July 29, 2013

This could be you in Italy


Have you ever pictured yourself strolling along the Ponte Vecchio in Florence?


Sightseeing at the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine in Rome?


Or wandering the countryside and small towns of Tuscany?


Better yet, have you dreamed of touring some of the most beautiful gardens in Italy?

If so, we'd be pleased to have you join us for a 10-day trip, "Enchanting Gardens of Italy," June 17-27, 2014. The trip is open to anyone--on a first-come, first-served basis. The major emphasis will be Italian gardens, but we'll also have time for sightseeing in Rome, Florence, and Lucca.

I'm teaming up with the owner of Viaggi di Gusto, a firm that offers custom tours of Italy. This trip is designed specifically for gardeners and friends. To learn more about the trip, you can click on the icon near the top of this blog's sidebar, or click here for the full itinerary.

You can also email me at plantpostings[at]gmail[dot]com with any questions or suggestions, or if you'd like to receive trip updates. I'll also be setting up a Facebook group soon for gardeners planning to attend.

Note: There's an 18-person limit for this trip. And those who sign up by Nov. 15, 2013, will receive a $100 per person discount.

Hope you can join us!


July 24, 2013

A couple of wild Monardas


If you'd like to add a bit of pastel lavender whimsy to your garden, two species of Monardas might be just what you're looking for. Neither are currently in my garden--all of these captures are from the wild. But I think you'll agree they're definitely garden-worthy.


Wild Bergamot (M. fistulosa), is prized for its color, sweet scent, and attractiveness to pollinators. Named a 2013 "notable native" by the Herb Society of America, Wild Bergamot is native to most of North America.

Other nicknames include Purple Bee Balm, Horsemint, and Oswego Tea. Wild Bergamot has a slight Citrusy scent, and is used in the flavoring of Earl Gray Tea.


It makes a great companion for golden Rudbeckias, Helianthuses, and Silphiums--all of which I saw blooming alongside or near it while capturing these photos.


I think the whimsical form of all the Bee Balms, including this one, makes them especially fun. They're great additions to butterfly, hummingbird, and rain gardens. Wild Bergamot is hardy in USDA zones 3-9, it prefers full to partial sun and dry to moderate moisture. It reaches heights of 2-4 feet, and grows best in well-drained loam, sand, or clay, but it will tolerate poor soils, according to the Herb Society of America.


Another Monarda I wasn't familiar with until recently is Spotted Horsemint (M. punctata). Other nicknames include Spotted Bee Balm and Dotted Mint. Although also native to most of North America, it appears to be less common in my state, based on various sources, including UW-Stevens Point's Freckmann Herbarium.


While closely related, these two Monardas are distinctly different in appearance except for their foliage form and pastel color. If you happen across M. punctata in the wild before it flowers, you might not notice it among thick blades of grass.


Here's a shot of it in the bud stage, before adding its unique lavender-tinted bracts and spotted blooms.


Spotted Horsemint reminds me of a Pineapple plant in its growth form. It also is hardy in USDA zones 3-9, has a sweet scent, and prefers full to partial sun and dry to moderate moisture. Slightly lower-growing (1-3 feet tall) than Wild Bergamot, Spotted Horsemint prefers sandy, well-drained soil--which is where I found it.


But the truly fun part about this wild Monarda can only be appreciated up close--its spotted, Orchid-like blooms.

I'm linking this post to Gail's Wildflower Wednesday, over at Clay and Limestone.

July 21, 2013

A strange and challenging microclimate

I enjoy experimenting with microclimates, but it can get expensive. Years ago, when our family purchased this property, most of it was tastefully and naturally landscaped. It didn't take a lot of effort to settle into this house and garden--actually, the garden is what sold me on this place.

But, thankfully, there were a few garden "rooms" that required a little attention--giving me a chance to add my own touch. One of them is difficult to describe ... but I'll try:

It's an internal corner plot, under an eave, facing south and west. It's shaded from the sun entirely in the morning, it gets dappled shade/sun during the midday, and then the hot afternoon sun bakes it from about 2 p.m. to sunset. Being under the eave, it gets very little rainfall--mostly from the wind blowing precipitation into the little corner. The front of the plot is bordered by low-growing Forsythia shrubs, whose future is questionable (that's another post).

