Thursday’s Feature: Delphinium

This Thursday it’s all about flowers.  For as much as I love throwing in questionable photos of borderline weedy plants or offensively tacky color clashes, even I have to brag a little now and then when something goes right.  The tall hybrid delphiniums don’t like my garden or me but this one seems to have resigned itself to its fate and has come to an agreement with my garden.  It’s beautiful and although I can take little credit for that at least the pictures are pretty.

purple delphinium

Purple delphinium

Four years ago it was love at first sight when I came across a little pot with a fat plant and a solid stem just starting to sprout up into a bloom stalk.  I thought to myself “even I can’t screw this up, and it’s going to be amazing”, so onto the cart it went and the rest is history.

purple delphinium

Another view 🙂

These tall delphinium hybrids love a perfectly rich soil in a sheltered spot with steady moisture and shelter from the worst of the weather.  They do better in cooler, fairer climates and don’t like drought, heat, humidity, storms, drying winds, children playing, large pets, neglect, stray hoses, clumsy gardeners… essentially everything that my garden represents… but this one carries on.  2016 has been a lean year for it since I’m trying something new (less fertilizer and no staking) but the show is still nice enough.

purple delphinium

A wider view of the clump shows smaller bloom heads and yellowing lower leaves which resulted from a leaner diet, but I also haven’t staked the flowers and they are holding up reasonably well to the wind.

But you don’t care about lean, anemic delphinium plants.  A Thursday feature is fun so here are photos from last year when the fertilizer was flowing and the party really took off!

purple delphinium

Sorry about the bicycle in the background….

This one clump which survives (trust me I’ve killed my fair share of these) is on a slope in morning sun near the hose… which means it gets a sprinkle whenever the water goes on.

purple delphinium

…and oops about the sign.

-but prepare yourself for heartbreak if you give these a try.  Three out of four years a storm cell will pummel your garden just as the delphinium reaches its peak, and little in the way of staking will help the heavy blooms.  On the plus side they make an excellent cut flower (if you have room for two to three foot flower stalks in your arrangement), but on the down side it’s depressing to say the least.

purple delphinium

Delphiniums after the storm.

Few things are fun without a little effort and risk, so give them a try and see where you end up.  While I go on to ponder the possibilities of growing these in a classy walled garden with the perfect soil, you may want to check out a few other feature plants to fill your Thursday.  Kimberley of Cosmos and Cleome hosts each week so give her blog a visit to see what she and others have featured this week.



The softer side

It’s not all prickles and barbs here, there are a few fluffy gobs of pink which have found their way into the garden and onto the kitchen table.

sarah bernhardt peony

Peony season is here and in my opinion the best place for them is a vase.

Nearly all the huge blooms end up being cut and brought into the house, they’re so heavy that even with strong stems the flowers end up down in the dirt.  Staking would be an option but cutting is far less work, and often they last longer in the house protected from the weather.

pink double peony

There’s no simple grace in a double peony, it’s all fat opulence and fluff. 

This anonymous peony was purchased as a single pink and it’s not even close, but I love it anyway.  A wild guess would say it’s ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ but the blooms barely have a fragrance and from what I read Sarah should have scent to spare.  No complaints though, fragrant blooms are not welcome in a house full of allergy cursed and fragrance sensitive noses.

peonies in a vase

Possibly ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony?

Even though the flowers do nothing for the nose, I love running my hands over the flowers and teasing the flowers open.  It’s a habit my grandmother would always complain about, saying it would ruin the flowers.  She was right of course, but peony season is so short might as well enjoy them, plus burying your nose in a peony is far safer than snuggling up to a thistle 🙂

In a Vase on Monday-Mumday

Congratulations are in order for Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for reaching the one year milestone of her weekly “In a Vase on Monday” meme.  Each week for the last 52 she’s been encouraging people to fill a vase with whatever strikes their fancy in the garden or in the local meadows and woods.  I’m always amazed by the creativity and depth of the creations, and although my own contributions never manage to get outside the ‘pluck and plunk’ category they’re always well received and the whole process is fun.  This week I’m joining in again and just in time too.  The last of the autumn flowers are limping into winter, and the weather forecast doesn’t look good for them this weekend.

late fall cut flowers from the garden

The last of the chrysanthemums.

