Hot and Dry Weather: Survivors in the Garden

Hot, dry, windy summer weather can be extremely stressful for plants in the garden. Temperatures in Gloucester have hovered near 100º for the last several days, topping out at 102 yesterday. Life seems to be fading from much of the garden. I am usually found hiding inside during intolerably hot weather, however in the late afternoon, I’ll take a stroll to check out heat tolerant plants that shine through the high temps. Several shrubs and perennials are doing well. Here are two that stand out:

The ‘Becky‘ Shasta Daisies, Leucanthemum superbum, that I planted en masse in early spring for our June ‘wedding garden’ are still going strong. I have been rewarded a hundred times over with waves of showy pure white blooms… great for admiring and great for cutting. They’re the 2003 Perennial Plant of the Year and are proving to be heat and drought tolerant. All they ask for is sunshine and a little deadheading.

Becky Shasta Daisy

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9

Light: Full sun

Soil: Growth is optimum in moist, but well-drained soil

Bloom: June to September.

Another favorite that I’ve blogged about a couple of years ago is the Blackberry Lily or the Leopard Lily, a plant that is three plants in one.

1. In the spring, we are rewarded with blue green leaves than fan out in an attractive pattern much like an iris. Indeed it is a member of the iris family.  Familiarly known as Belamcanda chinensis, after a DNA analysis, the new classification is Iris domestica.

Iris-like leaves of the blackberry lily

2. In mid-July we are blessed with a multitude of small orange and red lily-like flowers, each blooming for a day then twisting like tiny wrung out rags before dropping from the plant. I’ve not read anything about the nectar of this flower but have observed a variety of insects actually competing over the sweet fluids.

Blackberry Lily and Sweat Bee

Blackberry Lily and red ants

3. In the late summer and fall and winter, the 3-lobed pods that are green and swelling now, split open to reveal the glossy fruit that resemble blackberries. These will fall from the plant and self seed or stems can be used for flower arrangements. I adore all three phases of this colorful summer perennial.

Belamcanda chinensis

Image via Wikipedia

It will reproduce by seed and by rhizomes which may be divided and shared. Plant rhizomes under 1″ of soil and allow to dry between waterings.

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10

Light: Full sun, partial sun, partial shade (I moved my plants from full sun to partial sun and they seem less stressed)

Soil: Well-drained; grows taller in fertile soil.

Bloom: July and August

Zones: 5-10.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

There’s a Leopard in my Garden!

Leopard LilySometimes I look around my garden and think I must be running an animal preserve.  I see hens and chicks, elephant ears, turtleheads, oxeye daisies, chickweed, lamb’s ear, and the most fearsome animal but loveliest flower of all, the leopard lily, an aggressive animal in the jungle but gentle flower in the garden.  It’s not a lily at all but a member of the iris family.  I have read that it is invasive, that it has established itself in pastures and ditches, that self seeding causes it to sprout everywhere, but in my garden it is a leopard that purrs and behaves itself.  Though not a color I sought for the garden, each deep orange bloom with red spots is heavenly in the heat of the summer and the 6-petaled flowers in clusters of orchid-like blooms are irresistible.  No one can pass by without admiring them.

Flowers appear in mid-summer in sprays that grow on delicate stems that rise above the dried bloomiris-like foliage to a height of three feet.  Each bloom lasts barely one day but is soon followed by new blooms that shine during the heat of the summer months.  After a day, each bloom dries into a tight spiral that is as delectable as the full blooms themselves.  We are rewarded again several weeks later blackberry lily seedsduring fall when the seed pods split open to reveal a cluster of lustrous black seeds looking like giant blackberries, hence the other name for this plant, the blackberry lily.  I have found these can be cut and dried and used successfully in flower arranging.

Interestingly, in the book, Jefferson’s Garden, I read that Thomas Jefferson planted the seeds of this tropical-looking plant in his oval garden in 1807 and today it still self-sows on the property.  Somehow I feel a little bit of fulfillment sowing the same seeds and growing the same perennials enjoyed by fellow Virginia gardener, Thomas Jefferson. All three stages of flower development are simply fabulous and I recommend this plant for Virginia gardens and gardeners.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Calder Loth

Calder LothIn our increasingly busy lives, our gardens should provide an oasis for us, a place of tranquility and joy. The city gardens of Calder Loth, Senior Architectural Historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and honorary member of the Richmond Fan DistrictGarden Club of Virginia, do just that.  Located in Richmond’s Fan District, Calder’s resplendent home gardens reflect his taste in gardening and reveal his ample knowledge of plants.

He has designed borders overflowing with vibrant color using high performing plants accustomed to the heat of summer.  Art objects, flower filled terra-cotta pots and mismatched pavings and stones provide a major impact.

Garden folly

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A visual bonus is a wooden structure topped with terra-cotta pots.  What do you think you will see if you attempt to enter the gate and pass under the arch?  You will see yourself.  Calder designed the back of this structure with a mirror to provide folly in the garden and to visually increase the garden space.

Not only has he made use of the all perimeters of his property, his gardening passion has inspired him to extend his gardens from his yard to a public alley where he created a sun-filled flower border for passersby to enjoy.

IThe alley gardent is said that every garden is a reflection of the owner and has a unique story to tell.  From his gardens, we know that Calder Loth is a talented horticulturist with a love for beautiful gardens and a desire to share his passion.

