime good looks and the goldfinches they pull in I would compost them all!

sunflower bloom birdseed

Future birdfood.

It doesn’t take many sunflower seedlings to overtake a bed and between the extra mulching and copious rainfall they’ve had everything they needed to explode.  It’s like a lovely tsunami of sun looming over the plantings.

flower border sunflowers

The sunflowers do look pretty with the purple verbena bonariensis, striped leaves of ‘tropicanna’ canna, and the first of the peach colored salvia splendens.

From the top of the bed it still looks pretty but only after I cut down two of the sunflower trees and chopped the rest back in order to clear the pool path again.

tropicals with annuals border

The tropical border looking colorful, but as usual not very tropical.

The inner depths of the tropical bed are beyond reach, I’ll have to wait for frost before I can get in there again.  Fortunately it’s well mulched and doesn’t need much of anything for most of the summer, so as long as the cannas and reed grass don’t get completely swamped I guess I can turn the other cheek and let chaos rule.

arundo donax gold chain with sunflowers

There’s a giant thistle in there as well, I see a steady trail of goldfinches flying in and out feasting on the seed.

Really.  Next year will be the year when this whole mess gets back under control.  The sunflowers will have to go as well as the chrysanthemums which never did get moved like they were supposed to.  In spite of the overwhelming agricultural look of the sunflowers (and I have to admit I really love the show right now) there are a few tropical highlights which have flickered on.  The cannas may not be as big as in years past, but I would never go without them.

healthy canna tropicana

Healthy ‘Tropicanna’ canna leaves in a sea of green with only a touch of gold.

They’ve still got a good two months of growing before frost threatens and hopefully everything will still have plenty of time to fill in.  While other parts of the garden might be taking on a weary look this time of year, these tropicals are just going from good to better, and it’s not just the cannas.  The dahlias are beginning to come on as well.  The flowers are what I’m waiting for, but on a few the foliage show is even better.

dahlia happy single flame

Dahlia ‘happy single flame’ with the dark purple spires of ‘Lighthouse purple’ salvia behind.  I wish those salvia were just a tiny bit taller, right now this low planting looks closer to Victorian bedding than tropicalismo!

Although the foliage is fantastic, I wish I could say the same for the blooms of dahlia ‘happy single flame’.  They  don’t last long and never really make the ‘wow’ impression most of the other dahlias do.  The color is great though and I’ll try to hold on to this one for another year or two, even as the others bloom their heads off in comparison.

dahlia happy single flame

Peak bloom on dahlia ‘happy single flame’.

One plant which I had high hopes for but is now slightly underwhelming is the Brazilian button.  New this year from the HPS Mid Atlantic seed exchange, the buttons are nice enough but there could be more flowering at one time and most importantly have a color less like the verbena which I already have filling in all over.  You just don’t notice them in the mix.

Centratherum punctatum Brazilian button

Brazilian button (Centratherum punctatum)

But I’m being too negative.  The sunflowers are awesome and the patch is full of flowery interest, and whenever I get the chance I sit (with a drink preferably) and watch the comings and goings of the goldfinches, hummingbirds, and bees.

pink salvia splendens

The pink salvia splendens are only now starting to flower having spent most of the summer putting on weight.  The large leafy bushes should put on a great show for me and the hummingbirds.

I’m sure there will be more to come from the tropical garden, and if I can only keep a firm hand next year it might even look tropical-ish as well.  Right now I’m just happy enough it’s mulched and weeded from the topside all the way down to the low end.  Last year the low end was pathetic with its drought crisped annuals and struggling heucheras (is that the correct plural for heuchera?)  This year it’s much improved and I can see this becoming a nice transition to the pond garden…. once I get a non-leaky pond in!

panicum northwind in garden

Next year the new divisions will fill in and there should be a wall of panicum ‘northwind’  separating the tropics on the left from the heucheras and pond garden on the right.  

In the photo above you can barely make out the blue mist of Browallia Americana hovering above the hosta.  It’s an easy enough annual (native to Central and South America and across the Caribbean isles) and each year I like it’s nearly true-blue flowers even more.  Too bad I can’t get the camera to agree on the color, it always washes it out to a violet.

browallia americana

Browallia americana

So summer is still in full swing here, and for someone who prefers to ignore the calendar there’s not even a hint of the season winding down yet.  I like this sense of denial and will hang on to it for as long as I can…. but if pushed I will admit to thinking about next year already.  Ok, so I don’t even need a push.  I stumbled upon a summer sale at the nursery and took home a cool little banana plant.  It’s been a couple years since my banana growing days but I can feel the itch again and who knows what this means for next year’s plantings 🙂

20 comments on “Spare the rod

  1. Tipsy sunflower trees…. hehehe. One too many at the OBI, no doubt. 😉 That dahlia foliage is really striking; I would probably talk myself into regarding the flowers as being “gamine” or something. Hey, it’s worth a try. 🙂

    • bittster says:

      heh heh. It’s a hot mess out there in the sunflower border!
      I’ll try to keep that in mind when I’m looking at the dahlias…. who knows though? Maybe they’ll take on a whole new joie de vivre as nighttime temperatures begin to cool off.