My first attempts at planting in this corner were completely unsuccessful. I can't even remember all the plants I tried. Then I tried some Daylilies, and they did quite well--at least the ones that weren't entirely under the eave.

About two months ago, I decided to experiment a little more. Anything planted directly in the ground was destined to fail, for lack of precipitation and sun--because the area would be shaded by the Lilies and the Forsythias.

Finally, I had a light-bulb moment! How about trying succulents in pots? I told the fishman about my plan, and he found me three matching clay pots of varying heights. All three had small holes in the bottom, and I added rocks; then filled the pots with a mixture of soil, sand, and perlite, to ensure adequate drainage.

I purchased several plants, and I was incredibly excited to have my very first succulent garden! (I've grown various Sedums over the years--but never a garden devoted entirely to mixed succulents.)

Of course, as with most first attempts, this garden was not entirely successful. Most of the plants survived, but two are now mere memories: Armeria maritima and Sempervivum 'Skirockii.' Of course, I don't know for sure, but I think the Armeria might have died for lack of consistent sunshine. And here's the problem with the Sempervivum:

See the holes in the leaves?

Who was digging in this pot?

Yes, you are correct: chipmunks! They were digging in the pots and chewing on the plants! For such cute little critters, they can inflict a lot of plant damage! I tried hot Pepper repellent and Garlic--both of which seemed to attract the nasty little cuties even more.

Time to scare away those pesky chipmunks!

This motion-activated croaking toad was a cute addition to the garden. But he can't get wet and must be removed from the garden during a heavy downpour (we've had a few of those this summer).

The only thing that seemed to keep the chippers away longer than a few hours was crushed Marigold flowers and seeds--sprinkled among the plants. But that was only a temporary fix.

Then I thought, how about adding some Cacti? Wouldn't the prickly spines discourage digging? I knew some Cacti are native here, and I watched a video program about how other species are cold-hardy and can survive our winters. Perfect for outdoor potted plants!

So, I ordered two Hedgehog Cacti, Brittle Prickly Pears, and (believe it or not!) an Agave, from Cold Hardy Cactus:

Echinocereus caespitosus

Escobaria missouriensis

Opuntia fragilis 'Black Cat'

Agave utahensis v. Kaibabensis

They've joined the other plants that seem to be thriving now, despite a little damage from Alvin, Theodore, and Simon Chipmunk.

Sedum 'Xenox'

Sedum spurium 'Fire Glow'

Sempervivum 'Red Beauty'

Sedum 'Kamtschaticum'

Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'

I'll keep you posted; fingers crossed. Perhaps I've found a good solution to this strange and challenging microclimate? I might even try to plant the seeds from the now defunct S. 'Skirockii.'

Sempervivum 'Skirockii' -- sadly blooming before its demise.

Maybe it will live, through its "offspring," to see another day.

July 18, 2013

Plant of the month: Opuntia fragilis

Opuntia fragilis

Where would you guess this photo was taken? Colorado? Texas? Arizona?

No, this photo was taken in Wisconsin, about an hour from my home. I'm thinking it might be best not to share publicly exactly where these Brittle Prickly Pear Cacti (Opuntia fragilis) are located, because their status is "threatened" in my state.

It was quite exciting when the fishman and I discovered them growing in the wild during a recent hike--in kind of an unlikely place (at least I didn't expect it).

ppear and tree

They were in a shady forest, growing near rock formations at an elevation above 1,000 feet. I know, I know--that's nothing for those of you who live near mountain ranges. But the elevation and other conditions probably contribute to the perfect habitat for the Cacti.


Brittle Prickly Pear is native to the lower 48 U.S. states and much of Canada, but now is found west of a line from Ontario in the north to Texas in the south. It's rare in the Midwest. In my state, it's found in thin, dry soil over rock or sand prairies, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

It occurs in a variety of desert, grassland, prairie, and woodland communities, according to the USDA Forest Service. It's found further north than any other Cactus species in the world--growing in northern Alberta near the Arctic Circle. This Cactus is one of several species of Opuntia found in Wisconsin.