The Garden Club of Virginia cherishes its association with Calder.  Whether advocating for historic garden restoration, researching, writing for Historic Garden Week in Virginia, or serving on the Fellowship Site Selection Committee, Calder Loth is a valued friend of the Garden Club of Virginia.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

My Garden Shed

Mister gardener built a garden shed for me, a wonderful sanctuary in a style straight from Mr. McGregor’s English garden. It’s a lovely 10×10 cottage garden shed that houses everything garden. I’ve had it for several years now and inside it is neatly organized into work areas.  I have containers of potting mixes, Holly Tone, Plant Tone, coconut bricks, on one wall.  Shelving holds clay pots organized by shape and size and well organized wall grids and hooks hold gardening gadgets and tools of the trade. Other shelving holds plant labels and seeds and Neem oils, watering cans and gloves.

CupolaI love my small home away from home just a short walk from the house. I can throw up the window sashes to catch breezes off the river and putter inside to my hearts content.  The shed is now nestled into the border with trellises on two walls for climbing plants… clematis, honeysuckle, and even tomatoes sometimes grow up the wall.  A Williamsburg bird bottle on the side attracts a fussy wren every year and crushed oyster paths around both sides of the shed lead to the compost.  On the shingled roof, a copper weather vane sings an eerie melody as it turns with the wind atop the cupola.

When it was first completed and mister gardener proudly led me inside, I looked around at the empty roomand loft that seemed vast, and thoughts of a day bed and a lamp on a small table jumped into my mind.  But it’s become a different spot of relaxation where I can daydream and plan for future garden projects.

Two of my granddaughters, ages 6 and 8 at that time, took a good, long look at the shed and began to whisper.  Later they drew up their own list of improvements that they left for me and mister gardener to find. Of course I saved the list.  It’s marvelous and who knows what the future holds?  Anything can happen.

Annie’s and Caroline’s list of improvements for Nana’s shed:

  1. Add a garage
  2. A pink and a green golf cart
  3. T.V. and Wii
  4. A pink refrigerator
  5. 2 pink spinning chairs
  6. Bathroom and toilet with fuzzy seat
  7. Small stove
  8. A pink rug
  9. A table for two
  10. Hot tub
  11. Monogrammed towels, one white, one lavender
  12. Pull out beds

I would love to read about YOUR garden shed.  Leave a comment.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A New Secret Garden

When I announced over dinner to mister gardener that I am developing a spot in the yard for a new secret garden, his response was, “A secret garden? Why would anyone want a secret garden?”

Surprised, I had to think a minute.  “Well, it’s the delight of planning, planting, the joy of using it, sharing it and the excitement of discovery.”

“If you ask me (nobody did), I don’t think it makes sense. It would be like me making a beautiful chair in the workshop, then bringing it up to the house and hiding it in a closet.  Maybe I’d share it.  Maybe I wouldn’t.”

I could see we were going nowhere with this.  “You’ve got a point, dear…”  And we switched to the conversation to the wonderful tomato harvest.

Like sugarplums, visions of the new secret garden are dancing in my head.  I have already spent several days hidden deep inside clearing, pruning, transplanting, and making room for what is to be. Dragging in a chair, I sometimes sit and think about the habitat I will create for the birds that I already see in this area, I imagine leading the grandchildren on anmy other bunny adventure picnic to an enchanted new wilderness, and I think of sipping my morning coffee here watching a microcosm what goes on in nature.  There are two bunnies that call this garden home.  They do not scurry when I approach.  They are stretched out on the cool earth.  Like the animals of the Galapagos they have no fear of humans.  So together we share this space, just me and the bunnies.

One fun feature is that I can peek out into the world of bright sunshine and roses and mowed grass but no one notices me hidden in the dappled sunlight in this new space.  The labs walk by searching and sniffing the air and I have seen mister gardener scratch his head and look around for me.  “Yoo hoo,” I say.  Up until my little announcement, he thought I was just weeding. Now he wonders if I’m actually going through with this notion.  I see it on his face.  I think secret gardens must appeal more to Maid Marions of the world who grew up with playhouses and sisters.  I will allow this Merry Man to join me in my secret garden for a cocktail on occasion.  I shall name it Sherwood Forest.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways.

Not everyone feels the same way I do.  Many love it but others have a love/hate relationship with it, while some simply hate it.  It is not uncommon to hear unflattering whispers about it when gardeners gather:
“It smells bad.”
“You give it an inch and it takes a mile.”
“What’s that yucky sticky secretion?”
“Touch one and you bleed.”
“It never grows where you want it to grow.”
“It’s just a 4’ stick with a flower on the top.”

Tisk tisk.  They’re talking about cleome or spider flower, a bloom I think is exotic and jazzy. For me it was love at first sight.  I’ll be the first to concede the leaves and flowers are pungent, the stems are covered with spines, they are sticky, and you never know where they will germinate. But the flamboyant purple, pink and white blooms are spectacular and I’ll overlook any shortcomings these plants have.Cleome

Let me count the ways that I admire this oft-criticized and maligned flower.

1.  Heat tolerant. Cleome scoffs at high temperatures and brings welcome color to the borders until first frost.
2.  It’s free.  That’s the beauty of a self-seeder.
3.  Fun surprises when the babies appear in the borders.
4.  Drought tolerant.
5.  Bees love it.
6.  Hummingbirds love it.
7.  Bunnies hate it.
8.  They pull up easily.

cleome

Advice:  Water occasionally to prevent leaves from drying.  Plant in established borders so other plants will support the stems.   New varieties like Senorita Rosalita are more compact and have no odor, nor spikes.  They are sterile however.  No fun there.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester