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 Tropics 10.25.16

It’s a cold and breezy Tuesday this week, with a wind that makes you feel like change is a’comin to this end of Pennsylvania.  The forecast tonight is a dip below freezing and there’s a good chance this will be the last week a colorful and lush view shows up in Cathy’s weekly meme.  There are still a few weeks left to the season, but after frost hits the view will be decidedly less colorful.

tuesday view tropical plants

A gloomy, gray Tuesday afternoon.  The last of the autumn color has worked its way down the mountains and into the garden and things are entirely autumnal.  The wheelbarrow is covering the flowering thistle,  I’m hoping to get a few ripe seeds before it freezes.

Whether or not this turns out to be our killing frost remains to be seen, but with the cold wind blowing I’m completely indifferent.  Sunday was spent clearing the rest of the garden of everything I wanted to save, so now it’s just a matter of letting nature run its course.  Snow is predicted for Thursday so I guess I’m officially giving up 🙂

tropical annuals

One last view.  The tropics have been good to me this year.

So next week will likely show some serious changes.  Once frost hits I like to get things out of the way and cleaned up fast so that I can put down some mulch before winter hits.  Any unmulched areas will likely sprout a carpet of winter weeds such as hairy bittercress and I’d rather not start next season with that kind of a mess on my hands.  Wish me luck.

After you wish me luck please consider giving Cathy at Words and Herbs a visit to see how autumn is progressing through other gardens in other parts of the world.  It’s always a great visit and a fun way to keep up over the season.  Have a great week!

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.11.16

Tuesday is here and again I’m happy to join up with Cathy at Words and Herbs for the view.  Things still look warm, but the lows last night seem to have brought in the tiniest bit of frost which singed a few tomato leaves here and there in the vegetable garden.  We’re living on borrowed time!

tuesday view tropical plants

Still a tropical view.  The one kochia has gone brown, but the flowers and foliage of nearly everything else is all autumn abundance 🙂

I wish I had more to say but I’ve been distracted by the chrysanthemums and fall bulbs and time consuming things such as fall baseball and gymnastics.  I’ve also had a bulb buying relapse and in a weak moment ordered many more snowdrops than I could possibly need.  That and tulips… even though I recently said I wouldn’t buy any new ones this year.

My suspicion is that I’m the only one concerned about this latest purchase, but now that I think about it further (since I have absolutely no idea where to place these latest purchases), I wonder how the tropical border would look with a large swath of tulips and a small throw blanket of snowdrops.  I bet it wouldn’t look half bad!

Have a great week 🙂

Tuesday View: The Tropics 09.13.16

Cathy at Words and Herbs has been following a weekly view of her garden throughout the season, and each Tuesday I’ve been trying to join in and keep track of my own weekly view in order to catalog the changes.  This week the roofers are next door and this afternoon they’ve made their way to the side where the tropical garden grows.

tropical garden

This afternoon’s view of the tropical garden.

Other than a few stray roof shingles and tar paper strips the garden has escaped damage, and that’s great because now is the time of year when every day is a celebration of summer and every night is a reminder that colder weather is on the horizon.  As nighttime temperatures cool off I’m beginning to notice a tint of red in some of the clumps of annual burning bush (Kochia scoparia).  Me thinks in a few weeks the ‘will it burn or will it snuff out’ question will finally be answered.

kochia burning bush

The clumps of burning bush (Kochia) are actually several seedlings all planted into the same hole. Most of the season they’ve appeared to be one big bush, but now a few here and there are going their own way and beginning to show color.

I can’t imagine these plantings will be as successfully bright as some of the photos I’ve seen online but if they’re halfway interesting I will be happy enough.  As it is their fluffy green mass has been a welcome green rest in an otherwise overloaded bed of color.

tall purple salvia splendens

One of the less-than-bright kochia seedlings.  More of a tan in my opinion, but things are all under a little stress here in the shadow of the canna clump…. with the exception of the tall purple salvia splendens seedling, it’s still doing just fine!

The rest of this post is gratuitous canna color.  I posted canna ‘Cannova Rose’ last week, but it’s still outstanding, and deserves another mention.

canna cannova rose

Cannas and dahlias with an orange zinnia and purple petunias.  The petunias were planted as petunia intergrifolia but I bet there’s something else in there as well, and that’s just fine since I like the bold mini-flowered purple groundcover it’s become.

Canna ‘Tropicana’ is always over the top.  I think you either love it or turn away in disgust, but either way it’s a bright tropical show.

canna tropicanna

Canna ‘Tropicanna’ in a bed of verbena and backed by one of those dark leaved, huge, grow-it-as-an-annual, Napier grasses (Pennisetum purpureum).  Hard to see in the picture, but the grass is just over five feet, so probably much bigger than you’d guess.

I know I’ve called Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ my absolute favorite canna, but there’s a new kid on the block this year.  Canna x ehemanii is an old hybrid which tops nearly every other canna in the gracefulness category.  I did not suspect my small plant would bloom this year but here it is opening its first flower.  A little short for this variety, but much easier to admire when it’s down here amongst us mortals 🙂

canna x ehemanii

I saw Canna x ehemanii growing in a corner of Chanticleer a few years back and have been looking for my own plant for years.  Once open its flowers will arch and hang with an amazing tropical grace that you’ll have to trust me on right now, but I’m sure more pictures will follow as it develops. 

We are into the one month countdown.  First frost typically hits around mid-October in these parts, and for as much heat and drought and storm this garden can take, it can’t take a hard freeze.  That’s a Tuesday view I’m not looking forward to.

In the meantime please give Cathy a visit and find out what she and other bloggers are seeing this Tuesday.  It’s a great way to keep up with the changes and really see just how much goes on in your garden!

