Sunday, May 27, 2012

Farewell Spring, Hello Summer!

It’s a bird!
It’s a plane!
Why look it’s another edition of Lost In The Farmer’s Market!  Happy Memorial Day to all of you out there reading this, remember to drive safe, keep your seat belts on and don’t drink and drive. 
 Today’s topic of discussion got sidetracked as did the entire month, I was supposed to write about the origins of another well known garden vegetable but in the middle of composing the piece thought it wasn’t fitting for the time and date. So instead we will start with a plant spotlight and some time-sensitive garden advice for all you readers out there. The plant spotlight for today is almost an article unto itself  so sit tight and be warned there are pictures up ahead.

Salvia nemorosa – Woodland Sage

This year I planted three differing varieties of this particular sage, including ‘East Freidland’, ‘May Night’ and ‘New Dimension Blue’. Why triple down on the ornamental sages you ask? Form me I had three major reasons to install these non-herbal sages.
Firstly, there is the fact that ornamental sages are deer-resistant, and even squirrels and rabbits wont really mess with them; in fact they wont even likely mess with the plants directly adjacent either.  Secondly, ornamental sage is drought, heat and humidity resistant which makes it perfect for Xeriscaping beds, and makes it a reliable plant for a roadside planting under full blazing sun. My final reason for using ornamental sages in such large numbers is literally the same as why for shade I let pineapple sage, black and blue sage and Coral Nymph sage do what they want. To be specific most if not all members of the sage family produce a lot of nectar and pollen so they are quite good at attracting and sustaining a population of pollinators and can help in attracting humming birds.  As a final thought this type of sage is known to bloom in shades of blue and purple which can add a new angle to the typical colors of full sun low-maintenance beds especially if silvery foliage is used as a backdrop.

Heliotrope arborescens – Garden Heliotrope

Heliotrope is one of those plants for which an entire set of colors is named, and should not be confused with the term Heliotropism. Heliotropism is a scientific term that refers to the diurnal motion of the leaves or flowers of a plant in response to the motion of the sun. The most common plant known for this motion is the sunflower whose flower heads move to face the sun as it moves across the sky. Science aside, Garden Heliotrope was immensely popular in Victorian era Europe for its attractive flowers and unique textured foliage. The real selling point was its incredible fragrance. Unlike most flowers that smell sweet and floral, the garden heliotrope smells literally like a freshly baked cherry pie. Let that sink in for a moment, a plant whose flower smells like cherry pie, oh yes, probably the best smelling thing ever. Better then that the plant does really well in a container and is quite heat tolerant. A few of these on the edges of stairs or flanking the front door of a house can be quite an aromatic treat. I might add that of course as it is in the Borage family it is a good attractor of butterflies and moths, and butterflies. All this plant asks in return is pot full of decent soil with reasonable drainage, occasional dead heading and a little fertilizer in regular intervals.

Chicorum intybus – Chicory

Chicory is only in today’s plant spotlight so I can show you the newly opened flowers, which wilt by the end of the day. These flowers can be used to make a dye and certainly they hold their own in a ornamental role.

Basella alba ‘Rubra’ – Malabar spinach

For the same reasons as the chicory Malabar spinach is one of today’s plant spotlights because it’s flowers are interesting. While not as showy as some these tiny pink flowers contrast with the red foliage nicely. The flowers are followed later in the season by dark purple berries which really look cool. In the picture above the flowers are the pinkish-white ball shaped things in clusters near the center of the picture.

Centaurea cineraria - Dusty Miller

I covered Dusty Miller (aka Velvet Centaurea) in an earlier article about plants that are labeled annuals but in truth really are perennials. In that article I stated that dusty miller blooms twice a year, spring and fall and has yellow flowers that indicate clearly it is in the daisy family and here is the proof. This stand of dusty miller is three years old, and it blooms twice a year. The flowers aren’t bad to look at and certainly stand out.

