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*garden 2014 windowsill

September 2014. Photo Dayton Segard.

 

garden 2014 garage bed spring

Kitchen garden, mid-May 2014. Photo Dayton Segard.

garden 2014 garage bed mid-july

Kitchen garden, early August 2014. Photo Dayton Segard.

*garden 2014 deer leg

Found this under the peach tree in early Spring 2014. Photo Kerri Conan.

*garden 2014 brush fence

Honeysuckle path in the woods. Photo Dayton Segard.

Seed-swapping is one of the great traditions of gardening and gardeners are generous souls. I’m very pleased to be growing plants from seeds obtained from gardeners around the country–specifically Nancy Ondra at Hayefield, Alicia Maynard at Sweetbay and Rob Broekhuis at Rob’s Plants. They have introduced me to many fine garden plants–several now indispensable. Here are some that did well in my northeastern Kansas garden in 2014.

HAYEFIELD
Verbascum thapsus ‘Governor George Aiken’ (Click title for photo at Hayefield.)
I had long heard tales of a white-flowering Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, and came across a picture of V. ‘Governor George Akin’ on the Hayefield blog in 2013. As luck would have it, Nancy was giving away seeds of that same Verbascum, and even more luck produced nine healthy plants set out last Fall. I’m hoping for five-foot spires of snow-white flowers from June through September but V. thapsus is tricky in the garden. These are not plants to be coddled. They grow in profusion in sun-blasted, bone-dry rubble along train tracks and riverbanks, but too much shade and water in the garden and they soon rot away. I planted them in sun-scorched earth but Kansas winters are wet and mucky, so fingers crossed for the Governors.

One Plant, Three Seasons: Amsonia hubrichtii (Click title for article and photos.)
“Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, Arkansas bluestar comes into bloom in the first or second week of May and continues into the first or second week of June. Its light blue color looks great with white, silvery, and pastel partners. …After the bloom period, the key summer features of Arkansas bluestar are its rich green color, its fine texture, and its dense, mounded habit. …Toward the end of the growing season, Arkansas bluestar really takes center stage.” – Nancy Ondra, Hayefield.

A Winter-sowing of Amsonia hubrichtii yielded 13 plants, nine making it through to wispy, foot-tall youngsters in gallon pots, now buried and mulched to overwinter. Amsonia seed need cold to germinate, barely covered and pressed into the soil. Sow seeds in pots no later than early January (I sow in Autumn), put them outside, and start looking for seedlings as weather warms up at the end of March. My two-year-olds should make airy 3′ x 3′ mounds in three years, with pale blue, star-like flowers in May and brilliant yellow foliage color in Autumn. The young plants hinted at their forthcoming glory last Fall, bright yellow threads in the dying grasses. I’ll follow Ondra’s lead and inter-plant my patch of Amsonia with blue asters. You can’t go wrong with yellow and blue.

One Plant, Three Seasons: Patrinia scabiosifolia (Click title for article and photos.)
“Is it possible for any gardener to have just one favorite plant? For most of us, I imagine, it’s tough to get closer than a top 5 or top 10. But if you asked me that question at this time of year and insisted on one top pick, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Patrinia scabiosifolia (or scabiosaefolia, as some sources prefer to list it).” – Nancy Ondra, Hayefield.

I now have seven plants of Hayefield’s Patrinia, four of which bloomed last year. The tallest reached seven feet before toppling in a storm. The flat-topped clusters of small, chrome-yellow flowers looked great against vines of white morning glory and orange black-eyed susan, and the foliage turned bright red in October. Like the chartreuse bracts of the Euphorbia clan, Patrinia‘s bright flowers complement most color schemes. A good see-through plant–I have several at the front of a border so passers-by can observe the great variety of insects swarming the flowers. So far in this garden, Patrinia rivals Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’–now Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’–as a bug attractor.

Patrinia transplants best in early Spring, just as the leaves emerge, and goes into a deep sulk otherwise. I agree with Nancy Ondra: this is a Top 10 plant.

Sanguisorba tenuifolia var purpurea, Japanese Burnet (Click title for picture at Hayefield.)
Sanguisorbas are the height of fashion right now, and deservedly so, for they provide flowing movement and have an elegant willowy presence. They have finely toothed pinnate foliage, above which long-lasting flowers hold themselves high on wiry stems. They associate brilliantly with equally tall, airy grasses, spired and whorled veronicastrums, and taller daisies.” – Telegraph

I planted four young Sanguisorba tenuifolia purpurea, Japanese burnet, among Miscanthus, Gaura, Nepeta and white Verbascum last Autumn, germinated from a Winter sowing in early January 2014. Might be too hot and dry for them in Summer, though extra mulch and water will help. I’m hoping they’ll be as tough as Hayefield’s Patrinia.

SWEETBAY
Fields of Gold: Bidens aristosa (Click title to link article at Sweetbay.)
“April/May and September are peak months in my garden. In September the big star is Bidens but there are other things in bloom too. All of that golden yellow needs some contrasts.” – Alicia Maynard

Bidens aristosa in full glory at Sweetbay. Photo Alicia Maynard.

Three years ago, Alicia Maynard of Sweetbay sent me seeds of Bidens aristosa after I expressed admiration for her spectacular Bidens borders. I now have plenty of Bidens and the September garden shimmers. Almost too much of a good thing; Bidens self-seeds easily and several species are considered invasive. In garden beds, it takes diligent weeding to keep in check but three-inch seedings pull up easily and transplant fairly well. Bidens is a great asset to the Fall garden, masses of mustard-yellow flowers, and an end-of-the-season boon for insects. I did some research on Bidens in a previous post: Three Bidens: aurea, aristosa, coronata.

