Sunday, May 29, 2011

Blue and Gold: A fine spring combination

May ended with a slight heatwave it seems with temperatures ranging into the ninties and humidity making things in Fayetteville almost swamp like. But there is a bright spot to all this climate changing mayhem.  In this final post for the month of May 2011, I have a neat garden fact and two plants of interest. Did you know that  common soil mixtures for plants in pots of one gallon size or greater typically use a 50-50 mix of pine bark fines and sand?  The mixture is intended to provide organic matter in reasonable proportion as well as excellent drainage.
If you are filling a raised bed several mixtures of sand to compost should be considered based on the type of plants you wish to install.
50-50:  Herbs, Ornamental plants.
75-25: Vegetables, Fruits.
90-10: Heavy feeders (Cabbage family, Root crops.)

 This is an immature Yellow Fumewort from my own shady rock garden, expect two to three years before you get flowers from seedlings.

Pseudofumaria lutea (syn. Corydalis lutea) - Yellow Fumewort

Yellow Fumewort is one of those perennials on par in structure with Astilbe, Bleeding Heart and some of the Ferns. While it's foliage is a interesting greenish-gray yet it's stems can be tinged with red generally it forms a fine textured mound of foliage. The Interesting part about this particular Fumewort is it's flowers which as the name suggests are bright yellow and borne in racemes. For note a raceme is a type of flower cluster that is indeterminate, unbranching and bears flowers with  very short stems that come off a central stalk. At the rear of the flower where it attaches to the stem the flower takes on a bright green coloration that adds to the visibility of the overall flower stalk. It should be noted that Yellow Fumewort is a short-lived perennial that heavily self-seeds. The name Fumewort is derived from the aroma the foliage releases when handled and imparts on your hands and equipment with contact. The odor somewhat resembles the glue you use with airplane models. Dormant seed can travel quite a distance too which can be a pleasant surprise when paired with heavy volunteer plantings of Lupine which takes similar conditions. Generally Yellow Fumewort prefers partial shade decent soil that drains well and seems to do better in cooler weather. Fumewort unfortunately is not native to this continent, as it originates in the region of Switzerland but it has made itself at home and thankfully unlike wisteria is well-behaved.

 Corydalis x 'Blackberry Wine' Is a true Corydalis, and is less prolific but bears  purple-lavender flowers in larger amounts. This planting has been in the shady rock garden for less then a year yet still flowers heavily. It's foliage lacks the trademark aroma.

Lupinus perennis - Wild Lupine

Lupines in general are rather attractive garden perennials,  though their cultivation is somewhat difficult as they do require particular care varying on the individual species. One native species to North Carolina is the Wild Lupine, which can be acquired as seen in those 'Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge' postcard/seed packet  seed collection packs.  I was first acquainted with the patience required for lupines with the actions of a neighbor back in New Jersey, she planted from see3d a group of lupines which were of a cultivated variety. These lupines sat and produced only sparse foliage for a year or two. Admittedly the fine radial foliage full of fine leaflets was attractive exotic and resembled nothing else on the entire block. When the little Lupines finally bloomed what a bloom, I don't know if it was the Russel hybrids or the tutti frutti mix but the colors were cheery and were like fireworks streamers flying skyward in garden form. Wild Lupine is quite a show if you get a chance to pass through the back roads of Fort Bragg towards Candor in late spring/early summer. The clusters of blue break up the rich green of the pines effectively and can be seen quite well even at forty miles an hour. The biological advantage to planting lupines is simple, they provide ample nectar to bees and butterflies at a great time of the year. It is worthwhile to mention Lupines are of the Pea family and are likely to fix nitrogen in the soil, improving soil quality over time. The issue with Lupines is they simply do not transplant well which in turn suggests that it might be wiser to start from seed and be patient. As far as culture goes lupines just need average soil with good drainage and a fighting chance.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

And they call me Mellow Yellow..

Welcome back, as you know May is a trans-formative month, the weather still isn't stable and yet June is lurking around the corner not unlike a cop waiting to deliver a speeding ticket.  If anything May is the last of the spring months where there is some cool weather and the mosquitoes have not taken over the yard, and most insect pests on your plants are not yet a problem. Thankfully so far we have had a bit of rain and especially thunderstorms. The latter is dangerous but with the rain they deliver nitrogen which in turn spurs a measurable growth boost for your plants.  The plant subjects for this week are Star Coreopsis and the Cardoon.

Coreopsis pubescens - Star Coreopsis

Star Tickseed can brighten any partial shade corner quite effectively.

