A Tropical Update

While we look to the tropics and wait to see what the latest hurricane brings I think a trip to the milder side is in order.  The Pennsylvania tropics are much calmer and even-keeled and if you ignore the heavy hand of winter’s approach I think it’s a nice enough retreat from everything else going on.

tropical garden

The tropical border this summer.  The steady rains were a plus but the cooler temperatures held many a hot-blooded plant back.

Even though things were in the ground earlier than ever this year the cool weather made for a slow start.  I even lost nearly all the dahlias when my “big patch of ’em” idea didn’t go well with the “all the water drains here” reality.  Losing plants to an excess of water is not something I’ve ever experienced here on this thin-soiled hilltop.  Fortunately there’s always a backup plan.

tropical garden

The striped leaves of ‘Bengal Tiger’ canna rank as one of my all time favorite plants.  To me they seem to go well with everything, especially the purple verbena bonariensis and surviving dahlias.

Verbena.  Verbena bonariensis is my backup plan for nearly every plant fiasco/disaster.  Any unmulched sunny spot quickly sprouts a few seedlings and all this gardener has to do is stand back.  If anything they need thinning since they  come up thick and look much better when each has some space of their own.

alcazar kniphofia

This might be my most promising red hot poker.  Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ has nice big spikes with just the right glow factor.  Last year there were only two flower stalks which faded in a week or two, but this year three flushes of flowerings kept the plant interesting for almost two months.  I hope it wasn’t a fluke!

I do tend to let things just happen.  Laziness and distraction can do that to a garden, and the far end of the tropical border is mostly foliage.

tropical garden

Leaves aren’t all that bad.  Having a spot where color is not entirely in your face is probably a good idea.

The mulch which I smothered this end of the bed with must have contained some leftover autumn decorations so the coleus I planted ended up being smothered by the climbing vines of Yugoslavian finger squash.  They seemed to love all the rain and vines slinked and slithered all through the back of the border.

yugoslavian finger squash

There’s something about the name ‘Yugoslavian finger squash’ which I think is funny.  Yugoslavian?  The finger?  Finger squash?  It’s like a teenage boy came up with the name and I guess it speaks volumes for my maturity level.   

So while we await our Finger squash decorating bonanza the rest of the border is busy with the bees and butterflies who take advantage of the color.

monarch on verbena

With any luck this year’s Monarch migration will be a big one, and I hope I left enough verbena to keep them around for a few days. 

I’m hoping things work out well for a big Monarch migration this autumn.  A few years ago there was a trifecta of beautiful weather, plenty of butterflies, and loads of verbena blossoms and walking through the fluttering garden was almost surreal.  Thinking back on it I really feel bad for those people who hire landscape companies, spray for any wildlife which gets too close, and then stare at lawn all summer.  Holy boring.

katydid

At three or four inches long Katydids are an insect you can have a conversation with.  People go on about bees and butterflies but these guys are my favorites… even if they do eat decent sized chunks out of the purple canna leaves.

The tropical garden is not boring.

tropical garden

Too much?  Stripes on stripes was not the plan but somehow ‘Tropicana’ ended up in front of ‘Cosmopolitan’ fountain grass.  It should look even more tasteful in another few weeks when the grass puts out its pink flower heads.

Hope a good weekend is had by all and a little boring can extend down to the areas in the path of hurricane Irma.  The tropics look much better when not ravaged by obscene winds.

Tuesday View: The Front Border 8.28.17

Monday was the first day back to school for the kids and that officially means late summer.  A few haters will point out that it actually means autumn, but no.  Summer won’t give up so easily and I won’t give up on summer… even if there was a slight nip in the air this morning 😦

The front border doesn’t look autumnal at all, and this week as we join the vacationing Cathy at Words and Herbs for the Tuesday view it’s all about sunflowers!

front border

The front border this Tuesday.

