Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Lovely Christmas Cassia

How would you like a tropicalesque bush with lush green leaves and showy yellow flowers that makes an amazing statement in a yard in the fall?  If you do, then I present to you the Christmas Cassia.

The flowers are so profuse that they cover the large shrub.  They will fall forming a carpet of fallen petals under the plant too.  Butterflies and bees come in by the droves to visit the blooms in the fall just before that first killing frost.

The plant gets 10' or so tall and can be just as wide.  It likes full sun and reasonably moist soil.  I have mine planted against the south side of my house to keep it going as long as possible before being killed to the ground by frost.  (In the above picture, the large leaves are from a brugmansia plant and the smaller leaves are from the cassia.)  It will come back each year in zone 8 where I live.  Further south it can stay evergreen year-round.  This plant is very fast growing and should be trimmed back to keep it from sprawling and flopping.

The plant is a host for the sulphur family of butterflies - those bright yellow ones you see all over.  This makes it even more attractive to me since I'm so fond of butterflies.  It is not a great plant for northern areas because it needs a fairly long growing season to reach the point of making flowers.  However, when it does reach flowering time, it does so with gusto!  Highly recommended for the Gulf Coast region.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Sweet Fragrances of Autumn

Fragrances fill my life with pleasure.  Nothing brings back old memories and nostalgia to me like a smell from my childhood.  Fall is one of the best times of the year for fragrance.  Houses are filled with the aroma of pumpkin, apple, and the spices that go with them.  Yards are filled with the perfume of flowers of many types.  

One of my favorite Autumn flowers is the Butterfly Ginger (hedychium.)  This sister of the canna just isn't grown in enough places.  It thrives all over the South and is so easy that it should be in every yard.  The gardenia-like fragrance permeates a yard like nothing else. They bloom from late summer all the way till frost.  Then they come back again next year and spread even more.  Such an easy pass-along plant that you can give plenty away by the second year.

However, my absolute favorite fragrance of the fall comes from the delectable Sweet Olive (osmanthus fragrans.)  This one is dear to my heart because it was a staple in my grandmother's yard and in my mother's yard.  My memory is stoked every time I get a whiff of the distinctive aroma of this shrub.  The shrub itself is a nice evergreen plant that gets the size of a small tree.  The flowers are barely noticeable.  But from mid-fall through spring the fragrance wafts through the cool air of any yard where the shrub is planted.  I think a hedge of this plant would be a delight.  Give your own children and grandchildren another aroma to bring them good memories in the future.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nothing Like a White Rose

I have three "white" rose plants and I love them all.  White roses stand out so beautifully- the blooms are highly visible from a distance - and they look great even under moonlight.  There is something delicate and enticing about them that is different from other colors of roses to me.  They are quite difficult to photograph with my cheap digital camera because they capture too much light and are overly bright under normal lighting conditions.

This first picture is a wonderful China rose called Ducher.  It is one of the famous Earthkind roses, which means it is one of the most maintenance free of them all.  Ducher has a slight yellow tinge to it at first bloom. It has a slight but noticeable and lemony fragrance.  The bush form is full and lush getting to about 5' x 5' around.  I never spray mine and it gets practically no disease in my Louisiana climate.  If there is a complaint against this rose it is that the blooms crisp in the heat of summer and are much smaller.  In spring and fall this plant really shines.

Madame Alfred Carriere
 This next rose is actually a very light pink in color, but it quickly fades to almost pure white after being open for a few hours.  It is Madame Alfred Carriere, a rose sometimes classified as a noisette and sometimes as a tea.  It is a vigorous climber with a sweet, wafting fragrance that is impossible to miss.  The rose is a bushy climber that gets both long and full.  First bloom in spring is spectacular with the vine being covered with blooms.  The fragrance will fill a yard at that time.  It blooms more sporadically throughout the summer and then puts on a fairly large flush again in Autumn.  I get maybe 30% leaf loss on this plant in the summer without spraying at all.  I can't imagine not having this rose, but it definitely needs lots of space.  One last thing I appreciate about this rose is the small number of thorns it has.

Prosperity is the whitest of the white.  It's nearly pure white right from the start.  It blooms in large clusters on a sprawling plant that doesn't know if it wants to be a climber or a shrub.  It is in the hybrid musk family of roses and has the distinct and lovely fragrance of that clan.  Mine stays beautiful without spray and blooms 9 months out of the year for me.  I've seen this rose especially recommended for a wedding rose because of its beauty and fragrance.  The blooms are smaller and get easily crisped around the edges in the hot part of summer, so it looks its best in spring and fall.  One of the things I like best about this rose is that it has ready-made bouquets.  You can cut off one of the clusters of bloom, put them straight into a vase, and set them anywhere in the house for a beautiful look and a natural air-freshener.

