The sputtering tropics

Again I’m trying to recapture the tropical gardens of years past, but again I’m falling short.  The fault is entirely my own though and I know that, but in NE Pennsylvania tropical plantings mean around six months of empty planting area and I just don’t have enough self control to keep them perennial and bulb-free.  Really… in October how bad can it be to slip in an extra daffodil or lily?

liberty hyde bailey lily

First year blooms on ‘Liberty Hyde Bailey’.  Photo credits for this artistic shot go to the wife,  to tell the truth I wasn’t so sure she even knew where the garden was, let alone was interested in taking any pictures 😉

To my credit serious mulching with every scrap of mulched leaves and any garden debris I could send through the mower has substantially reduced last year’s problem.  The problem was that this bed was overrun with sunflowers, and if we ignore the fact that the gardener himself was responsible with planting them we can pretend that only having a half dozen or so of the plants this year is an improvement.  Still a few self seeded anyway and hopefully this more manageable patch won’t again overshadow the ‘tropical’ look with ‘overgrown agricultural’.  -and for the record I did rip out at least another dozen healthy sunflower seedlings, and nearly drove myself to drink over the guilt (but after a hard day of work what gardener doesn’t deserve a cool drink?)

saving money on mulch

A few sunflowers coming up but hopefully enough bright color and big leaves to make it look tropical.  I only had enough bark mulch for the outer edge, the rest is lawn clippings.

Mulching has been an obsession lately.  I raided the neighborhood woods again and brought home a few wheelbarrows of stinky dumped grass clippings which I used to cover the inner reaches of the bed.  It was just in time to smother tons of baby weeds but most importantly the rotting grass was a solid dose of fertilizer for all the little goodies coming up.  Within a few days everything turned a lush green and started putting out new growth.  It was amazing what a difference the grass made and I’m sure the earthworms are pleased as well.  In order to keep it more presentable I robbed some leftover wood mulch from next door and tidied up the edges of the bed with a few shovelfuls of that.  It’s the dyed mulch which I’m not crazy about, but it being free really appealed to my budget sense.

mulch and paver pathway

I also leveled and set the mismatched stone and paver bits which pave the shortcut between our yard and grandma’s pool.  It looks halfway decent now and is much less of an ankle twister.

Even with plants in and mulch applied, the bed is still not out of the woods.  There’s always a problem child or two.  First it’s the chrysanthemums which I planted and meant to transplant once spring rolled around.  That didn’t happen and to add insult to injury they are coming into bloom now…. just when I don’t need fall color.

mammoth yellow quill chrysanthemum

‘Mammoth yellow quill’ chrysanthemum looking good in July.  I guess next year I’ll pinch in May and try to delay bloom, mums in September would have been nicer!

Another problem are the two cannas I bought.  They were from a reputable online nursery and were listed as showing no signs of virus, but the first leaves tell a different story.  A refund is already on my account but I really wanted to add a healthy canna ‘Musifolia’ and ‘Pretoria’ to the bed.  the leaf streaking and yellowing/browning patches are sure signs of canna virus so these have regrettably been thrown to the trash.

canna virus

These leaves should have a lush, solid green, but instead are showing the streaks and mottling of canna virus.

As usual the third problem child is me.  How could I pull out this lusty little bull thistle?

bull thistle in garden

An excellent example of a weed.  The goldfinches will appreciate the seed heads of this thistle, and surprisingly enough I don’t get many seedlings even when I let them grow.  They seem to need open soil to sprout which is not easy to find around here.

As the tropical garden puts on some weight and gets ready for August I’m going to see if my tidying and weeding streak can finally extend next door to the not-so-red-border.  It needs the help, but so far all I’ve managed is the start of an access path which will circle around through the back of the border.  I’ve been eliminating the weedy campanulas and moving out other plants but still have a long way to go.

a new path into the flower beds

The start of a new path through the back of the red border.  Unfortunately that was as far as my free mulch would take me….

What is summer without a few projects?  Hopefully my neighbors will oblige me with more grass clippings, maybe temperatures will stay low, and maybe I can blaze a path through the thicket which is beginning to take over.  I won’t even mention the water filled hole which has formed where the pond used to be.  All the rain we had has made this area into a soggy mess!

hemerocallis altisima and raspberry wine monarda

Topping out at around 5 and a half feet, this daylily (hemerocallis altisima) looks cool with the dark blooms of ‘Raspberry Wine’ monarda and a few other leftovers from back when this bed was loved.  The tall grass (Miscanthus giganteus) is thriving on all the extra rain and is at least two feet over the neighbor’s six foot privacy fence. 