Three of the latest chrysanthemums are still hanging on; an unknown white which has been blushed pink by the cold nights, the spooned frosty violet flowers of “Carousel”, and the neat pink pom-poms of a self seeded volunteer.  It’s nice to still having some flowers out there even after the trees have lost their leaves and most other perennials have died back.

chrysanthemum carousel

Chrysanthemum “Carousel”

There’s nothing fancy about the vase, again it’s just my favorite flowers in a simple clear glass.

self seeded chrysanthemum

Score another victory for laziness. A couple years ago I missed weeding out some self seeded chrysanthemums. This small pink was my reward.

This might be the last flower filled vase of my gardening year, but it’s the first for Cathy’s 2014/15 season.  Congratulations!

In a vase on Monday: End of the road

This is actually an ‘In the Vase on Sunday’.  With a freeze forecast for Sunday night I wanted to get out there and save the last bits of summer for just a few more days (a vase full of frost blackened flowers wouldn’t be as welcome on the dinner table).  Zinnias, dahlias, and chrysanthemums fill (some would say overfill) this week’s vase.

dahlias and zinnias cut flowers fall

The late afternoon light and cool nighttime temperatures of fall really bring a glow to the zinnias and dahlias.

The dahlias are still the backbone of this arrangement.  It’s been flowering for months, and even with a healthy wash of mildew over its leaves the flowers just keep on coming.  Red zinnias and dark pink daisy chrysanthemums fill in between, and a few seed heads of panicum and tufts of papyrus reed lighten up the mix.  I thought I’d add some “bright lights” swiss chard for the lusty leaves, but it’s the colored stalks which really stand out.  Maybe I’ll just include them for the stems alone next time!

dahlias and zinnias cut flowers fall

This arrangement is fresh and bright enough to carry an August picnic table, if it weren’t for the chrysanthemums you wouldn’t even know it was fall.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lugging pots into the garage and taking coleus cuttings.  Although a few of the hardier pots stayed out overnight (geraniums, oleander, dracaena), the rest have begun their six month imprisonment in the dungeon.  I won’t water them, they’ll look terrible, but hopefully they’ll go somewhat dormant rather than keep trying to grow and as a result die.

dahlias and zinnias cut flowers fall

Inside the house the colors go well with the Halloween and harvest decorations. A few little pumpkins would look great alongside the vase but the kids insist they stay on the porch  🙂

Our freeze didn’t amount to any more than a frozen windshield and a few singed coleus, but it’s good to have much of the sheltering of plants done.  Now all I have to do is reorganize them enough to fit a car in there too!

Looking at the long range forecast there’s a strong possibility next Monday will also host a vase full of flowers (chrysanthemums I hope!), so it will be nice to join in on the Monday vase meme a few more times before snow flies.  If you’d like to join in or take a peek at what others are up to, drop by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and take a look.  Each Monday I’m surprised at what people put together!

I’m pretty sure there’s fiber in icecream

Many people wax poetic on the joys of homegrown produce.  The flavor, the nutrients, the connection with the earth…. all good things and all good for you (and deep down inside I agree) but on the shallow outside I’d still rather reach for a donut or chocolate bar rather than a carrot stick.  Vegetables just don’t make my heart go pitter pat.

Because of that the vegetable garden always walks a fine line between productivity and extinction.  I love the look of vegetables bursting from the soil, but the newly dug beds and open ground are just too tempting to keep free of flowers.  At this time of year it’s more of a flower harvest.

volunteer sunflower

Oddly enough a sunflower has come up in exactly the same spot as one grew last year. It’s the perfect spot actually, and I’m glad to have it!

The season starts innocently enough, and with a strong will I turn under all the persicaria and daisies and whatever else tries to sneak in.  I need room for delicious lettuce seedlings and broccoli transplants and the flowers just throw off my industrially neat rows.  Things go downhill from there.

dahlia tanjoh

Dahlias always seem to grow best in a vegetable plot and when you’ve got one or two extra roots it seems perfectly logical to sneak them in between the chard. This is dahlia “Tanjoh” which I barely noticed last year as it suffered under the shade of a wayward sunflower.

