Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.”
Bleeding Hearts look lovely in a vase combined with other
 spring flowers and last well over a week.
One of the least appreciated and underused spring flowering plants is known by the common name of "Bleeding Heart" and the Latin name "Dicentra Spectabilis."  You may find it described by other names as the horticultural world has moved it to another category and each region may have it's own common name.   Still, most of the world still calls it Dicentra or simply Bleeding Heart.

A little horticulture description taken straight from the book before we get into the fun stuff:

"It's a bush herbaceous plant with numerous red-dish-glaucous green stems.  Its alternate leaves are pluriternate in cordite trilobite segments.  The numerous pendulous flowers are borne in delightful lax arcuate racemes and are distinguished for their rose-pink calyx and white corolla.  The plant flowers freely and for a long time."  Yes, there's a reason I don't usually go into a perfectly accurate "by the book" description.

The deal is this plant comes in either typical 32 inch height or the 10 inch dwarf variety.  The flowers look like hearts hanging down with a little tear dripping off the bottom (more on the lore later.)  This plant originated in Manchuria and Korea although some other Asian countries take credit.  It blooms in spring through early summer and will sometimes have a few blooms later in the season.

It should be planted in a partial to fully shaded area in an open but protected site.  Wind can beat it to death because the stems are rather fragile.  Late frosts can also damage the plant but it won't die.  It prefers a light, porous soil that is either naturally rich or enriched with plenty of leaf mold and peat.  It must be kept watered in the spring but the roots will rot if it sits in water.  In other words, our Illinois springs are perfect.

It's wise to plant other perennials around bleeding heart because they die back in late summer and need to be cut to make the garden neat again.  You'll have a bare spot if there are no other perennials to fill in around them.  Medium sized hosta does this well.
Wild Bleeding Heart (North Creek Nursery)

There is a wild bleeding heart "Dicentra eximia" that can be found in Illinois and is considered a native plant.  The flowers are more elongated and the leaves are finely divided.  It's only 10-18 inches tall and blooms May through August.  Usually found in rocky woods and on cliffs.  

There are several other varieties with all white flowers, white with purple lines and shades of rose-red flowers.  There is the bright chartreuse leaf plant in addition to the mat-green traditional variety.

Now the fun stuff:

The pink variety has a white "tear" off the bottom signifying in lore a broken heart.

An old Japanese story divides the flower into six pieces.  They resemble two pink rabbits, two pair of earrings, two pair of oriental slippers and finally a dagger.  The gifts were each given to entice the young woman to marry her suitor.  After each gift, she declined his offer.  Finally, he stabbed himself through the heart and you see the drop of blood at the bottom of each flower where his blood went into the soil.  Out of that place the first bleeding heart plant grew.  I know a cheerful tale but one little kids love.

Even though my photos are in full sun in the spring,
 this plant is shaded
both in the early morning and in the afternoon.
No matter the lore, this plant deserves to be in every garden where there is light to deep shade.  (Warning:  this plant may struggle in hot dry southern/western states.)  It is so very beautiful in a dainty kind of way and announces spring like no other plant.  The plants aren't terribly expensive, they can live forever, they may reseed and can be divided and transplanted.  Make bleeding heart one of your purchases this spring and next year it will reward you with a breathtaking display.

My experience:   I find the bleeding heart plants at local nurseries are more apt to survive.  They are usually larger, hardened off better and not beat up in shipping.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

In support of military families across the US, Walters Gardens, Inc. introduced a new Hosta, American Hero in 2010.  Walters will contribute $0.25 to Project EverGreen for each plant sold.  It is a native to North America.    

American Hero is described:  Like the soldiers we are honoring, this is a tough, durable hosta that reliably displays strong, bold variegation all season long.  It has wide dark green margins and a creamy white to pure white center speckled with green.  The thick leaves form a very dense clump, and as the plant matures they become somewhat twisted.  Lavender flower top the clump in midsummer.    