These are three of the very best white roses for Louisiana.  To this list I might only add the popular polyantha, Marie Pavie.  Marie Pavie is a smaller shrub with fragrant blooms on a plant with few thorns.  I don't currently have one of these, but it's on my wish list!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Plants and Elephants

There is a square "courtyard" type area in our yard where we annually put a swimming pool up for our three children.  Last year, I got the bright idea to make this area into a tropical square.  It's perfect for this because it's in a sunny place on the south side of our house and quite sheltered from north winds.  It has become my place to experiment with various tropicals.  No tropical area is complete without some elephant ears (colocasias and alocasias.)  I picked up two beautiful colocasias this year as my first victims.

I love the dark-colored, purplish colocasias.  Purple Ruffles fits that bill and it quickly found a spot in the tropical square.  It is a medium-sized colocasia that should thrive in Louisiana.

This is what is looks like now.  The leaves are burnt around the edges because of the drought conditions we had this year.  Tropicals typically don't fare well in drought!  Still, it's growing and I anticipate great things next year.

One of the colocasias that I really love is Thailand Giant.  It makes such a loud statement in the yard!  This is one that requires plenty of water and fertilizer to look best.  This year was not ideal, but my plant still looks fine with all the supplemental water I've given it.  If it survives the winter well, I really want to baby it next year and get those giant leaves this plant is known to get.

My plant has leaves only about 3' long which is quite below the possible 6' size of this plant.  These plants grow well in zones 8 and higher.  It's best to put them in large pots if you live further north.  They will die back to the ground every winter only to come back strong in mid-spring.  They prefer part shade and moist, rich soil.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Touch of Goldsturm

Goldsturm rudbeckias are among the easiest of all perennials to grow and they make a statement like none other when in full bloom.  These are commonly called "Black-eyed Susans" though this is a hybrid cultivar that makes much better plants and larger flowers than the wild variety.  The flowers start in July and continue for at least several weeks atop a bushy plant that has a pleasant shape.

The plant is so bulletproof that everyone should grow them.  They look good even when not in bloom, mix well with many other plants, and add great color to a mixed bed or border.  Butterflies are attracted to them as well.  They will slowly spread and can be divided every three years or so.  You can also plant the seeds, though they won't be exactly like the mother plant.  They prefer full, hot sun but will tolerate some shade.  They will grow in any but soggy soil and are virtually pest free.  The stems are also long enough to make this a nice cut flower for indoor bouquets too.  Such a winner of a plant deserves all the accolades it gets.  Highly recommended for everyone!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Send Now Prosperity"

The title of this blog entry is from Psalms 118:25 in the Bible, for those who are curious.  Prosperity is the name of this clustering, white rose.  It is one of the hybrid musk roses developed in the early 1900's by Joseph Pemberton.

This is the only whole bush shot I have at the moment.  It shows just how prolific the blooms are on this plant when it is in full flush.  The plant, like most hybrid musks, is either an arching bush or a short climber that blooms in flushes throughout the season.

You can see just how huge the bloom clusters often are.  The fragrance can be wafting and noticeable when Prosperity is at full flush.  I really noticed the fragrance when first coming across this rose at the Gardens of the American Rose Society in Shreveport a couple of years ago.  That is what convinced me to get this rose.

Because of the pure white beauty of this rose, it is highly recommended as a wedding rose.  Cut a whole cluster for a wonderful bouquet.

The leaves are dark green, somewhat small, and pretty resistant to disease.  I don't spray and this rose has remained largely blackspot-free for me.

Sometimes the blooms open up more.  They also have a pink tinge if the weather is cloudy or cooler.

The canes of this rose are fairly lax and don't get super long.  I think that makes this one of the best candidates for a pillar rose.  Many other climbers either get too long for a pillar or they have too stiff of canes.  Like other hybrid musks, this one reportedly takes more shade than most roses, so it would be a great candidate for an area that gets partial shade.

I really love white roses and this is one of the best for my area.  My only complaint against this rose is just how hard it is to deadhead so many blooms!

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Wonderful Shasta Daisy

Nothing says "cottage garden" like Shasta daisies.  They are beloved the world around and are the favorite flower of many people.  The one I grow is the cultivar "Becky."  It is the best variety for the South and is renowned for taking more heat and humidity than most other daisies.  It is also great about not getting too tall and floppy.

The plant grows into a bushy clump that gets about 2' tall and about the same wide.  They like well-drained, sunny spots.  The blooms start in May at my house and continue for a couple of months.  They will bloom longer if deadheaded regularly.  Don't let them go long without water during the growing season.  On the other hand, in the winter they will die if left soggy.