I guess it’s a start, and time will tell if it’s also an end.  With two weeks of vacation coming up and plenty of weekend trips in between, I may just sit back and enjoy summer rather than sweat out another bed re-do.  The wooliness doesn’t seem to bother anyone other than myself and digging is always more pleasant in September!

Resist temptation

Summertime DIY projects are an awful thing, and not just for their interference with pool time.  This beautiful time of year with its warmth and sunshine is also the time when nurseries and box stores try and clear out their inventory, and as long as I’m at the store picking up lumber and sandpaper I might as well take a stroll through the plants to see what’s going on.  So far an oleander and golden arborvitae have joined the screw and hinge purchases, and under the relentless strain of repeated returns to the store it’s no surprise my resistance wears thin and a small eucalyptus or succulent falls in the cart too.  Some people buy chocolate, I buy plants, and at a midsummer 50% off sale I run the risk of getting fat.

The DIY store is not a nursery.  The plants are not well cared for and are right in there with washing machines, pipe, and soda coolers…… but sometimes you get lucky.  Sometimes you don’t though, and it bothers me that they sell diseased and dying plants such as these ‘Tropicana’ cannas.

virus in canna leaf

Canna ‘Tropicana’ should be a gaudy blend of yellow, pink, and red stripes on a purple leaf, without breaks and mottling of color. You’re looking at canna virus.

I would guess the store doesn’t know and doesn’t much care to know but the grower should, and to send out plants looking this bad (and to then sell them for nearly $15!) seems irresponsible.  Reputation must not matter much as long as the bottom line keeps looking good.

diseased cannas

Back in the day people went crazy over the wild colors which would show up in virused tulips….. but they learned the lesson and dumped the plants. ‘Tropicana’ growers didn’t get the memo, and each year I see these deformed offerings.

I would think if it’s your business you would want to send out the healthiest plants possible, and I’ve seen several online sources openly discuss the canna virus struggle, but some don’t seem to care.  ‘Tropicana’ can be a really cool plant…. if not entirely tasteful 🙂

healthy tropicana canna

Tropicana out by the mailbox last year. Maybe not virus-free (I’m back and forth on whether or not it’s clean) but it sure looks better than the store version.

I like my cannas and try to toss anything that looks suspicious, but I hate to see the pros doing a worse job than me.

I’d also hate to leave on a down note so here’s another lapse in judgment that you might enjoy.  Santa Rosa is an excellent online source for plants, and they run some amazing sales, here are the goodies which arrived last month after I fell victim to their online summer clearance.

plants from Santa Rosa gardens

I wasn’t even aware of my heuchera addiction until this showed up. My collection of one plant just increased by a dozen more….

The sale is still going on by the way, and if you use the coupon code of JULY10 when checking out, another $10 will come off your $35 minimum order… that’s practically giving plants away and I’m not going to go there (but I would never judge others who lack my amazing will power!)


Canna Virus

The bed expansion is coming along….. not as fast as it should but it’s progressing.  The plan is to go all along the front street border, widen the bed, thin a couple things out, weed, replant, and then mulch.  Each year I like to clear out a couple spots for cannas and other annuals, and since it’s almost July I better get a move on it before it’s too late.

Cannas are usually easy to grow, but in the past decade canna virus has become a serious problem due to the appearance of yellow streak virus.  CaYSV is the fancy name and it does exactly what it sounds like it does.  On a normally healthy green leaf it produces streaks of yellow.  Here’s a canna I was looking forward to adding to the garden, instead it will end up in the trash due to virus.canna virus

I got the canna in a trade and it was supposed to be a nice healthy banana canna and reach up to 12 feet tall… but it’s not to be.  I’ll get over it, but it seems like the plant you can’t have is the one you want most.

The yellow streak virus weakens the leaves and results in brown dead streaks.  Most of the cannas I see for sale have the virus, and Tropicana is one of the worst with green streaks showing up instead of yellow.  It’s a shame but hopefully with tissue culture and more effort in raising healthy plants we can get some healthy cannas back.