Hosta "American Hero"

GreenCare for Troops, with the support from The Toro Co., is a nationwide outreach program coordinated by Project EverGreen that connects local green industry professionals with men and women serving our country in the armed forces away from home.
GreenCare is in the process of helping hundreds of volunteers provide free lawn and landscape services for thousands of military families nationwide.  
To volunteer or to apply to receive services, go to  
Whether you plant a special plant in honor of our fallen heroes, attend a Memorial Day event or other remembrance, please take a moment to be grateful for the young men and women who didn't have a chance to lead the all American dream you and I have because they chose to fight and die for our benefit.  Humbling.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Color Wheeling

For those who have trouble knowing what colors compliment each other in the garden, especially in pots, there are several ways to proceed.  These are not listed in the order of best first - worst last.
All foliage in my shaded window box.

First:  Throw caution to the wind and combine anything that pleases your beating heart.  Some of the biggest mistakes are the best combinations.  And if you love it, well who cares if it clashes in the eyes of someone else.

Second:  Set plants together in your cart or on a cabinet at the nursery.  Although they may change colors a bit as they grow, they can still give you an idea of what you'll have later in the summer.  This won't work well if you (like me) shop at many different local nurseries.
A riot of colors.

Third:  Look inside your house at the colors you've combined and what pleases you every single time you walk into that room.  Use those colors in the garden.

Forth:  If you are timid about combining colors, buy annuals and see if it works.  You will know what looks good when it comes time to spend more money on something more permanent (perennials.)

Fifth:  You can't go wrong with a little white (or cream) plant.  All white works or a single plant in with other colors.

Sixth:  Some gardeners consider the colors of their house and porches.  I have a light yellow home and there has been absolutely no color that didn't look good.  My garden accent is blue and the same thing - some look better than others but nothing really clashes.  Part of the reason is I have a perennial- cottage-garden riot of colors.
My old copper boiler held a purple/yellow combo last year.  

Seventh:  Consider the hard accents in your garden.  Do you have a six foot blue wine bottle tree?  If so, blue is going to be a sure fire coordination color.  Do you have a large red shed in the yard?  If so, red is going to be another coordination color.  Do you care?  

Eighth:  We sometimes forget there is a natural background color for every garden.  Mine is green because I live in the country and have a lot of trees and fields.  Others may be red or gray if you live in an urban situation.  Still others may have shades of browns in a more arid climate.  We all have a canvas colored by things other than our own plants.

Ninth:  Ask your nursery people to help you with picking out plant combinations.  They have so much experience, they've pretty much seen and done it all.  If you go to a nursery you trust, they will not push just expensive plants or things they want to get out the door.  

Tenth:  For the timid or beginner, get some paint chips from your favorite home center and see just what looks good together.  Because most chips are in shades of primary colors, it gives you an idea if that periwinkle blue flower will look good with the chartruese sweet potato vine and the tangerine daisy.  Lay these on a sheets of construction paper the color of your background(s).  Green for lawn or woods, another for the color of your house, and a light blue for the sky.  Are your color combinations vivid and enhance the whole look?  Do they blend in so much they hardly show?  Do they make you smile or cringe?

Don't get so locked into the color combination you bought in the spring that you'll be sad when one of the colors isn't there later in the summer.  I usually have one plant not make it through the entire summer.  The lovely plant on my front porch (top) had a stunning white lantana included until fall and it gave up and let the other plants overpower.  

Take a young child with you when picking out flowers/foliage and they will have a riot of colors for no rhyme or reason other than they love them.  Some pretty good advice for all of us.  Whatever you pick should be because you love them and not because someone else tells you it's "right" or "the in thing" or "we must always".  As with all gardening, it should be what you love!    

Gracie isn't into gardening but she is certainly into posing
with plants.  Good enough for Grandma!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bee Diner

Shrub rose "Golden Wings" (hybridized by Shepherd in the USA in 1956.)  It's an old fashioned looking rose bush becoming 8 x 8 foot, dark green foliage, a vigorous grower and pretty much disease resistant.  It's hardy to zone 4B.

The golden yellow flowers are single petals with yellow stamen.