My plant is growing in a corner by my fence.  It will be ready to divide and spread around this fall.  You can divide them every three years or so when the clumps get large.  The blooms grow on long stems making for great bouquets, so be sure to pick plenty of them.  Butterflies and bees also appreciate all types of daisies.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Purple Coneflower - Magnus

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)  is a native US plant that grows as easily as any weed in most of the continental US.  The variety I grow is the most popular of the cultivars and it is called Magnus.  There are many new varieties and hybrids that get mixed reviews, but Magnus is consistently praised wherever it is grown. 

The plant gets about 3' tall and most of the blooms are held up above the foliage.  The blooms are profuse and striking as you can see in the above picture.  The blooms begin in early summer and stay around for a month or so.   The leaves are medium green and sandpapery in feel.  The clump can get around 3' in diameter after a couple of years.  I have this plant growing in one of my backyard butterfly gardens along with butterfly bush, verbena, and salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage.)

The blooms are about 3" around and daisylike.  I smell a distinct and pleasant fragrance on my blooms.  Butterflies and bees frequently visit these blooms.  Birds also love the seeds if you forego deadheading the blooms.

This plant is a reliable and long-lived perennial everywhere it grows.  You can divide the plant every two or three years to get more of them.  Also, they will re-seed in the vicinity if given the right conditions.  Coneflowers need nearly full sun and good drainage to thrive best.  They tolerate drought well and will grow in almost any soil type.  The flowers are long-lasting in a vase and have long stems that are perfect for cutting. This really is one of the best perennials to grow for a cottage garden or butterfly garden.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Zinnias - Zahara and Lilliput

Zinnias are famous for being among the easiest annuals to grow.  The seeds are cheap and they readily come up if planted in warm or even hot weather.  They are very drought tolerant, come in all colors, come in all sizes, and attract tons of butterflies.  The blooms are long lasting for bouquets and vases.  The only problem is that some of the older varieties can get mildew in the humid summers of the Southeast.  Newer varieties are nearly immune to mildew and stay healthy and nice all the way till frost.  Above is Zahara Double Fire, one of the new varieties.

The Zahara series is a shorter variety that doesn't get tall and floppy like many of the older zinnias.  I'm trying these out for the first time this year.  Thus far, I love them.  They are bushy and short with none of the floppiness of many other zinnias.  Plus, they easily germinated from seeds.  The double type makes the normal pom-pom flowers that typify most zinnias.  I'm thinking of using these instead of the Profusions because they have shown themselves more easy to grow from seed.  I've had to purchase plants for Profusions, which gets costly.

This is another variety of zinnia called Lilliput.  I mistakenly thought because of the name that these would be a shorter variety.  They get tall and become floppy, which is my one gripe against them.  However, they bloom prolifically and readily reseed themselves all over the place.  I didn't plant any of them this year and they are just coming up voluntarily all over one of my butterfly beds.  They are so happy and healthy that I don't have the heart to chop them all down.  Plus, the butterflies adore them.

As you can see, this variety comes in many colors.  I have a fondness for the peachy-orange ones.  They look nice in bouquets and brighten up the flowerbed beautifully.  The flowers aren't huge and full like the Bennary's Giant series, but there are far more of them.  I haven't noticed any disease on this variety at all.

  Zinnias should be a staple of the summer landscape.  They love hot, sunny locations and seem to never stop blooming.  They are so easy to grow that everyone should have some of them.  I especially love them because of all the butterflies they attract.  The many colors available make it easy to match them in any color scheme.  They thrive in drought conditions, make good potted plants, and need almost no care.  Need I say more?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Have a Cigar - Mexican Cigar Plant

I usually have at least one blog entry per year singing the praises of this unique plant, the Mexican cigar plant or cuphea ignea.  Looking at the blooms, it should be obvious why it has this name.  The little blooms closely resemble small cigars or cigarettes.  If that's what the blooms are, then hummingbirds are notorious nicotine addicts, because they love the blooms on this plant.  

The blooms usually begin for me in early May and continue right up till the first frost of Autumn.  These plants thrive on heat and humidity, being native to Mexico and Central America.  The blooms are profuse for nearly the whole time.

The plant itself has a pleasing and full form if kept pinched back.  Occasionally through the year if mine starts to look lanky, I'll prune the tips back to encourage a more full look.  The leaves are a pleasing dark green that contrasts well with the bright orange flowers.  The shrub only gets to about 4' high for me and maybe 2.5' wide.

The plant dies to the ground in my zone 8b yard, but it has reliably come back for several years with no special protection.  It comes up from the roots once the ground warms up in the spring.  It prefers a sunny spot and semi-tropical conditions.  I wouldn't use it for a dry spot, though it does take minor droughts well.  As mentioned above, this is certainly one of the best hummingbird plants you can put in the ground, so it's truly worthy for that reason alone.  It's such a no-fuss workhorse that I really recommend it for the South.  It would probably be only an annual in zones any further north than zone 7b.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Turk's Cap

It's quite easy to see why this plant is called Turk's Cap when you take a close look at the blooms.  They closely resemble old-fashioned turbans.  The most common color is this deep red one and it's the one I like most because of its attraction to hummingbirds. 

