Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Favorite Weed

Every spring, grass-like clumps of growth start showing up in my back yard.  My wife is carefully instructed not to mow these down as they will eventually lead to these cute little blue flowers that look so cottagey and nice.  These clumps are the wildflower tradescantia that is native to my area.  It is also known as spiderwort.

I have never planted them and do not give them any care beyond not mowing them until they cease blooming and start to yellow.  They thrive in the back yard and add cheer to my daily walks.  They will eventually form a clump about 2' x 2' in size.  There is no fragrance to speak of.  Towards the end of spring, we mow them down and they disappear until the following spring.  Their bloom time lasts for about a month in my yard and is usually around the same time as the irises and azaleas.  The blooms on mine are medium blue and they close up when the sun gets hot around mid-day.  They will do best in part shade with moist soil.  They might be a good plant for a cottage style garden.  As it is, I will just let mine keep growing where they please in my back yard.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Tidal Wave of Silver

This perfect bloom comes from my Tidal Wave Silver plant.  It looks so good that I wish I had planted more of them.  The blooms are lavender with a deep purple throat and the color really sticks out against the deep green of the foliage.

Not only that, but there are lots of these blooms covering the plant.  This plant was on a trial run for me this year, hence there being only one of them in the ground.  Next year there will be more of them! 

Down here, petunias should be planted in October or November and allowed to over-winter in the ground.  This particular cultivar is known to get larger and more "filling" than other types.  It should be a wonderful addition to a Southern cool season cottage garden.  If the bed this one is in looks over-run, it's because of all the clover and nigella growing in it.  I don't want to pull up the clover for fear of uprooting my beautiful, self-seeding nigellas ("love-in-a-mist.")  This will be one of my summer butterfly beds after the petunias and nigellas play out.  It will be filled with zinnias, salvias, and tithonias starting in May.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Paradise of Azaleas

The azaleas are about to reach peak bloom in my area.  Some aren't there yet, but will be in a few days. 

This first bush is the oldest and most common azalea in these parts - the venerable Formosa azalea.  It gets huge and is still breath-taking at peak. 

This is a close-up of the Formosa blooms.  The hot pink color really stands out on the bush and in the yard.

These are some smaller bushes that I have around the North foundation of my house.  They are Red Ruffles and Pink Ruffles.  They don't get nearly as huge as the Formosas but are covered in bloom and look better as a foundation plant. 

Here is a better shot of the Pink Ruffles blooms

I would be negligent not to include at least one picture of the blooms on my new Encore Autumn Moonlight azalea.  These will bloom several times per year instead of only in the spring.  However, they are not as covered in bloom as the once-bloomers.  The Encores like more sun than regular azaleas.

Here is a picture of my best Red Ruffles plant.  It's not quite at full bloom yet, so I'll try to post some more pictures in a few days. 

Everyone in the South should grow at least a few azaleas.  Northerners would die to have them, so anyone who can grow them is downright remiss if they don't.  Plant them in part sun, mulch them well - preferably with pine straw - don't let them get too dry while young, and watch them grow.  They need acidic soil so it might be advisable to get yours tested.  You can put additives into the soil to make it more acidic. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Let's Get a Little Sun

Arizona Sun, that is.

This is my Arizona Sun gaillardia, a mounding and spreading perennial that  faithfully has returned in my landscape for several years.  This plant famously takes heat and drought and will bloom from spring till frost.  Mine starts blooming in March and quits in December.  Could you ask more of a plant?

The blooms are an almost garish color and need to be deadheaded to keep up best production.  The sizzling color fits my mood best in the summer. 

The plant is low and mounding.  It can be divided every three years or so if you want more of them.  I actually planted these from seeds, but they didn't flower the first year.  It's easier to just buy some plants - if you can find them.  This plant is not a common sight at your local garden centers.  In the Southeast, I recommend you plant them in a hot, dry spot where you don't want to water or irrigate. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Honest Abe

Abraham Darby is supposed to grow like a climber in Louisiana, but mine has never done this.  The canes get relatively long, but they are stiff and just not long enough to train along the fence.  So this year, I pruned mine way back somewhat like a hybrid tea.  I'm hoping the plant will fill out and get more thick and bushy than in past years because of this.  There is no blackspot yet, so Abe is looking good.  By June blackspot will have decimated this plant and it won't look so good. 

In spite of the blackspot problems, I cannot resist these luscious, full blooms.  This is the reason I keep this rose - not to mention the strong, fruity fragrance that I love so well.  The blooms are more pink now, but become apricot as hot weather comes in.  Not recommended for easy care.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Visit With the Madame

Madame Alfred Carriere ("MAC") is a fine old white, climbing rose with a sweet fragrance that wafts on the breeze on a cool spring morning.  The buds start off a light, soft pink.

They stay this light pink as they open, but soon fade to a lovely, pure white.  This plant will be covered in blooms in a week or so.