Harvest time is always a problem.  If the broccoli is ready it needs to be picked, and there are only so many broccoli-cheese omelets you can reasonably fit into a weekend.  Things go to seed and I’m strangely amused to see weeds such as lettuce, pumpkins, and chard popping up the next year.

broccoli bolting

When you lose control the broccoli turns into a froth of yellow blooms and green rattail seedpods. Several of these plants were self-sown seedlings which just showed up from last year’s patch.

One of the sore points this summer was how often the sweet corn needed watering in our pancake-thin topsoil.  It seemed like every other day I’d look out there and see dry curled leaves begging for a little moisture.  Shockingly enough even after giving up in disgust the patch managed to produce a few deliciously sweet and flavorful ears.

freshly picked sweet corn

A space, water and fertilizer hog, freshly picked sweet corn is still worth the trouble (I guess). But it’s a tough argument when the supermarket has 6 perfect ears for $2.50 and mine probably cost me that much just for the seeds!

Another producer was a trellis of pole beans (which called it a year after being blown over in August).  Beans are nice on a trellis, but the kids appreciate “love in a Puffs” much more than bean salad.

love in a puff and cypress vine

The pale green balloons of love in a puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum) with the ferny green leaves and red flowers of cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit). Both conveniently reseeded here at the base of the trellis from last year, something to keep in mind if you don’t like volunteer plants.

The kids share the love by picking the puffs and having a puff-fight but the real reason behind the name is found inside the puff on each of the vine’s black seeds.

love in a puff seeds

A white heart forms on each seed, a kind of ‘belly button’ from where the seed was attached to the plant. Glad my hands were clean for this one 🙂

There is plenty of ‘real’ harvest that comes from the patch.  Tomatoes never fail, even the fussier heirlooms, and here is a huge cluster of “Kellogg’s Breakfast”.  In a rare second appearance in a single blog post (I hate having myself show up in any pictures), I left my hand in there to show just how big the fruits are.  2 lbs, 14 oz for the pair in case you’re interested.

Kellogg's Breakfast tomato

Kellogg’s Breakfast tomato

When I finished planting the tomatoes I couldn’t resist adding a border of “Moldavian” marigolds (from Nan at Hayefield) and a few stray salvia and leftover zinnia seedlings.  Might as well since the other side of the bed is edged in hellebore seedlings.

zinnias, marigolds, and blue salvia

A vegetable garden is the perfect place for bunches of annuals that might not find a place in the rest of the garden. The brownish orange of these “Moldova” marigolds might be hard to fit in somewhere else.

And did I mention I like phlox?  When you’re faced with a few new ones to plant and you’ve given absolutely no forethought to where they’ll go the vegetable garden makes everything better again.

phlox kirmeslander

Just coming into bloom now, phlox “Kirmeslander” seems almost too summery a color for the autumn-golds and yellows which are starting to appear.

With the season winding down one would think the vegetable patch would be safe, but fall is actually the most dangerous time of year for vegetable space.  After you pull up a dead, mildewed patch of zucchini the vacant spot almost begs for a few tulips or daffodils which you can’t find a space for elsewhere.  No worries though, I’m sure they’ll die down before I need the room for peppers!

Oh and I think the colchicums look nice blooming between the sweet corn stalks 🙂

In a vase on Monday

Surprisingly enough I’ve made the Monday vase twice in a row, unheard of!

sunflowers from birdseed

Not a bad group of sunflowers, all volunteers from the birdfeeder.

The sunflowers inspired me, and their carefree summer spirit made it easy as pie to put this arrangement together.  After they were in place I was told they needed some other vase, and the red didn’t look good, but “don’t push me” is what I said!  I added the blue wine bottle,  I guess I was feeling very primary with all the sunflower yellow.

I didn’t do much fussing over them and I think they look fine, but I noticed this evening they had done a little of their own arranging, and heads were lifted and there was less of the droopy down facing that you see here.  It’s kind of like a vase of tulips in that they keep growing and twisting to get into a better position.  This should have come as no surprise from a flower that keeps turning its head to face the sun.

sunflower bloom

The birds have been enjoying the seedheads outside for weeks, I guess it’s time for me to enjoy a few myself indoors.