If all that wasn't grand enough, it has a very sweet strong fragrance that can perfume the entire yard.  It's a very early bloomer which has several advantages.  It offers bees one of the first flowers of spring. Because it is COVERED in flowers this early, the blooms are never bothered by Japanese Beetles.  And it offers the yard a burst of mega WOW factor after a long hard winter.  It doesn't need to be cut back or pruned except for an occasional dead branch.

It's shade tolerant but won't bloom as much.  Plant it where you can see it throughout it's bloom season; perhaps near window so the fragrance will come in with spring breezes.   I planted this bush in heavy compacted clay soil and it took off and never looked back.

If you insist on hearing something negative, it may send out sprouts but they can be mowed off or cut back if your particular about that sort of thing.  In the fifteen years I've had this shrub, it's sent out only a couple of new bushes.  Japanese Beetles will feast on the leaves but it doesn't kill this hardy bush.   The flowers tend to wilt quickly if they're brought in the house and put in a vase.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm headed out for one last visit this evening at the bee diner for a big helping of lovely rose fragrance.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Strange Bedfellows

Purple hosta flowers and daylily "Orange Vols"

We seldom see orange and purple outside of Halloween decorations because they both are strong colors with distinctive undertones. 
Purple "Wayside King Royal" and orange "Quilt Patch"

For the basic art lesson:  Purple is a combination of red and blue.  Orange is a combination of red and yellow.  The amount of each color or the addition of white determines the exact shade. 

In nature, no matter what shade of purple and orange (from deep jewel tones to sweet pastels) these two colors enhance each other.  I found this out accidently.

This is the patch of unknowns I talk about.
I was the happy recipient of many garden plants when one person moved from a large yard to a very small yard and another person was going to remove an English garden to put in a dog run.  None of the plants were blooming and were identified only if I could recognize the leaves or roots. 

A whole gob lot (that means an un numbered amount but more than a few) of them were obviously daylilies although I had no idea the height, color, or bloom time.  Since there were so many, I enlarged a hosta bed where it was getting more sun, plopped in a couple of rows of daylilies and waited until the next summer to be surprised. 

"Midsummer Elegance" and "Mini Pearl"
The biggest surprise was a hybrid glowing deep orange next to a very dark jewel-toned purple velvet.  They bloomed at the same time and the dark purple was the perfect foil for the bright orange.  They made each other more than they would have been standing alone.

Another combination was lavender and peach.  The softness of these two colors tended to look like someone had pulled saltwater taffy in the most perfect swirl of luscious colors.

The actual trick with orange and purple combinations is the common red in them both; it ties them together.  But don’t misunderstand and think you can put a red flower in the middle of them and have it enhance the orange/purple combo; it does not.  Adding a red flower in the middle of a purple/orange area is like sending in a bad flute player for the High Society Band, it sets your teeth on edge.

Unknowns and a little red slipped into the scene.
Does orange and purple work with other flowers besides daylilies?  Most definitely.  The herbs “lavender” and purple salvia are one of my favorite backgrounds for the garden.  Add orange shades of marigolds, cosmos, begonias, gladiolus – the list goes on and on – and the whole garden gets lively.

It’s a little trickier with foliage.  There are shades of purple and orange (either/or) in grasses, coral-bells, ferns, hosta and coleus.  Combining them isn’t always as successful as the flowers because the shades may vary each year or by location.  Most foliage has a combination of several colors in the leaves and some of those other colors may not mix well.  If you want to try combining orange and purple foliage, I’d suggest having them in hand at the same time at the nursery BEFORE buying.
Large peach and small purple 
Realize most perennials have varying bloom times and if you want to have the two colors enhance each other, make sure you understand those times.  As an example, daylilies have early, very early, midseason, late and very late bloom times. 

Annuals can be depended on to bloom from early summer until frost and that makes them perfect for an experiment in this color combo.

A tip for enhancing both colors even more is to add a white flower for the third mix.  Soft baby’s breath, white petunia, Shasta daisies, zinnias, gladiolus and more.  White looks good with the strong colors and the soft muted pastels. 