It becomes quite a large climber in the South.  Mine is planted in the shadow of a big live oak tree and so is not in the ideal location.  Still, it's making the best of the situation and blooms beautifully.  There is a large flush in the spring, followed by sporadic blooms throughout the summer, and another smaller flush in the fall.  She loses about half her leaves to blackspot during the summer, but readily recovers and shrugs off the disease.  If you plant this rose on a pergola or arbor, you might also want to plant some bush rose at its base to hide the bare legs.   I recommend Marie Pavie as a nice complementary rose to go with this one.  Another thing to like about MAC is how few thorns she has. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Forgotten Favorite

This is the venerable Summer Snowflake ("Gravetye Giant.")  It's Latin name is Leucojum aestivum, so use that term if you're looking for information on the internet to make sure you have the right plant.  This plant blooms at the same time of year as daffodils, has a slight fragrance, and forms large clumps over time that are very attractive.  I think they look nice as a bordering plant.  They also make a nice addition to a mixed bulb bed.  Once upon a time, these were quite popular, especially in the Deep South.  This was mostly because they thrive where many other bulbs won't grow.  For one thing, they don't need as much chill as daffodils, tulips, and many other spring bulbs.  For another, they take clay soil and boggy conditions like a champ.  To me, they resemble Lily of the Valley.  This neat old plant will naturalize well with basically no care at all.  Plant the bulbs 3" deep anywhere that it will get at least part sun.  They should be planted in Fall along with daffodils.  For some good information on this plant, I recommend you make a side trip to Floridata and check it out.  On a side note, this would be a perfect plant for a moon garden.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tropical Hibiscus

Tropical hibiscus should be treated as an annual unless you have a nice place to keep them when the temperatures get cold.  They can't take a freeze at all and I've never had success over-wintering them outside.  My wife, Jo, loves them though and always wants one.  She particularly likes the orange ones.  This week is her birthday, so when I saw this one at a nursery the other day, it had to come home with me.  This variety was developed by Dupont Nursery right here in Louisiana, and it is called "Cajun Orange."  It has a lovely "dreamsicle" orange color that doesn't show as well on the computer. 

I planted it in this large pot which it will fill out quite well in a couple of months.  Hibiscuses can get long and lanky, so I recommend you snip them back once they start getting too tall.  They will bloom all the way till frost if you keep them well-watered and fertilized.  They must have full sun to thrive. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ducher Wins the Silver Again

For the second year in a row, Ducher is the second to bloom.  It bloomed only a couple days after Archduke Charles.  I'm looking forward to this bush being covered in bloom in a couple of weeks.  Like the other china roses, this one loves Louisiana and thrives with virtually no care at all.  The form of the plant is rounded, full, and pleasing.  It is seldom bothered by blackspot in my yard, even without spraying.  Anyone wanting a white rose could not hope for a better plant than this one.  It also has a lemony scent that is very fresh, though light. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Archduke Charles Wins Again

Once again, the first rose to bloom in my yard is Archduke Charles.  For three straight years, this lovely little China rose has been my first to bloom.  It never lost its leaves all winter despite some of our coldest temperatures in recent memory.  There are quite a few roses in the "China" family and they are all ideal for the hot, humid weather of the South.  Most are very resistant to any disease - I don't spray mine at all any more - and they don't even need much pruning.  They have a pleasing, full and rounded form and they bloom throughout the year with hardly a break.  Archduke Charles has blooms that start off with light pink middles and darker outside petals, then over a couple of days the whole bloom deepens to a deep crimson.  In hotter months the blooms start off a darker color.  The fragrance is sweet and "peppery" to my nose. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My Favorite Harbinger of Spring

Without a doubt, daffodils are my favorite early spring bulb.  The cheerful yellows bring such joy in the early season when dull browns and grays permeate everywhere.

With the colder winters of the last couple years here in Louisiana, these daffodils have received more of the chill they need to really thrive in the Deep South.  Usually this King Alfred type don't do as well, but these are thriving for me. I don't even know what exact type this is since it was given as a gift and I just plopped them in one of my garden beds.

This last little bloom comes from my back yard where last year I put in nearly 100 bulbs to naturalize.  This is the old-fashioned "Campernelle" type of daffodil.  They are known to perform better in the Deep South and are recommended for naturalized drifts.  My dream is to make a whole area of my back yard into this huge drift of springtime daffodils and muscarii (grape hyacinths.)  Hopefully these little, fragrant beauties will spread and thrive. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kramer's Supreme

After long absence, I'm back with fresh blooms from around the yard.  The first entry of the year is this beautiful camellia, Kramer's Supreme.

At this time of year, the camellias are at peak beauty.  I love their shiny, evergreen leaves and glorious blooms.  They are slow growers and take some years to reach large shrub status.  This Kramer's Supreme has been planted in my yard for three years and is still quite small, but it surely packs a dynamite punch for its size. 

The blooms are a deep, rich red that really stands out at this time of year before we have much color.  They are quite full in form and resemble roses before opening fully.

As the blooms open more, you can see the bright yellow stamens some.  At times I can even smell a slight, sweet fragrance on this camellia. 

If you want camellias, plant them in a part shade location with rich, acid soil.  I commonly use leaves as mulch around mine and this adds the nutrients they desire.  Pine needles are an ideal mulch for them as well.  They don't take cold very well, so I wouldn't risk them in areas colder than zone 7b unless you really have a sheltered spot.  If you are in their area, there's absolutely no excuse for you not having at least one of these lovely shrubs.  What else looks so luscious at this time of year?