The Coreopsis family is a crowded one with many differing types and growth habits, though mist if not all do prefer a well drained soil with good amounts of organic matter and reasonable amounts of water. Few Tickseed thankfully demand fertilizer as they can make do most of the time without. As you may already know the grandiflora and vertcilliata types tend to get the most attention and for good reason. However the subject here is Coreopsis pubescens or Star Coreopsis. This particular Coreopsis has fuzzy leaves and a mounding habit. To say it's foliage is somewhat dull is an understatement, it's real attraction is it's prolific flowering. Starting in late april through ought the summer star Coreopsis puts up large numbers of flowers which vary in shades of yellow or orange with regularity. The wispy stems are thin enough to not be seen and thus the bright flowers appear to hover over the foliage. The flowers themselves are interesting because the petals in in jagged tips and resemble to some degree the sun depicted on the New Mexico state quarter. But wait, here is the catch, Star Tickseed can do what grandiflora and vertcilliata can do but it can also grow in light to medium shade. In fact it seems to prefer it. In full sun star tickseed seems to get powdery mildew by late may but this is not fatal to it. If star Tickseed gets some shade it skips the disease and forms dense colonies no weed can penetrate. And your reward is a array of bright flowers in an location that lacks bright color options. Paired with some Grecian foxglove or chamomile your garden visitors might trip over something while staring at it.  I also should mention that it also seems to spread  by semi-stoloniferous means.  While transplanting four clumps to the shady rock garden I noticed little stolon-like bits left in the holes. Upon moving and planting those separate they came up and now are clearly Star Tickseed and not something else. Either way if you see this one give it a go, but remember, it stresses if it has poor soil and tends to get the mildews, nurse it a bit the first year and it'll be worth it.

Cynara cardunculus - Cardoon

The Cardoons pictured above are second year plants, note the some what irregular lobes on the leaves.

The Cardoon is a relative of the better known globe artichoke. While some experts will often  state they are the same plant however globe artichoke is Cynara scolymus.  Cardoon is noted historically as a food staple in Greek, Roman and Persian cuisine dating bak to it's first mentions in the fourth century. As a food plant Cardoons require a long cool growing season but will still produce floral heads in the warm weather of the south if it is provided some light shade against afternoon sun. Cardoons prefer a soil with good drainage and good amounts of organic matter, as well as periodic fertilization and regular water. While most recommendations state that Cardoons should be planted in full sun, this is a recommendation best heeded in more northern climates where as in the south full southern sun can be a bit much. For most purposes Cardoons are grown as a foliage accent plant as their silver-green leaves contrast well against darker foliage. Even as a stand-alone 'exotic' the lobed leaves of a Cardoon are quite dramatic  and can stand as a interesting focal point or foliage anchor for defining the edge of a garden bed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Pod People: Part One

I spoke briefly of the snow pea trials during the Urban Farm Day event on the 14th, and  today I'm  going to briefly cover the standing results of the trial.  Snow peas are not like shelling or English peas, they are generally harvested just before maturity and can be eaten whole pod and all. This whole-pod eating adds to the nutrient value because you are not just eating the seed but also the chlorophyll and fiber filled pods. Generally snow peas are seen in Asian cuisine in stir-fry type dishes. It is note worthy to mention that snow peas get their name from the fact they are the earliest type of pea you can plant outdoors the test crop was in the ground on 2-23-2011. The reason Snow Peas have been a standing staple of vertical horticulture is simply they are a effective multitasking plant. There are several reasons to plant Snow Peas.

1. Very Space Efficient
2. They fix nitrogen in the soil.
3. The flowers look great.
4. It produces a decent crop for little effort.
5. foliage can be used to sweeten soil or compost.

For an area of 4'  in which to place an upright chicken wire trellis that extends up to 6' tall you can easily get several pounds of peas before summer heat shuts the the whole thing down.  The key is starting seed in February for your spring crop and again in mid to late august for your fall crop. In the south you want to give at least four months, whereas in the north you want to try for three months before the noted frost dates for spring and fall. Also it will pay off to buy a pair of garden snips, which are basically spring-loaded scissors to harvest the pods as tearing the pods off can damage the vines which generally are slow to recover.

With all that said the Snow pea trials are a  two-season test using two differing varieties of snow pea to see which produces better.  The test is also intended to find out what environmental effect is causing the rapid overgrowth of the current snow pea crop. The two varieties are Taichung TC 11 from Ferry-Morse, and Snowbird F1 from Burpee. The former was planted in late winter while the latter will be planted in late summer. It is odd though that with all the heritage and organic seeds out there; snow peas seem to have missed the boat. Taichung and snowbird are average varieties, Snowbird is a more northern variety and handles cold a bit better, where as Taichung seems to handle early summer heat better. Taichung has an average height of 3' where as snow bird averages 2.5'.  Both types of snow pea have a noted maximum height of about  3.5-4' which is about the norm for most noted snow pea varieties.  Taichung however has defied it's labeling and as of this writing is 6' 7.5" tall and is still producing despite obvious signs of powdery mildew and heat stress.  To date five pounds of mature peas have come off the vines as well as several fully matured pods for seed saving purposes. The only thing I've done for the vines is periodically fertilize with a 5-1-1 and maintain regular watering, I suspect the weather and the extra thunderstorm activity has helped also.  Before anyone says 'well duh it's the fertilizer!'  the notice of rapid growth started back before the fertilizer was being used in mid-march. The first measurement was taken on 4-5-2011 when the vines were already  34 inches tall. The average growth per day as noted by the study which ran for forty days was 1.583" per day.