You would think a bunch of volunteer sunflowers grown from seed out of the feeder would all just run the range of yellow, yellow, yellow, but there is some variation in these.  They’re taller and shorter, branched higher and lower, longer petals, shorter, quilled petals, darker centers, pale yellow, splash of brown, deep golden… it’s quite the surprise.

sunflowers in a vase

Different colors and sizes, nothing real fancy, but nice surprises none the less.

I feel like I splurged in cutting these all for a few days in the house, but I’m sure more will come.  The patch still has plenty to look forward to and even a steady stream of goldfinches can’t eat them all.

black oil sunflowers

Sunflowers at sunset. They’ve officially taken over.

So that’s my Monday vase.  I may jump back in here and there to fill a vase, but work is gearing up again and the shorter days really kill my gardening vibe.  The vases are fun though and if you’re interested in joining I’m sure Cathy at Rambling in the Garden would be happy to have you.  Thanks for hosting Cathy!

In a vase on Monday

I’m usually far too distracted and disorganized to keep up with any of the blogging memes but every now and then voila!  It happened today, and I’m joining in with Cathy from Rambling in the Garden and putting together a vase full of freshly plucked blooms from the garden.

chrysanthemum "mellow moon"

The fat blooms of chrysanthemum “mellow moon”, yellow buttons of “Isla Gold” Tansy, and a few sprays of patrina scabiosifolia.

I feel a little outnumbered here as a male participant, but I’ll give it a go anyway.  As you can see accessorization is not my strongpoint, the flowers were picked and plunked into one of those fat little vases (probably saved from some Valentine’s day past) and dumped naked onto the table.  The generic yellow teapot was pulled out of the cupboard to keep it company…. might as well since it’s been sitting around uselessly since the day we were married 🙂

cream flower arrangement with chrysanthemums

Why these mums are blooming in August I don’t know, but I’m glad they are. Pale creamy yellow is one of my favorite colors.

I’m surprised by how much I like this chrysanthemum in the garden, and they look even better in the vase.  Although I was informed by the boy that the round yellow things are stinky I like the way the tansy and patrina bring out the yellow in the mum.  Who knew garden mums could be so nice?  I guess I just got used to those big disposable blobs of unanimous color that show up in autumn that I forgot about the older daisy types and the fancy bigger blooms.  I can see a problem developing with these 🙂

By dinner time the arrangement was joined by the season’s first ripe tomato.  A golden “Kellogg’s Breakfast” was sliced and plated with salt, oil, and bluecheese crumbles on top.  Unsophisticated yet Mmmm.  I’m not a big tomato lover but this mild meaty beefsteak is tolerable.

tomato Kellogg's Breakfast

Tomato Kellogg’s Breakfast. I wonder how golden pizza sauce would go over?

I didn’t quite make the cutoff for Monday, but hopefully late entries are accepted 😉  and if you get the chance take a look at some of the other contributions that roll in each Monday at Rambling in the Garden.  It’s great to see what’s blooming in gardens across the world, and I’m repeatedly amazed by the talent and creativity out there.

Have a great week!

Hello dahlias :)

I’ve always dabbled a little in dahlias, but last year I treated myself to a few named ones from Swan Island Dahlias.  Last year they did great, this year even better!

dahlia moonstruck

Dahlia “moonstruck” would look great in a border, it’s got a nice height and really puts out the flowers.

I did lose a couple (my overwintering technique is sloppy at best) but I like to think of it as natural selection.  Eventually I’ll be left with only the dahlias that can tolerate my abuse!  Right now if I can only keep them watered and possibly fertilized once more they should put on a great show until frost cuts them down.

dahlia tanjoh

Dahlia “Tanjoh” barely bloomed last year, this year it’s in a much better spot and is really starting to put on a nice show.

I consider dahlias to be as easy to grow as a cabbage.  Maybe that’s why some people look down on them, they grow so lush and showy that there’s little room for subtlety and finesse…. which is just fine with me.  I grow them best amongst the vegetables where they can be fussed over and freely cut for the house, and they relish the easy life amongst the tomatoes and beans.

dahlia 'mathew alan'

This was supposed to be my favorite from last year “Plum Pretty”, but apparently it’s dahlia “Mathew Alan’. He’s a nice enough dahlia, but this means it was the plum that died over winter and went onto the compost pile….