The sunflowers seem to know there’s still plenty of time to flower and set seed before the axe falls.  They’re really nice right now and between the bright flowers they already hold enough partly-ripe seedheads to bring in a steady stream of goldfinches.

sunflower

This is my current computer screen background.  Sunflowers and ‘Australia’ canna, all looking even better with the beige stalks of ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass as a screen.

As usual I’m not looking forward to fall.  I’ll stay in denial for weeks and then sometime in early October bite the bullet and make the transition from late summer to fall.  Even my blog categories show this bias and I had to laugh a few weeks ago when I noticed all the other seasons are broken down into ‘early spring’, ‘spring’, and ‘late spring’, but fall is just ‘fall’.  I guess that helps get through it just a little bit faster.

Molina skyracer

Halfway down the border, Molina ‘skyracer’ is one sign of late summer.  It’s a great plant for the edge of the border where its height doesn’t block anything yet breaks up the monotony of shorter plantings.  A ‘see through’ is what people call it.

Besides grasses going to seed there are some other sure signs that summer is ripening.  The neat little lumpy sedums are blooming.

sedum brilliant

I think this is sedum ‘brilliant’, given to me by a friend years ago and carelessly unlabeled because I was sure I’d remember the variety.  From the minute the buds swell in the spring to the minute I cut down the dried stalks so the swelling buds can grow it’s an attractive thing.

But the annuals won’t give up for at least another month.  Even the zinnias which have been going since May are still looking good.

painted lady butterfly

A painted lady butterfly getting her fill off the ground cover zinnias.  This might be ‘Zahara something’ but as usual…

I’ll leave you with yet another photo of the end of the border.  These ‘Cannova Rose’ cannas with the purple Verbena bonariensis have me convinced I’m the most amazing garden designer who ever planted a canna or paired a color.  Be prepared to see this photo one more time when the yellowing kochia plant does its burning bush routine.

cannova rose canna

Coleus, ‘Cannova Rose’ canna, Verbena, kochia, and a few orange ‘Zahara’ zinnias.  Not bad for a bunch of leftover cuttings, tubers, and self sown seedlings… and a six-pack of zinnias 😉

Do give Cathy a visit to see how other views are developing this Tuesday, and it’s not too late to join with your own!  You probably have a good four weeks before autumn really insists on arriving, and only until that happens will it officially be too late.  Obviously when autumn does get here no-one is going to want to see pictures of fall foliage and asters, so what’s the point of starting then, might as well wait until you can post snowy photos 🙂

Have a great late summer week!

Tuesday View: The Tropics 11.1.16

As you can see from this Tuesday’s view, the weather forecast was correct and Tuesday night we received our first strong frost.  One night and the tropical summer was over… but for this part of PA the last week of October is a late frost date, so there are no complaints from this end.  It was a great year!

tuesday view tropical plants

No denying fall is here now.  The cannas are browned, the dahlias are blackened, yet even at the end of the season there’s still some color left.

You wouldn’t guess it but I did spend a few minutes cleaning up.  The mildewed Verbena bonariensis had been bothering me so those were cut down, and a few large blackened salvias and coleus were taken out as well.  For the most part though the rest will come out this weekend (I hope) as I dig canna and dahlia roots and pack them away for the winter, but I have to say even with less color it’s still kind of interesting.  I’m discovering things here and there which have been overshadowed by the annuals for the past three months.

chrysanthemum carousel

A bit tousled by this weekend’s thunderstorm, chrysanthemum ‘Carousel’ is still holding up to the cooler nights.  The green nicotina is also doing well, but the surprise was the fat clump of Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima… recently renamed though) which was hiding under the verbena I pulled.

Today I did go ahead and plant a few leftover snowdrops in the tropical bed.  The idea of early spring snowdrops sounds nice enough, but I’m pretty sure it will prove to be a bad idea come July when I want to replant all the summer visitors in the same spot.  “Oh well” I say.  Summer is a long time off and spring flowers are more fun to think of.