Tuesday View: The Tropics 09.06.16

One of the benefits of regularly joining Cathy for the Tuesday view has been that little push each week to actually follow up on the observations made the week before.  The fear of confessing laziness and sloth publicly has been great for keeping on top of the weeding, deadheading, staking, and planting and it’s also a great regime for someone who goes through bouts of couldn’t-care-less and stretches of I’m-bored-with-this-garden-thing.   Now might be one of those bouts, and as the days grow shorter and our latest dry stretch begins to stress plants out again, I look at the water hose and then look at the recliner and typically chose the recliner.  So I apologize ahead of time if my mood comes through,  I’m sure colchicum season will come along soon enough and snap me back out of it.

Tuesday view

A quick picture taken this evening. I find the low sun angles to be absolutely disgusting and far prefer June.

The cannas keep going from strength to strength and I’m glad to see this bit of ‘Cannova Rose’ finally showing off.  It went through a rough spot which I suspect were the aftereffects of stray weed killer, but the latest bloom stalks look mostly normal… unless you’re really neurotic and notice that one stalk still has thinner petals and is quicker to fade…

canna cannova rose

Canna ‘Cannova Rose’, a newer seed strain which grows without complaint (even in cooler weather) but has been pointed out to have somewhat boring foliage. It looks nice with the first flowers of dahlia ‘Mathew Alen’… throw in a few orange zinnias and some purple petunia and you’ve got a nice patch of color.   

The dahlias are slowly starting up.  They seem late, but that would be because I planted them late, and there’s no sense in complaining about that now.  An earlier show would have been nicer is all I’m saying and of course next year none of this will be a problem since as of now next year is still perfect 😉

ball dahlias

Had they been staked properly this patch of ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Red Cap’ dahlias would have risen just perfectly amongst the cannas and verbena.  Who knows, maybe the red will still rise up a bit, but if it doesn’t serves me right for slacking.

I’m kind of at a loss as to why I’m down to just three or four dahlia varieties.  I’m sure in June I had a brilliant plan as to where they were placed and who their neighbors were, but now it seems to all be ‘Mathew Alen’.  Vaguely I remember thinking I was bored with a few and felt all empowered when I tossed them onto the compost pile, but naturally I just assumed things would come together later and there would still be a good bit of variety.  So much for that.  I guess it doesn’t help that several were swamped by other plants… but oh well, another serves me right moment.

colocasia esculenta tropical storm

Something for the future.  If this Colocasia esculenta ‘Tropical Storm’ can get through a serious spider mite infestation I’m sure it will be worth the $2 I spent.  My icecream cone was actually more expensive than this soon to be amazing plant 🙂

There’s only about another month and a half left in the tropical garden and it’s absolutely not the time of year to get into a ho-hum mood about things.  I really need to treasure every shortened day and to that end will keep reminding myself as I self medicate on fried foods, baked goods and chocolate.  Give me another week and I’m sure I’ll have come to terms with the waning season and maybe just maybe I can look forward to autumn.  Many people claim to enjoy that season and I guess it’s only fair I give it a try as well.

Have a great week!

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 of memory

I used to be a balcony gardener.  After a stint in Texas my next job took me back to the Northeast, and rather than commit to a house I opted for an apartment.  My choices were narrowed down to a roomy bachelor pad with an excellent nighttime view of the city lights or a smaller two bedroom apartment in a quiet residential area.  I chose the quiet life.  My choice was partly because it was half the rent, but mostly because of the small balcony which came off the kitchen and overlooked the side yard.  I knew I needed a spot in the sun but just wasn’t ready to buy and didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of someone else’s yard again.  Who would have thought my stay would last over three years, and who would have suspected I could fit so much more than just the grill and a few chairs.

balcony garden

Does a gardener live here?

By the third summer things were completely out of hand.  I tend to like fast growers and big leaves and none of those are a logical fit with a small balcony… but what the heck, I usually just grow things because I can and not for any well thought out plan or agenda.  A rooted cutting turns into a butterfly bush, a trip down south adds a banana, a clearance sale brings in a staghorn sumac.  Things add up quickly, but mercifully winter would usually wipe the slate clean.  Plants have a hard time overwintering on an exposed, second floor balcony.

pink caladium tropical plants

These caladiums went out for the summer and came in for the winter for three years straight without a problem.  Nine years since moving and I’ve killed more than I care to admit.

If there was any secret to how my garden grows it was the drip irrigation which snaked out from the laundry, slipped between sashes of the window, and clicked on every 8 hours and saved me from the boredom of daily watering.   With the automated watering my plants were also saved from the almost certain neglected death due to a weekend away at the shore, a week traveling for work, or that gardener’s nightmare of a two week midsummer vacation.  No returning home to fried and dead plants for me!

Strangely enough my landlord never questioned the green tsunami which overwhelmed my small balcony, and we all ended up becoming good friends.  Coincidence that he and his wife ran a landscaping business?  Who knows.

tropical container plants

One chair. I guess this did turn into my bachelor pad after all, and with just enough room for a seat this became my preferred spot for a summer book and a icy cold beverage.  There’s a grill in there as well, I guess it goes without saying that for a couple months each year it was out of service.

Eventually it became time to move on and the balcony garden was traded in for the next adventure.  There’s an actual yard involved in this one but as usual delusions of grandeur made for a bumpy road.  Live and learn I guess 🙂

Hope your winter is going well.  It’s set to get warmer again this weekend and with snow melting almost as fast as it came my spring fever will be worse than ever.  I’ve been sowing seeds again and a sensible person would have stopped this nonsense a few dozen packets ago.