Saturday, September 26, 2009

Plans for Next Year

The late summer/early fall front garden.

The garden has begun its Fall decline, with things looking more rusty, brown, or golden yellow. So I'm starting to take stock and think about next year.

For one thing, I will absolutely be planting more Dahlia's. My one purple Dahlia I got from Home Depot has been such a surprise and a delight that I can't wait to try more. I like plants that require little care and bloom for a long time. The Dahlia totally fits the bill.

The oft photographed pale purple Dahlia,
continuing to bloom its little heart out.

I took a trip to Lowe's for some compost to dump on a few patches of dirt that were rather too clay-like for my comfort, and came across a huge rose sale... so of course I walked out of there with three bags of composted manure and a new rose bush, a rather leggy-looking Christopher Marlowe (a David Austin shrub rose) for a wopping $5 (which my husband still felt was too much money, because in his words, "would you have bought that rose anyway? So now you just spent $5 more than you would have if there hadn't been a sale.").

Rosa 'Christopher Marlowe'

In all honesty, I really was thinking of buying another rose bush or two (add roses to my list of garden addictions) in the Spring. My front/side yard is like the Sahara and roses seem to really like the 10+ hours of sun I get during summer. So I was going to buy another rose, and I was lucky enough to find a cheap one that I liked; Rosa 'Christopher Marlowe'. In my opinion, this is a truly slutty rose; it has tons of petals, buds that are pink with shades of orange and yellow, a lovely scent, and it reblooms. I mean how could I resist that for five dollars? The photo above really doesn't do it justice (the link sort of does).

Common culinary sage (Salvia officinalis).

For next year, more plants from seed. I had lots of success with sage, love-in-a-mist, echinops, sunflower, and allyssum (not to mention the tomatoes, basil, and cilantro). The sage in the picture above, I grew from seed this Spring. I think this plant might actually be a clump of three individual plants, but still, this baby got huge in just two seasons. Plenty for stuffing the turkey. Truly easy to grow, high germination. Not to mention that the sage is really pretty. I'm thinking about spreading it in a few more places as an edger, but first I'll wait to see how it does over the Winter.

Last lesson - mulch! I didn't mulch the garden this year and have grown to regret it. I wanted to see how many of my plants would self sow. Hah! A ton of plants did self sow. They're called weeds and most of my summer was spent weeding. Never again.


It's Grass Season!

Karl Foerster Grass in full fall glory.

Ornamental grass that is. Ever since we inherited a clump of Maiden Grass at our first home in St. Louis, I have been in love with ornamental grasses. They are virtually care free, and they bring movement and sound into the garden. Despite warning about requiring lots of room, I try to plunk 'em down all over the place in my .08 acre lot. My love affair is helped a bit by the fact that Kane's Flower World sells 4-inch pots for $5, pretty much all season. I've planted various Miscanthi and even a giant Ravenna grass (which I gave away to my sister, who has a much larger yard). In the last three years of growing, I've started to learn a thing or two.

Miscanthus 'Gracillimus' looking quite airy.

1) You absolutely cannot move most of these grasses (warm season) until they start growing. If you move them while dormant, they die. I've learned this through trial and error (mostly error).

2) I have mostly planted varieties of Miscanthus (there are about 8 million), and have had best luck with two kinds, Variegated Miscanthus (Miscanthus 'Variegatus'), sometimes called Japanese Silver Grass and Zebra Grass (Miscanthus 'Zebrinus'). A strong third place finisher is Miscanthus 'Gracillimus.' I've found that all three hold their form really well, even when battered by some tough winds (especially Zebrinus).

3) If you want them to bloom, don't move them! I have a horrible habit (shared by many gardeners, I hear) of moving my plants around constantly. Few of my grasses bloom because I tend to move them at least once, if not twice during the summer. I finally let the Karl Foster grass (seen above) stay in one place, and they've rewarded me with lovely golden blooms.

4) Alone (as in not in a hedge grouping), the grasses look best in corners, towards the back of the border, with plants with more nondescript foliage. My favorite pairings of grasses, are with roses, dahlias, cone flowers, and Shasta Daisies. There's something about the narrow blade of the grasses that make a great canvas for the bold flowers and more blah foliage of those plants. So if you have a tall flower, with splindly stems, pair them with some Miscanthus. Actually, scratch that, you can pair grasses with anything with a broader leaf.

Red Double Knock-out Rose looking lovely
paired with Miscanthus 'Variegatus'

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Tomato Report

Yummy, cherry tomatoes!

My first attempts at growing tomatoes was, in the final analysis, quite successful. I probably harvested about 30lbs of tomatoes, and have been enjoying them for several weeks, both the indeterminate/vining variety and the determinate/bush variety.

Lessons Learned:

Stay away from Bonnie/Walmart seedlings. Not even getting into the whole blight issue, the large vining tomato seedlings I bought produced large, watery, mealy, pretty tasteless tomatoes. From three seedlings, I got lots of them, and they were quite large too, but in the end, just not much better than anything in the grocery store, and good for only sandwiches and hamburgers, not much else, which kind of defeats the purpose of trying to grow them.

Grow tomatoes from seed.
I got my seeds from Pinetree Gardens. I planted about 6 seedlings, and just got tons of beatiful, delicious, cherry tomatoes. I gave away batches to neighbors and family members and got raves. I started the seedling early, on a windowsill in peat pots, probably in mid to late February, got nearly 100% germination, and repotted them into 4-inch pots. I also cut back side shoots pretty religiously. My seedlings were quite large when I planted them around memorial day. I think next year, I will try doing the tomatoes in batches, so that I have an early batch and a later batch, to extend the harvest.

Companion planting works (I think).
Along with my tomatoes, I also planted some very stinky basil, marigold, and nasturtium. The basil supposedly keeps away certain kinds of insects because of their powerful scent, the marigolds deliver some kind of chemical to the soil which keeps away nematodes, and the nasturtium attracts aphids and other bad bugs, keeping them away from the veggies. I can certainly vouch for the aphid attracting power of the nasturium, and the stinkiness of the basil. As for the marigold, it was just nice to have some flowers, interspersed among the tomatoes. Next year, I will definitely be trying more basil (so yummy), and nasturtium (prettier than the marigolds in my opinion).

Pretty, but tasteless.

Not all Tomatoes are Alike.
Last year, I had no idea there were two main kinds of tomato plants, indeterminate, i.e. they keep growing indefinitely, until the cold kills them, and they are usually viney or sprawling, and determinate i.e. they grow to a certain size, flower, and produce one major harvest. I tried both kinds, and found that neither exactly sticks hard and fast to the rules. My determinate or bush variety did continue to flower after its first major flowering period, and the indeterminate definitely slow down quite a bit as they weather grew cooler towards the end of the summer, and since the fruits are larger, they take much longer to ripen than the smaller variety.

Oh, one last thing, determinates tend to grow smaller, more grape or cherry-like tomatoes, and are better for containers. However, I grew them in raised beds and containers, and they definitely performed much better in the raised beds than in the containers. We're talking leaps and bounds, or pounds and pounds better!

Next order of business -- on the to the veggie seed catalogs!