"Margaret's Choice" and "Trahlyta"
Can you mix lavender and peach pastels with strong purple and orange?  Yes, but again, you may want to hold them in hand prior to buying.  And realize the pastel plant will become the background plant and the jewel tone will be the one everyone notices.  It will no longer be two equals enhancing each other; one will be playing a supporting roll.  If the pastel is a gorgeous plant on it’s own, it seems a waste to put it in the second fiddle roll.

And another little hint:  If the purple has too much pink in it, it will not look right with the orange.  Last week I saw a lovely medium peach petunia put alongside a purple and pink foliage and it didn't work.  Sounded right but put side by side it was off. 

 Enjoy combining unusual color combinations.  The worst that can happen is you move one of the perennials next year or you don’t put those two annuals together again.  The best that can happen is a stunning beautiful surprise.  Don’t be locked into tried and true – go bold and experiment.  It might be “What was she thinking?” or it might be “Oh! my! gosh! she’s a genius!”   Worth a try don’t you think?


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What's an Average Guy To Do?

This little succulent ground cover withstands dry 
and baked clay soil with no problems.
I fall somewhere between "the world's environment is in chaos and we're all gonna die today" and "everything is beautiful in it's own way - fa la la la la."

From what I read and observe, it does appear some of our past weather may not be what we should expect in years to come.  Whether this condition is man made, nature doing it's thing or simply normal if assessed over a long period - time will tell.

I follow a science blog and they assert man has been the cause of all changes and disasters - period and totally.  I follow another site that totally debunks all scientific data and they say it's been like this forever and will be forever.  I fall somewhere in between and not necessarily in the middle on different issues.

Donkeytail Spurge is funny 
looking and hardy 
Historic data substantiates weather and environmental differences come and go.  Although US weather data doesn't go back more than a little over 150 years, it does point to disasters rearing their ugly head  on a rather regular (but not necessarily often) basis.

Scientific data does accurately document how some changes are in areas that have had the most negative environmental impact.  This data often takes small portions of a situation and jumps from that data to an all sweeping generalization.  By that I mean data from reports (an example only for making a point) would theorize because there are fewer blue eyed humans in the world than ever before, and blue eyed people are more susceptible to the damage from sun, then it must be that the sun exposure is the reason there are fewer blue eyed people.  Faulty conclusions to related facts.

Because both sides of the hype may pull any related data to substantiate their claims, it tends to negate their findings.  Zealots for any cause become blinded to anything other than own conclusions and pick and choose data to support the wanted end conclusion.  Too bad since we need to be accurately informed and take the right measures to continue to care for our world.

In the recent report talking about drought and water supply, my recurring thought was this is an excellent opportunity for scientists and inventors to be on the front end of new devices and methods to work within these changes.  Too often all we hear is doom and gloom statements.

Sedum "Pink Chablis
It reminds me of a supervisory tool I used in my prior life where I never let an employee bring a problem to me without also giving a solution.  It kept whining for whining sake to a minimum and it encouraged employees to think beyond their own duties and often it was a great solution.  I wish those that report doom and gloom and the news media had that same criteria.  Hopefully, some new-bee will jump on the situation and show we still have the ability to think and develop new ideas for this world's changes.

Then there's the gardening portion I'm working towards:  Why not try a small plot of land designed for dryer conditions?   Something that survives extremely cold winters and drier summers?  IF indeed our future is for different weather, why not experiment with gardening for those conditions right now and at a more leisurely pace than if it's actually a reality?  Some ideas:

A succulent filled bed.
A stone garden (think Japanese gardens)
Sending your rainwater into a rain barrel for later distribution.
Directing your downspouts to specific areas needing more moisture.
Researching what plants take the least moisture but still withstand heavy rains.

Zebra Grass
There are many MANY articles about how to conserve and repurpose our natural resources.  If you start little, you might find yourself on the cutting edge of an idea.  Or you may simply make a beautiful and different garden within your Midwest yard.

And as a warning:  Do not believe all the hype on either side of the claims and arguments.  Consider if the person is trying to sell you something which may skew their data.  Realize some passionate folks skew data without ever realizing they have picked up the zealot's sword and are rushing into the battle without their pants.