I love all kinds of dahlias, but seem to be stuck on the quilled ‘cactus’ types.  A six inch wide cactus bloom and a height of about four feet seem just right for my taste, but a look through any dahlia offering will show plants from a half a foot to six with blooms from one inch to twelve…. and daisies, pom poms, dinnerplates, waterlilies, collarettes and more and more in the way of bloom types.

dahlia 'bride to be'

With a generic white flower name such as ‘Bride to Be’ I would guess this one would be perfect for a wedding arrangement. It’s a waterlily type, with broad, perfectly arranged, rounded petals.

Water, rich soil, and full sun are all these ask of me.  They should be staked, but I’m the sort who waits until a storm knocks them all down before I do anything….. I should really reconsider that plan, especially since I just picked up some suitable wood at the DIY store (no excuses!)

dahlia "goovy" with japanese beetles

Slugs, earwigs and Japanese beetles are the only troublemakers I get in the dahlia patch. They’re never much of a problem, I just dispense punishment, clip the bloom, and wait for a new one to come up in its place. This is dahlia “Groovy”, a darker leaved variety.

I’ve been through dahlia phases before and usually after a couple seasons of digging and replanting I either get bored or end up losing them all to bad winter storage.  We’ll see.  This latest phase is still burning hot and fierce, and I’m tempted to turn over the entire vegetable patch and fill it with dahlias!

peach dahlia

My oldest dahlia. This unidentified one from the box store has been surviving the in and outs of winter storage for at least 9 years…. practically a record in responsibility for me! (If it was taller it could be the 1963 dahlia “Alfred Grille”, but named or nameless still a nice one)

So we’ll see what happens.  Dahlia season is just starting and there are more to come, but opinions may change when the temperatures drop.  Digging soggy dahlia roots on a cold windy October weekend can really kill a plant lust and I’m far too frugal to just buy new tubers each spring.

Do you bother with dahlias?


Dahlias are the one flower I always cut… that and gladiolus, but the glads were planted late, so who knows if they’ll ever bloom!?growing dahliasThe “Plum Pretty” are my favorites, I like the curly cactus petals and the dark color.  The creamy “moonlight” bloom nonstop and the violet “Ooh La La” are nice enough (ok so they’re not my favorite).  The peachy-yellow are an older one from one of those Sam’s club mixes.  The more you cut, the more blooms will come up, so there’s sure to be another post or two of gratuitous dahlia color!

I made a trip down to Chanticleer this week.  It was beautiful and you can bet there will be MANY pictures posted.  Here’s a taste.  I was pleased to see this color combination, it’s similar to my salvia-verbena combo (that some people didn’t like) and I feel vindicated to see it used elsewhere… with a lot more green, I think the green calms it nicely.chanticleer I saw so many cool ideas and plants, it will be a long post or two… or three 🙂



I’m a sucker for a nice dahlia.  There are a few I overwinter each year, but one cold night last winter I broke down and committed to some new ones.  Here are the first of them, cut and artfully (hah!) arranged on the kitchen table.

growing dahlias

The three peachy ones towards the front have been with me for years, but the others are all new.  I got my new ones from Swan Island Dahlias, but you can do the same (maybe cheaper) at any box store or general bulb seller in the spring.  Mine all appear to be exactly as labeled, cheaper sources are sometimes hit or miss….. but if you just want a couple beautiful flowers, is a name that important?  They also look great in the garden.  Here’s “Moonstruck” which is the best bloomer so far.growing dahlias

“Plum Pretty” is already a new favorite.  I love the pointy petals of the cactus type, and these have a lighter bottom that shows when the petals curl.growing dahlias

“Pink Petticoat” is a little girly for me in both name and color but if pushed I’ll admit I like the two toned color and the smooth wide petals.  It also has outer petals that curl back around to the stem, and I think this is important for show quality blooms, but mine rarely go further than the kitchen!growing dahlias

Ok.  So I really like Pink Petticoat too.

I find dahlias easy to grow.  Most of mine are in the vegetable garden since it’s easier to plant and dig there, and I don’t do anything special as far as care.  A full sun spot, a little compost when planting, a bit of miracle grow if they look pale, and a stake to keep them upright, and you should be good to go.  That reminds me, mine are still unstaked…  another do as I say, not as I do moment 🙂