The final part of this test comes in the fall when I sow Snowbird  type snow peas. This variety is a Burpee variety no longer in production, and honestly as most of the seed stock is saved seed from at least six years of trial gardening it's beyond it's original packaging too.  The results of that study will be posted up here at years end. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

News & Cool Stuff

Normally this blog would be devoted to Vertical Horticulture and really unusual plants but
earlier in the week I was contacted indirectly and informed that a bookstore in Montclair NJ wanted to carry a few copies of the book.  Some of you may not yet know that I've published a book called 'Southern Skies: A Northern Guide To Southern Gardening'.  The book's name aside it is written as a functional guide for gardening in the eastern coastal states from South Carolina to New York.  Well if your living in New Jersey, and happen to be near Montclair which is in Essex county and is near Newark and want to lay hands on a copy check out Watchung Booksellers on 54 Fairfield Street.

Now as for odd and unusual plants, I'd like to talk about two specific ones, Chinese Foxglove and Wild Tobacco.

Rhemannia elata - Chinese Foxglove

Once known as Rhemannia angulata, Chinese foxglove is an interesting addition to any partial shade/partial sun garden if only for it's large lavender flowers. In appearance the flowers resemble a larger foxglove/lobelia hybrid and are born on thin dark  stems that droop allowing the flower to hang.  The leaves are spatulate which is off set by the wildly serrated leaves that literally seem to defy  the text book definition of serrated leaf margins. As a whole the plant can get up to three feet tall and possesses some fairly rigid stems. It reproduces by seed and by underground runner and in time creates fairly dense colonies. Some references say the plant is hardy only in zone 8-10 yet others increase the rage to 7-11. As most of North  Carolina is zone 7 I would suggest a little winter protection.  Did I mention Chinese Foxglove is evergreen?  Give this one a try when you find it at a nursery but remember to give it a little compost and nurse it through the transplant period.

Nicotiana rustica
- Wild Tobacco

Tobacco itself is a interesting group from a purely biological perspective. Generally tobacco is better known for Smoking tobacco, and flowering tobacco, but wild tobacco is the insecticide powerhouse of the family. While both smoking tobacco and wild tobacco have levels of Nicotine, the level of this compound  is higher in wild tobacco to a point that at one point it was grown for the production of Nicotine-Sulfide a powerful non-selective pesticide.
Now I can imagine what you might be thinking 'Why the heck would I plant that!?' well Wild Tobacco is a source of a biological pesticide, paired with Pyrethrum or Mint Oil extract it can prove to be a effective way to get rid of pests with little lingering environmental side-effects.  Plus it's one heck of an argument for all you non-smokers out there to never start smoking, nicotiana is serious business. Give it a consideration if you're tired of paying out the big bucks for pesticides that don't seem to work. It should be noted you can order this as seed from Richter's in Canada, the seed germinate fairly easily but are very fine and hard to manipulate. Once germinated and growing their first few true leaves grow wild tobacco as you would any other tobacco, regular water, good soil and partial to full sun. Spacing should be 6-10 inches and soil depth should be at least 6 inches. The slow way to make nicotine pesticide is to match 2 cups boiling water to 1 cup of harvested leaves allow to soak until the water takes on a dark coloration in a sealed container. The darker the liquid the better, once the color is to your liking strain out the leaves and store fluid in an appropriate container for use as a pesticide.  The amount of water to leaves  determines the base concentration but environmental variables can dilute the nicotine compounds. It is also recommended you wear rubber gloves during this entire process.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

First post

Welcome all, this is the opening post of what hopefully will be a long standing  source of information for garden geeks and casual beginners. This blog has been set up to cover the fun stuff that the Sky project is doing and grants you access to our experiment data, as well as the garden picks and plant spotlights for each month. With all that said, we have the first plant spotlight of May.

Digitalis lanata - Grecian / Evergreen Digitalis

Whoa evergreen what?!  Yes I said it, Evergreen Digitalis, to be honest the idea of it made me both giddy and suspicious, then I thought 'Alright is that even possible?!' Well yes it is, this digitalis or foxglove if you prefer is truly evergreen and quite unique. I needs at least partial shade to do well and a rich organic-heavy soil to prosper. That last part about the soil shouldn't be to hard to do for you vertical horticulture fans out there. The leaves of this plant are oblong to lanceolate or in non botanical-geek-speak  they're like a stretched oval in shape. The leaves unlike Digitalis purpurea are not hairy and are a rich green in color. Flower stalks are rise high above the foliage and are covered in cream-yellow foxglove blooms that have rusty colored throats. The effect is dramatic enough to been seen from a hundred feet away.  This digitalis starts blooming hard in late April through may and will typically skip blooming for a year if transplanted but it's totally worth it. I cant say if this is still true but it was available in cell packs, under two names 'Grecian foxglove' and as 'carillon' either way look for the specific epithet of lanata and you should have a semi or fully evergreen type.