So as the season winds down here I’d again like to thank Cathy at Words and Herbs for hosting the Tuesday view each week.  It’s been a nice run but I believe winter has most of us calling it quits for the season and our thoughts are turning inside and towards the holidays.  Not a bad idea at all, but I might still have another week or two in me, if only to prove that I really did dig up and store all those fantastic roots and bulbs for next year!

 

Tuesday View: The Tropics 08.30.16

It’s Tuesday again and time to join up with Cathy at Words and Herbs to take a look at the Tuesday view.  I’m going to guess that the purple leaved cannas are at full height and full bloom now and things are about as close to a peak as I can imagine 🙂

tropicalismo

The Tuesday view this evening.  I managed to get the pictures just before dusk, and finally for once the photos didn’t come out all blurry and overexposed.  I can see why photographers enjoy this time of day and may have to reconsider my strong commitment to doing nothing at these closing hours of the day.

I’m not thrilled about the sun being lower and lower in the sky each week, but the low evening light hitting the canna tops really highlights their bright little blooms.

tropicalismo

The garden has become very popular with the hummingbirds as they go from verbena to canna to salvia to everywhere in between. I wonder if they are local youngsters or just birds starting to work their way south.

In case you’re wondering most of the dahlias have been staked.  It was a struggle but since the spool of twine has been sitting on the walkway for days now I figured it was time.  Hopefully the dahlias can bloom in peace and sway gently in the wind with their reassuring support system… although now it’s the overhanging canna leaves which threaten their happiness…

sunflower

I can’t help but put in another photo of the sunflower which came up near the fence. It’s got some doubling in there but I think the dark anthers poking through around the center are what really make it stand out for me. 

As long as I’m just putting in gratuitous plant pictures I might as well show my absolutely favorite canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ again.  It’s practically stunted in comparison to the others but gardeners all know that the show is always going to be better next year.  I’ll just have to get something taller to go with it since right now it matches perfectly with the verbena bonariensis… but that won’t be the case net year if it sprouts up to six feet (which it should have no problem doing).

canna Bengal tiger

Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ with the purple of Verbena bonariensis.

Speaking of plants which are sprouting up, the banana ‘Bordelon’, which spent last summer potted on the deck, has finally recovered from a neglectful winter in the garage and a tough spring with a rough crowd in the back of the bed.  I hope this winter I can do better with its care and avoid this setback since I used to be able to just throw the stem with a few roots into a basement and they would survive just fine.  Something’s changed though since lately they’ve been just plain struggling.

tropicalismo

Banana ‘Bordeleon’ rising up above the verbena and knock out rose.  It’s still got a few more weeks before being dug up, so I hope it keeps going strong.

Actually I don’t even want to think about overwintering anything yet, so before I go I just want to point out one of the most enjoyable late summer events which occurs around the tropical bed this time of year.   Just across the grass path you’ll find a nice patch of hosta in bloom.  I received it years ago as an incorrectly labeled plant but I believe it’s hosta ‘Royal Standard’ and it completely fills the evening and nighttime air with a sweet tropical fragrance which reminds me of gardenias minus the mustiness I sometimes get from them.  I love the scent and the plants are indestructible and even if they’re as old as dirt compared to all the new, fancy hybrids I would never consider getting rid of them.

hosta royal standard

Hosta ‘Royal Standard'(maybe).  Full sun and drought fried the tansy to the right of it, but the hosta just trudged along with a small bit of leaf scorch and yellowing. 

That’s about it for the view.  I was beginning to think there wasn’t much new going on anymore but once you start poking around there are always a few surprises.  Hopefully I can keep it up a few more weeks.  As usual thanks to Cathy for hosting!

Tuesday View: The Tropics 8.9.16

Another Tuesday and another view!  My camera has traveled on to other destinations so this week we’re going to see how well the phone camera works.  Fortunately when I headed out to take the pictures a few clouds rolled in to filter the light, and things don’t look too harsh here.

tropical garden

Today’s view of the tropical garden.  A little dark, but look at that weird color which the lawn has developed… Green!

