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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Favorite Daylily

Joan Senior is probably my favorite daylily - and that's saying a lot since I love many of them.  It starts blooming mid-season (late May here) and keeps blooming deep into summer and early fall.

The plant puts out scapes of flowers that are quite tall - to 3' high.  There are plenty of blooms too.  This particular plant has not received much water during our drought conditions, so it looks somewhat spindly.

The blooms are a delectable cream color with a lime-green throat.  This color goes well with almost any other color making this a perfect daylily for the mixed perennial bed.

This is an evergreen daylily, which is another thing in its favor for the Deep South.  The flowers can get up to 6" across.

Another nice thing about these blooms is that they have a mild, but sweet fragrance.  This daylily has been around since the 70's and has always been one of the most popular.  As with all daylilies, plant this one in full sun or part shade in nearly any type of soil.  It needs virtually no care at all to thrive.  Daylilies are truly wonderful plants for those who have a "black" thumb.  They will grow anywhere from zone 4 and southward. Be aware that rabbits and deer both munch on daylilies on occasion.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Wine and... Daylilies?

These are some daylilies given to me by a friend for which I have no ID.  I just call them my wine-colored daylilies.  They have a deep, velvety, red-wine color that is hard to describe.

They bloom a little later than some of my other daylilies.  However, they are all the more beautiful when they do come out.

 Dark-flowered daylilies are best planted where they only get morning sunlight.  Otherwise, the bright sunlight will bleach out their striking color.  I have these in an almost perfect spot.  Another thing about dark flowers is that they will get waterspots easily.

These dark colors are so fun because many people who aren't into them don't even think they're daylilies.  They look so different from the ubiquitous yellows and oranges seen everywhere.  Give some of the "darks" a try in your garden.  They will reward you with striking color and fun comments.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Give It A Swirl

This bodacious bloom comes from my Luna Swirl hardy hibiscus.  The blooms are at least 6" across and have a deep maroon center surrounded by a swirl of lighter pink petals.  This is one of the gaudiest of flowers you can put in a landscape.

The bush starts off late in the spring - it is one of the last plants to come out after warm weather returns.  Sometimes you almost give up hope that it will return.

Starting around the end of May (in Louisiana) the blooms begin.  The initial show is the best, but it will continue to bloom until frost.

This plant loves brightest of sun, but it also prefers plenty of moisture.  I have a drip emitter under this plant and I make sure it gets plenty of water.  As you can see, the bush has a pleasing form with large, tropicalesque leaves.  Luna Swirl doesn't get as tall as some other varieties.  This is a reliably hardy plant as far north as Canada and I highly recommend it for Northern gardeners.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fruit Loop Fragrance

The tropicalesque leaves in the above picture come from a peculiar plant from Southeast Asia - clerodendrun bungei.  This plant is also known as Kashmir Bouquet, Mexican hydrangea, and rose glory bower.  The stems and veins are an interesting purple contrast to the deep green leaves on this plant.

The flower buds form a cluster of purple atop the plant that reminds me of berries.  They usually start these buds sometime in mid-May.

The buds open up to form this large bloom head of lavender flowers that resembles hydrangeas and smells (I am told) like the old Kashmir Bouquet soap.  I personally think they smell just like Fruit Loops cereal - a very pleasant fragrance to me.  Most readers of this blog know that I love fragrant plants, so I have a soft spot for this much-maligned plant.

Maligned, you ask?  That's because of the invasive nature of this innocent-looking exotic.  Once planted, it will send out underground runners in all directions causing more of the plants to come up everywhere, sometimes more than 10 feet away from the original plant.  I knew this from the beginning and planted my original in a far corner of my yard where I actually want it to take over.  If you are unprepared for this habit, then plant this one in a container or not at all.  It enjoys filtered shade around bigger trees and is quite tolerant of drought - this year in Louisiana is proof of that!  The plants can get up to 6' tall, though mine have yet to get taller than about 4'.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Bouquet of Leaves

I'm growing increasingly fond of caladiums.  They don't need to flower to look good, they come in many shades of color, and they grow wonderfully in deep shade where little else does.  This year I bought several bags of the bulbs just to try out again and see which ones I like.

This huge leaf of White Queen is a standout in the bed.  This variety will definitely stay on my list of favorites.

Caladiums love moist, rich soil such as can be found in the understory of jungles.  They need the ground warm to grow.  That means don't plant them before April in Louisiana!  Stores in our area start selling the bulbs much earlier than that and the temptation is to put them in the ground too early. Usually, this just makes them rot before they get a chance to grow.  You must plant them in pots if the soil is still cool.

I've read in some places that you will get more leaves and a bushier stand if you break off the first leaves that come out.  I did not do that this year, but will try it in the future.

Caladiums are great companions to hydrangeas because they both like the same conditions.  They also do well around azaleas.  These tender plants cannot take a freeze.  They will die to the ground with the first frost. If you dig the bulbs up, you can store them through the winter and replant them the next year.  Sometimes they survive the winter in my part of the country, but not dependably.  They make fine shade annuals or container plants anywhere in the country once hot weather comes in.