Interestingly, before our hike I had ordered a Prickly Pear Cactus (a slightly different variety) from Cold Hardy Cactus for my new succulent garden. So it was fun to come across this rare species growing in the wild--rarely seen in my state.

Next up--an update on the succulent garden.


July 14, 2013

GBBD: sun, shade, and everything in between


About this time every summer I pull back a little on my gardening obsession. Notice I said "a little." My garden is very informal, and far from perfect! Some would call it untidy (I prefer "cottage style.")

At the beginning of spring, I always have high expectations for upgrades and improvements. When July hits, half the growing season is over, it's hot, the mosquitoes are biting, and the lake is calling.

At this time of year, frankly, I get a little lazy. Instead of replacing the dying plant, I start to accept that hole in the garden plan, or I realize that another plant will grow larger to fill in the empty spot.

Still, the garden is certainly healthy and there are plenty of blooms to share.

Here's what's blooming in my small west-facing sunny potager:


The Drumstick Alliums (A. sphaerocephalon) are ending their fireworks. They offered a lot of great structure to a floral arrangement the other day.


Cucumbers (Cucumis 'Slicing') are setting more fruit. It's getting a little hot for them now, but I hope a few will make it through and get large enough for me to pick and eat.


Cosmos (C. bipinnatus) are lovely again, as always. This particular flower is showing signs of earwig or Japanese beetle damage, but there are plenty of buds and other blooms brightening up the garden.


Purple is a popular color right now, with the Liatris (L. spicata) beginning their peak of impressive display.


The Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus 'Rocket Mix') are tall and healthy this year. I need to pinch off a few more blooms to encourage more growth. This tall hybrid produces excellent, spiky flowers for floral arrangements--mid-summer through fall.


The Marigolds (Tagetes spp.) are a little wimpy this year. I'm not sure why. I think it might be earwigs, and since I set out beer traps the other day, I've been catching a lot of them.


Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are just about ready to bloom. I love the criss-cross pattern of the petals before they open.





Many people have commented on how the native plants performed better than other plants during the drought. I agree, to some extent, but there's no doubt this year's abundant rain has produced a bumper crop of Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)! They are sturdy, healthy, and gorgeous! I'm fascinated with the plants as they display blooms in various stages of opening and coloring.

Then, in the shade and dappled shade we have:



Hanging baskets planted with a mix of variegated Sweet Potato vine (Solanum jasminoides) and Fuchsia (F. 'Marinka'). I love this combination--both the blooms and the foliage.


Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is performing the best among the Milkweeds I planted. A. tuberosa bloomed, but is struggling. And A. purpurascens is taking its own slow time to get established. Unfortunately, I haven't seen many Monarchs here, anyway. (I have, however, seen plenty of them on various hikes this summer.)


One of my favorite summer plants--Bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa)--is putting on a spectacular show this summer. Several new shoots appeared at the back of the perennial bed.


I know it's common, but I have a thing for Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina). I enjoy watching it bud, bloom, and change color from spring through fall and early winter. It's definitely a four-season beauty.


The Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea 'Camelot Lavendar') is showing a second blush of blooms. They got a little floppy, though, so I had to add a wire support.


Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Eximia) just keeps blooming--long after its showy cousin Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) has faded.

And then there are the Lilies of all types that grow in shade, dappled shade, and sun, but always reach for any light they can find:


The common Ditch Lilies (Hemerocalis fulva) that many disparage, but I find delightful in patches of sunlight in my shady garden.



Various Asiatic Lily Hybrids (Lilium spp.) that reach over the garden fence to brag about their beauty.


And, of course, the Water Lily (Nymphaea 'Clyde Ikins'), in dappled sunlight that captures the shadows and flickers of light from morning until late afternoon. I can't stop looking at it.

I'm linking in with Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of every month. Head on over there to see what's blooming in gardens around the world.