The plant has a pleasing shrub shape with large sycamore-like leaves.  The blooms are not overpowering on the plant, but there are plenty enough of them.  This plant is a close kin to the hibiscus clan and resembles them.  One difference from the hibiscuses is that Turk's Cap thrives in more shade.  This one is growing in the shade of a large Arizona Ash tree on the edge of my yard.  It is very healthy and happy.  These plants do not enjoy dry conditions and mine has an emitter from my irrigation system that supplies it with plenty of water.  They can survive in dryer conditions if forced to. 

Turk's Caps die to the ground after a freeze, but mine readily came back after last winter which was harsher than normal.  The Latin name for these is malvaviscus drummondii, in case anyone wants to look up more information on them.  The plants get to around 5' tall and nearly as wide.  They are wonderful for providing color to shady areas.  The blooms usually start in early June and will continue through the summer, into fall, and up to freeze time.  They are one of the absolute favorite plants of ruby-throated hummingbirds and are a must have for those wanting to attract these hummers.  Highly recommended for anyone in zones 7b and higher.  This is definitely an under-utilized plant in my area, which is a shame. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lord Baltimore Hardy Hibiscus

Meet Lord Baltimore, one of the most spectacular blooms to be found on any plant.  The flowers are deep red, the size of a dinner-plate, and highly visible from a long distance away.  Blooms start for me in early June and keep on through the heat of summer.  Bumblebees really appreciate the nectar.  Unfortunately, other types of bugs like the leaves.

The color is one which my camera has a hard time capturing well, but it is as red as red can be.  Lord Baltimore is one of the hardy hibiscus family, sometimes called Giant Rose Mallow or Swamp Mallow.  Like all of its family, it prefers full sun and plenty of moisture.  These plants do not take drought well.  They are great to plant in or near a boggy area. 

The leaves of Lord Baltimore resemble marijuana leaves.  The plant is not as full, rounded, and bushy as my other hardy hibiscus, Luna Swirl.  Because of this, I like growing it in a mixed bed with lantanas.  The bushy lantanas help fill in the area around this plant.  Also, this particular cultivar doesn't make as many blooms for me as some others.  It makes up for this with how wonderful each bloom is.  It dies to the ground each winter when freezes hit and only comes back once the weather really warms up in spring.  The plants respond well to plenty of fertilizer and organic materials. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My "Other" Roses

Nope, these are not miniature roses, neither are they some of the new "Carpet" roses I've seen advertised.  They are moss roses, or portulacas.

Portulacas are a low growing (4" - 6") annual that flowers for months on end with little care.  They come in both single and double flower forms.  The doubles that I have remind me of carnations.  My variety is known as the Sundial portulacas.  The flowers close up at night and on cloudy days.  The leaves are fleshy like most succulents, which explains why they do well in dry heat.

These great annuals are quite easily grown from seeds.  Just dust the ground with them, water in, and watch grow.  Many times they will re-seed themselves voluntarily in sundry neat places.  In fact, the ones pictured in this post are all volunteers.  The ones above are growing near the base of a mock orange I planted this year.  I have no idea how the seeds got here.

Portulacas need full sun and good draining soil.  They are perfect for an area that the hose won't reach.  They also make wonderful "spillers" for containers.  I recommend them to neglectful gardeners who are prone to forget watering their containers for a few days.  The plants will spread to about 12" in diameter.  They are great for rock gardens and sandy areas.  Did I mention that they are an heirloom flower that your grandmother probably grew?  Let us never forget these old time favorites.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Daylilies - The Best of the Rest


I'm putting in this post the rest of my daylilies that have bloomed thus far.  Above is one I just planted this year and it made only one bloom.  I expect much more from it next year once it has grown more.  It's called Little Deek and is a deep, golden yellow variety.  I didn't have any yellows and wanted to get Buttered Popcorn.  However, the place where I went to get it didn't have Buttered Popcorn and suggested this variety as a reasonable alternative.  We'll see.

This is another unknown daylily that I have.  I used to think it was Strawberry Candy, but when I compared it to the real thing it was obvious that it's another variety.  It's a darker shade than my Strawberry Candy.  Still, this is one of my best performing daylilies and it always puts on a great show.

This last is a pink daylily that I don't know the name of either.  The pink fades quickly in the sun and is hard to capture well with my cheap camera.  This is a nice daylily, but isn't as vigorous as some of my others.  I may move it to a more favorable location this fall.