 

I’m going to admit to doing little more than admiring the garden this week.  There was another nice rainfall last Saturday and for the first time in months things look relatively happy.  I even went as far as to mow parts of the lawn short and throw some fertilizer around to help the lawn recover now that it’s making an attempt at coming back to green.

canna tropicana

There’s more to healthy growing than the color green.  Here’s my favorite offensively festive canna, ‘Tropicana”. 

I do have a soft spot for the lushest of cannas.   The tall purple leaved ones are great, but ‘Tropicana’ and ‘Bengal Tiger’ both bring vivid variegation into the mix.  After years of trying to get a virus free plant of the later I think I’m finally there and hopefully it’s with me for a while again.

canna Bengal Tiger (Pretoria)

Still small but growing, canna Bengal Tiger (Pretoria) might be my very favorite canna. The yellow striping is amazing and I think when this becomes a big clump (fingers crossed) it will be quite a sight.

My Bengal Tiger has a way to go before it’s as inspiring as the ones I saw last year at Chanticleer but I have patience… sort of.  In the meantime the amazingly fast growth of the Kochia scoparia (burning bush or summer cypress) continues to impress me.  I love the fresh green color and soft fluffiness of the plants, and I hope it keeps looking good until (with luck) it lives up to its name and burns bright red this autumn.

kochia

Kochia with Verbena bonariensis and orange zahara zinnias.

So that’s where we are this week.  If you’d like to check in with a few other Tuesday views give Cathy at Words and Herbs a visit and if you’d like to join in feel free, I’m sure she’d be happy to have you!

The garden formerly known as tropical

There’s a spot in my yard (actually most of it inches over into my Mother in Law’s yard) where I like to indulge in a little of the tropics.  Last year it was full of cannas, sweet potatoes, and other warm weather friends, but this year it seems to have lost some of that bold tropical flair.  As usual it’s my own fault, and as usual it’s a long story, so I’ll try to keep it short.  It all begins in April when mulch was purchased for next door, and a willing volunteer was needed to spread it.  I foolishly agreed, but the deal was to add a couple tons of topsoil (I said I needed it to fill in along a sidewalk).  “I’ll spread all your mulch if you buy me even more stuff which needs spreading”.  Let me just say I run a hard bargain.

new flower bed

Look at that three inch drop from the sidewalk into the tropical bed. Clearly an ankle twisting lawsuit in the making!

So the mulch was spread, perennials divided, shrubs trimmed, weeds pulled…. the deal kept getting better and better it seems, but then it came down to the heap of topsoil sitting in the driveway.  I used a few wheelbarrows to raise the soil along the walk and was still left with plenty.  Finally my plan was coming together hah hah hah.  I’m pretty sure I mentioned I might use the topsoil to expand the bed a bit, so that’s what I went ahead and did 🙂

digging a new perennial bed

Line the edge with a hose, cut in and dig out the edge, smother the grass with about two inches of topsoil… wow did I hate mowing this sloped little patch of sickly grass!

No one said a word about the tripled in size, very empty bed.  I think people around here may be a little wary about asking questions for fear I will plant up a field of dandelions or something.  Some people have said I’m stubborn and criticism may tend to encourage me even more.  I like to think of it as proving a point 😉

fresh soil in flower bed

A huge empty garden bed in May. What could possibly make a gardener happier (other than a few loads of compost mixed in)?

The last bits of mulch made the bed a little more suburban-friendly and a few paver scraps thrown down along the center made an acceptable shortcut for the kids.  Then on to the real fun!  Canna and dahlia roots were lugged out and planted, and that was well enough, but then trouble started brewing.  A box filled with a dozen or so rooted chrysanthemum cuttings showed up at the door.  I can check on them constantly if they’re right along the edge of the new bed, so that’s where they went.  Don’t ask me why I needed a box of chrysanthemums, February is a tough month.

new flower bed

Somehow random perennials invaded the tropical border, that and chrysanthemums….