Enjoy your day even if you're in snowy Denver or rain parched California.  Today, in Illinois, we are experiencing spring thunderstorms - what a blessing.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Happy Birthday Richard Feynman

Flowers on our plum tree.  The predictions about all spring blooming
buds being killed by the severe winter didn't come true - yeah!
Daffodils last forever and I've started buying up any different kind I find
at a low cost and plopping them at the edge, in the middle and
along paths in the woods.
I've never heard anyone say "Darn! I have too many."
One of the most brilliant scientists that ever lived would have been 96 on May 11th.  Out of his many quotes, I like this one:  "We are not to tell nature what she's gotta do.  She's always got better imagination than we have."  He may have been referring to lofty ideas but it applies to gardening, too.

My yard has been exploding with new growth and beautiful flowers.  Without a lot of talk (you're welcome very much) here are some recent pictures.
If you can only have one spring flowering bush, Pink Flowering Almond
is perfect.  

They predicted no lilacs would bloom this year because of the cold
winter - wrong-O.  Happy-O!  

One of the few ground covers I recommend: "Archangel - Yellow Variegatum" has
beauty but isn't a thug.
Although they are pretty much nondescript most of the year, Redbud trees
are spectacular during Spring.  Perfectly wonderful.

These Parrot tulips were planted when we put in the tree - a good way to
have both and not damage roots while digging.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fern Gene Has Strange and Sexy Origins

Following is an article published on May 8, 2014 by Stephen Luntz for IFL Science.  I have copied instead of rewriting.  It's pretty darn interesting for those of us who simply love the scientific portion of gardening.  (Photos are mine from a patch I moved in from a previous home in about 1997.  It continues to thrive and spread.) 

Ferns may look wholesome but they've been caught getting frisky with relatives of moss, picking up DNA vital to their modern success in the process.

Forest-floor dwelling ferns use a protein called neochrome to chase the limited light available. Where they developed the gene for neochrome has been an intriguing puzzle with several improbable answers. But the latest explanation is more surprising than any of them.

Neochrome is “chimeric gene”, fusing blue and red light sensing proteins. It was a puzzle because a green algae species has it too, suggesting the gene might be very ancient but strangely lost to other species or evolved independently. An alternative explanation is horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from one species to another.

Now a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes the algae neochrome was a red herring, with differences from the fern DNA . Hornworts, humble relatives of moss, evolved neochrome independently from the algae. Ferns and hornworts having been evolving independently for around 400 million years, but Fay-Wei Li, a PhD student at Duke University, and colleagues from a host of other institutions found ferns gained neochrome 180 million years ago. This explains why the most primitive ferns don't have it, and those that do, including Cytheales and Polypodiales flourished on the floors of Cretaceous forests when broadleaved plants appeared.

The authors note, “Despite being one of the oldest groups of land plants, the majority of living ferns resulted from a relatively recent diversification following the rise of angiosperms. To exploit fully the new habitats created by angiosperm-dominated ecosystems, ferns had to evolve novel adaptive strategies to cope with the low-light conditions exerted by the angiosperm canopy. Neochrome, an unconventional photoreceptor that allows ferns to “see the light” better, was likely part of the solution.”

Furthermore, while HGT is not as common in plants as bacteria, who trade genes like Pokemon cards, evidence is emerging it is more common than we previously realized. Adding to this is the discovery that the neochromes in ferns have a far more jumbled and complex relationship than the species of ferns in which the genes sit (see image below). Neochrome genes have been flitting between fern species like bees between flowers.Some genes are just a whole lot more promiscuous than others, and it seems neochrome may be rich in the transposons (or jumping genes) that facilitate species swapping. On top of this ferns are almost unique in that their gametophyte, or sperm and egg producing organs, can live independently. During this stage the gametophytes “have no protective layer on top, no cuticle," says Duke's Professor Kathleen Pryer. Perfect conditions to share a few genes, particularly in the moist environments ferns favor.

Li notes ferns are the only lineage of land plants that lack a reference genome and is working to correct this, which he hopes will reveal if HGT is common for other genes as well.
HT Scientific American, for much more detailed coverage of this story.