Dendranthema morifolium – Hardy Chrysanthemum

I wanted to include the chrysanthemums in today’s list for one obvious reason; they were in full bloom despite it being late spring. Admittedly I do say this a lot but chrysanthemums are a durable perennial that if sited correctly can provide up to two seasons of color for your garden.

Now with the plant spotlight out of the way I wanted to talk to all of you out there briefly about some things to watch for in your garden.  The most important thing to remember is that despite the fact we in the southeast have had those late afternoon to evening thundershowers does not mean anyone should not begin drought preparedness. Everyone in the east coast knows its coming, it might be the end of May, but those long hot days are just around the corner and considering it’s stressful for you it will be just as bad for your plants.  Thankfully there are a few things you can do to both conserve water and get a bountiful harvest this year.

  1. Remember to think forward: Try to plant ornamental plants that are labeled as ‘drought tolerant’ or ‘water wise’ or otherwise are noted to have characteristics that allow them to tolerate periods of drought easily.
  2. Check your equipment: Make sure your soaker hoses and watering devices are in good repair before a heat wave and drought occurs.
  3. Monitor precipitation: Get a Rain Gauge, it doesn’t have to be an expensive model but get at least one and place it in a central location to monitor rain and adjust your watering accordingly.
  4. Monitor your watering: A gallon of water every other day is enough to sustain most vegetables that are mature enough to bear fruit or are actively bearing fruit. It may take up to five gallons of water every three days to maintain soil moisture for fruiting bushes and vines so keep an eye on the temperature and precipitation
  5. Use Mulch: Mulch will aid in retaining soil moisture as well as add topsoil when it decomposes.
  6. Use Efficient Nozzles: Shower-wand type nozzles on your hoses will reduce the amount of runoff caused by watering and increase watering efficiency. These sorts of watering devices are best used on outdoor potted plants, window boxes and anything that is heavily wilted.
  7. Use soaker hoses: I admit, soaker hoses take longer but they deliver more water to the soil then conventional watering methods. If you have the time to turn it on and monitor it use it.
  8. Install watering wells: A watering well is a direct and extremely inexpensive way to deliver water deep into the root zone without risking the loss of topsoil. Water Wells are made from 2-3 liter plastic soda bottles with the labels, caps and bottoms removed. You then dig a hole deep enough to fit the bottle into with about 1” of bottle sticking up above ground. The bottle is inserted into the ground cap-side down and is then filled with pine straw. The effect is a direct way to water into the root zone of a garden bed.
  9. Remember the peak heat of the day is between 1pm and 3pm most plants will wilt then whether they need water or not. If your plants are slightly wilted in the afternoon wait until 6pm and check again, anything still wilted definitely needs water.
  10. If you have rain barrels installed on your property use them, these water collecting devices can save you a bundle in irrigation costs even if there is no rain in the summer and you have to refill them with your garden hose and then ration out the water from the barrels. Otherwise, if paired with a 3-5 gallon bucket you can manage to make the contents of a 50 gallon rain barrel last for a few weeks between rains. I might add rain barrels can also be used to refill your water features but remember tap water has chlorine so before you use a rain barrel that has been refilled via garden hose let the water stand for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate.

With all that said, I think all of you reading this may be off to a good start for this year’s drought season. As always you can contact me about anything you read on this blog  through this site. As some of you might know, every august is Xeriscaping month at LITFM, an entire month dedicated to kicking drought to the curb. This will be a yearly thing simply because who says you can’t have gorgeous landscaping and yet still be water restriction-compliant?

There is one announcement before we conclude today’s garden menagerie, for anyone in the Fayetteville, North Carolina region, there are still plants left.  On June 15th the remaining skye project plant sale plants will be planted in the test gardens so they do not go to waste but this is everyone’s last change to get a hold of some of the plants listed in ‘Southward Skies’ our book. For note the Second edition of the book’s print version is still delayed, but the digital version can be had on, and for all you iphone users there is an free app that allows you to read digital books for the kindle on the iphone.

This has been another edition of Lost in the Farmer’s Market, check in next week for the first of our summer series and as always keep ‘em growing!

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