Then of course I tried to make the front yard more respectable by not having sunflowers all throughout the foundation plantings.  Out they came and into the new bed they went.  I have a serious problem in trying to show any kind of resolve against sunflower seedlings, they’re all summer and sunshine and it seems borderline criminal to pull them as weeds.

peony "do Tell"

Peony “Do Tell” can’t seriously expect to be the only plant using this spot of sun all year. The sunflowers should take over by July and the peony will just hang out in their shade until next year…. that’s the theory at least.

Things still look awfully barren but until the heat of summer hits it’s all kind of just biding its time.  Looking over from my yard you can see the bit of slope which made me hate mowing this spot.  Plus I’m not all that crazy about lawn to begin with *yawn* ….. it’s only really good for walking around on while checking the plants out!

side view

Year two of “I should give the table another coat of pain” -June 10th

My grass just doesn’t have the strength to come up through the soil (southerners may have a different experience), and even without soil improvement the new plants are still doing well as they feed off the decaying lawn underneath.  A month later and things are looking better.  The cannas still give a tropical look, but all the sunflowers are giving more of a neglected-agriculture vibe!

cannas, grasses, and sunflowers

July 13th, about a month later and the cannas are up, the sunflowers are growing, and I still keep looking at the bare dirt wishing for some compost or mulch to cover it up with.

As the sunflowers come into bloom they’re pretty and cheerful… but they’re not the tropics.

sunflower bed

It looks lush and green, so I should be happy. Also it’s not the color disaster I grew here last year, another reason to be pleased!

Besides it being a non-tropical border, a few other problems are coming to light.  The first is that some of the chrysanthemums relentlessly insist on setting buds and blooming for summer instead of fall.  I think I failed to pinch them back enough when planting them out in the spring, but I just don’t have the heart to do it now.

mums blooming too early

Chrysanthemums blooming in July, hopefully they’ll be on the correct schedule next year…. but they’ll need dividing by then, so I have no idea where to put them all!

To me a more insidious problem is the sunflower blooms.  When the first flower opened I cringed.  They’re completely pollen free, and because of that they don’t offer much to pollinators, and even worse they don’t set seed as well as the normal types.  I thought for sure since they were selfsown from last year’s plants that they should be normal functioning sunflowers but that’s not the case.  These all appear to carry the pollen-free gene, a gene which I’m sure came from the birdfeed seed.  I’m not big on all the seed conspiracies, but this looks like a genetic insurance policy that keeps farmers coming back to the seed supplier each year, and keeps them from replanting their own crop.  Good for a seed seller but not so good for me and all my now genetically tainted sunflowers.

pollen free sunflower with bee

Not much here for the bees.

Luckily there’s a small patch of sunflowers out front which still grow normally.  Once these started blooming I noticed a few seeds starting to form in the other patch (I guess a little pollen goes a long way throughout the garden!).  I need to make sure I get my seedlings from this area next year.

wild sunflower

This sunflower looks like it’s full of tasty seeds, not full of empty husks like over in the other patch.

The sunflowers look pretty enough, but all I see are the black soulless eyes of the walking dead…. ok maybe not that bad, but they lack the busy bees and bugs that usually do laps around the big open pollen filled flowers.  The goldfinches have also been very insulting as they touch down to check on the seed supply and come up empty.  Hopefully pollen from the front yard will work it’s way back here to at least make the birds happy.  Just in case, I planted a patch of heirloom sunflowers in the now completely dug up daffodil patch.  They’ll be late, but they’ll have pollen, and I think they’ll still make it before frost.

selfsown sunflowers

Sunflowers coming on strong.