  2. Pauline says:

    It must be wonderful having so many birds visiting for your sunflower seeds! Your border is looking so full of beautiful plants, but it can be a problem when one takes over, I’m sure by next year you will have it as you want it. All your sunflowers must make it look as if the sun is shining all the time!

    • bittster says:

      It is a pleasant sight looking out at the blooms, and the comings and goings of the birds is also fun. I love being out there on a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee just watching!
      I appreciate your optimism in my ability to turn things around 🙂

  3. Do you know, I had not even one single sunflower volunteer in the vegetable garden this year? I was shocked! I’ll actually have to purposely plant some next year! A good friend of mine up here just went through the same thing you did, chopping through her own overwhelming sunflower jungle!

    Yes, that Dahlia flower is rather underwhelming, but the foliage is spectacular! And I love those Tropicana Cannas! (That’s fun to say, by the way–“Tropicana cannas, tropicana cannas!” ). Oh boy, now I already can’t wait until next year to incorporate some of these ideas into my own garden, as I had planned to do this year!

    And, I have troubles getting blues and purples to represent properly on the screen as well, but the Browalia sure is pretty. Heck, Frank, it’s just all gorgeous!

    • bittster says:

      I’m so glad you’re finally beginning to feel better, and yes I can’t wait to see the improvements for next year. I still think you need the giant reed grass (lol) but even if you don’t plant a clump I think we’ll see great things next year!
      I hope the begonia cuttings do well for you, it’s always fun when you manage to get in a visit down here!

      • It was great to see your gardens! I’ll take a giant clump of reed grass if you take an envelope full of cosmos and cleome seeds, and promise to scatter them with great abandon! The begonias suffered in the car (shopping with teenage daughter took a LONG time!), but they seem to be perking up now. The scented geraniums did just fine.

      • bittster says:

        Wow, I would have happily spent another hour walking around in the 90F sunshine rather than spend 20 minutes teen girl shopping…
        Very happy to have you, I hope I can get up there soon!

      • And I’m somewhat regretting not taking those Cannas from your driveway! Only somewhat, though!

  4. Christina says:

    I love the exuberance of the sunflowers. They looked fabulous last year and they do again. Why fight something great? I like the idea of grasses separating the two areas of the garden.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Christina. I guess we always think we have a better idea, and love to tinker with things even when they work 🙂
      I really don’t do much in terms of separating garden spaces. So much of my yard can be taken in from the vantage point of the back door, and I think this doesn’t do much in the way of surprise or discovery. Maybe my small dividing line of grasses will be the start of something new!

  5. Chloris says:

    I think the sunflowers look wonderful. Why would you want them all to stand to attention? I like the lazy, late -summer look of sprawling sunflowers. And finches too, that has to be good. I love the shot of the Arundo donax and dark cannas with the sunflowers. Your garden looks great and I love that little Browallia, I’ ve never seen it before.

    • bittster says:

      I think once I accept the sprawl of the sunflowers I will be much happier with the plantings…. and as I studied it today I believe I came along quite well in coming to terms.
      Still I think next year I’d like a darker, more moody tropical bed. There will be plenty of room elsewhere for the sunflowers such as the vegetable garden, and sunflowers are edible so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to include them as a crop.

  6. Benjamin says:

    Beautiful! Like you, by August I’m letting many of the flowers do as they may, waiting ’til the first frost to restore some semblance of order. But isn’t there something wonderful in all that wild, gorgeous chaos! Cheers, Ben

  7. I love when my sunflowers self-seed but never in spots you want them so I have taken to moving some and they do survive…but I don’t have nearly as many as you…wow!

    • bittster says:

      I must have far too many open areas for them to seed in to, and just a few sunflowers with about a hundred branches each really add up to a lot of flowers!
      Moving them was what got me into trouble in the first place. I felt bad for a couple poorly placed seedlings in the front yard, moved them, and now the rest is history!

  8. Gardener, spare those sunflowers! At least some of them. One thing I do is put 3-4 tall poles around a patch of tall plants then tie green twine around and across (this keeps them from all leaning in a single clump. You really don’t want to see those goldfinches when they’re mad.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks for the suggestion, I may try it with a few dahlias which are getting a little tipsy. The sunflowers are beyond staking now, all over the place but still blooming and sprouting upwards… and the goldfinches are pleased 🙂

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