I’m still holding out for a few tropical effects.  One castor bean seed came up and is now taking off, and “tropicanna” canna is looking healthy.  Also if I have nothing better to do this week, a few coleus and sweet potato cuttings can fill in one or two of the still empty spots, and maybe by late August ‘tropicalismo’ will revisit this bed once again.

castor bean with tropicanna canna

Castor bean “carmencita” and a few over-fed “Tropicana” cannas. The cannas seem to get much brighter colors when grown on the lean side, or with just a little 10-10-10 fertilizer. This batch has a lot of green in them due to higher nitrogen, probably from some miracle grow.

I don’t know if they say tropical to everyone, but dahlias never fail to bring brightness.  This peachy pink with yellow cactus flower makes me think of some overdone tropical drink.  Yummy!

pink and yellow cactus dahlia

Unknown dahlia which I keep saving from year to year. This spring I tried to show some restraint with them since last season planting a dozen or so might have been overkill 🙂

One plant I still need to plant out more of is verbena bonariensis.  In almost all my other beds it can be counted on to show up and make a play for taking over any open spot, here in the new soil it hasn’t had a chance to seed in yet.  Any transplants made this time of year will shrug off the shock of moving quickly and should be blooming up a purple storm in no time at all so I better get moving.

arundo donax "gold chain"

The grassy tropicalish leaves of arundo donax “gold chain” make a great mix with the sunflowers and verbena. I might have to plant this combo on purpose next year to make sure it happens again!

The tall old fashioned red leaved cannas always make me happy.  They’re super easy to overwinter, never look ratty, and always grow as fast as the fertilizer and water will take them.  The small reddish blooms which come later in the season aren’t much to talk about, but the hummingbirds love them.

red russian canna

Maybe canna “red Russian”? We call them Polish cannas after the old Polish woman who years ago gave the first ones to a friend of mine.

So that’s the latest from the ex-tropical bed.   It may still heat up as the season progresses, but for now it’s decidedly temperate and might remain so for a while.  No amaranthus or salvia seedlings showed, and this spring was a bust as far as all the seeds I started, so many of the brightest colors from last year are hushed.  For now I’ll have to keep satisfied with my little bit of the tropics in containers.

tropicals in containers

A couple real tropicals planted in containers where I can best keep an eye on them.

Not to go on any longer than I already have, but those weak little pots of tropicalismo surrounded by weeds and dead grass aren’t just a bad planter arrangement.  To me they’re the accent on a new gavel terrace backed by a low stone wall.  Maybe a fire pit.  I think one of the reasons my garden looks the way it does is because I have a bit too much vision, but we’ll see.  I do tend to work backwards and always find the plants first…. who cares if the seating area is still a little “in development”?

Viva la Tropicalismo!

“Tropicalismo” is so very ’90s but being in style was never my strong point. I still love the tropical look with big leaves and bright colors and lush happy growth right during the months when everything else looks a little tired and faded. Too big elephant ears, too bright cannas and just a little too tall grasses always make me smile when the bleeding hearts are dying in the heat. I even like the bright red salvia that is normally reserved for gas stations and trailer parks. Feel free to judge me, here’s a picture of the tropical bed last year.
tropicalismo gardening
This was a new area that was the perfect match of big space, full sun, and no planting budget, so I pulled together the leftover canna roots, popped in a couple sweet potato cuttings, and scattered some annual seedlings and with plenty of water and fertilizer it all came together.
As usual this year I’ve fallen behind, and the tropical bed is still a weed infested patch of leftover perennials, a few nice salvias, and an appropriately bright knockout rose.
a weedy flower bed
I finally got around to weeding, mulching, and planting. It may seem like all is lost with such a late planting date, but the experience of a chronic procrastinator has taught me things will still work out fine. Also the late planting allowed several self sown red salvias and amaranth to make themselves known. All good things since I used up all the spare annuals when I expanded the front yard border.
So here it sits, still a little sparse, but ready to take on all the drought and heat summer throws its way.
weeded bed with some grass clipping mulch
With any luck I’ll still have the same tastelessly colorful display as last year, minus a few of the exceptionally colorful and tacky tropicana cannas.
cannas and salvia