ROB’S PLANTS
Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master (Click title to link article at Rob’s Plants.)
“Scattered along the stiff, upright stem of this unusual perennial are tough, blue-green, yucca-like, parallel-veined leaves. Smooth, rigid stem bearing thistle-like flower heads made up of small greenish-white florets mingled with pointed bracts. The individual, greenish-white flowers cluster into unique, globular heads. These occur on branch ends atop the 6 ft. plant.” – Native Plant Database

Flowers of Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master. Photo Crazytwoknobs, Wiki Commons.

Flowers of Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master. Photo Crazytwoknobs, Wiki Commons.

Seed for Rattlesnake Master–Native Americans reputedly used it as a snakebite antidote–came from Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants four years ago. I now have a 5′ x 4′ clump of three plants that bloom reliably in late July–insects love the branching scapes of spiny, spherical flowers. A member of the Carrot family, it does indeed resemble a fleshy Yucca with barbed, glaucous leaves–a somewhat modest plant after flowering when it tends to flop and flatten smaller neighbors. Plant something substantial around Eryngium yuccifolium or use twiggy branches for support. Good mingling with roses.

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta, Lesser Calamint (Click title to link article at Rob’s Plants.)
“The LESSER CALAMINT (Calamintha nepeta) is a variety of the herb possessing almost superior virtues, with a stronger odour, resembling that of Pennyroyal, and a moderately pungent taste somewhat like Spearmint, but warmer. It is scarcely distinct from C. officinalis, and by some botanists is considered a sub-species. The leaves are more strongly toothed, and it bears its flowers on longer stalks. Both this and the Common Calamint seem to have been used indifferently in the old practice of medicine under the name of Calamint.” – Botanical/A Modern Herbal

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta. Photo chhe, Wiki Commons.

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta. Photo chhe, Wiki Commons.

Rob sent seed of the species Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta three years ago and Calamint is now an indispensable plant in the garden–over two dozen plants to date. Fragrance, flowers, butterflies and bees, tough and compact, great filler, makes good tea… A beautiful, useful, care-free plant. Mine get to about 18 inches tall and wide, a bit sprawly but smaller and bushier if cut back by half in May. The cultivars ‘Blue Cloud’ and ‘White Cloud’ are tidier.

Drought-tolerant Calamint prefers full sun in its Mediterranean home but in Kansas requires little water when mulched and grown in some afternoon shade.  If it wilts, water quickly, nip off withered stems and all will be well. It seems to like my barely amended clay soil and starts blooming here in early July, tiny bluish-white flowers borne in thousands, a low haze in the border. Calamint propagates easily through division and cuttings, and regularly self-sows–it is a mint, after all. If you don’t want volunteers, shear the plants immediately after flowering.

 

Two inches of snow fell last night in Goodland, Kansas, in the northwestern corner of the state. Click image to link to Finger on the Weather in Wichita.

Two inches of snow fell last night at the NOAA station in Goodland, Kansas, in the northwestern corner of the state. Click image to link to Finger on the Weather in Wichita.

It was a normal season for this Kansas garden: nipped by late freezes, flooded through June, parched by summer drought, contorted by wind, blistered by the prairie sun, devoured by insects (mainly flea beetles and grasshoppers), set back by 60-degree nights in August, wilted by Verticillium, flattened by storms and now mauled by nut-caching squirrels. And it looks like we’re in for a hard Winter.

If the only food plant I could grow was okra, I would be fine with that. Easy, tough and delicious. A thick patch of Clemson Spineless planted in a rubber stock trough was standing in rainwater for 10 days in July, despite daily bailing. I didn’t punch holes in the tank when I planted because it stands 40 inches high and holds 150 gallons. It seemed a shame to damage such a useful object. Okra’s spreading roots go down about eight inches, leaving nearly three feet of soil below. I threw in a deep layer of gravel for bottom drainage and figured only a monsoon could fill that tank. Wrong again, and hard evidence to support my theory that there’s a strong whiff of masochism in gardening–the way I do it, anyway. The okra pulled through despite inundation and I enjoyed excellent succotash for a month or so. Next year I’m growing rice in that tank.

Photo Chris Paulk. Click image to link to Foodista.

Photo Chris Paulk. Click image to link to Foodista.

Greens do well here in Spring and Fall and unusually cool weather in June and July prolonged the first season. Southern Giant mustard, a heat-tough Lollo Rossa lettuce, and a third-year selection of an exceptionally crunchy and unknown strain of Oak Leaf lettuce finally bolted in early August (bitter about three weeks before), but I’m still picking arugula and it carries quite a sting. The arugula planted at the end of September will be sweeter in cool weather. Nasturtiums are roaring back as the temperatures drop. Every part of that plant is good to eat. The leaves and flowers are succulent and peppery (orange flowers best), the stems add crunch in stir-fries, and the large, green seeds are pickled and marketed as capotes, giant salad capers.

I planted three dozen robust starts of Siberian kale in March–half in part-shade, to see if that might help them to cope better with summer heat–and the rabbits really enjoyed them. And still I refuse to fence my greens.* Masochism.

Verticillium wilt of tomatoes. Photo via Ontario Crop IPM.

Verticillium wilt of tomatoes. Photo via Ontario Crop IPM.

In July, I watched vigorous, four-foot-high, fruiting tomato plants succumb to Verticillium wilt-a common fungal problem in northeast Kansas gardens. Conditions were perfect for Verticillium to flourish in early Summer: prolonged cool–moderate temperatures and wet soil. Verticillium affects most of the Solanaceae–tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers–but the peppers growing next to the afflicted tomatoes stayed healthy and productive. Why? The peppers were F-1 hybrids (Red Knight), bred and crossed to resist a variety of diseases and insect predators; the tomatoes were open-pollinated heirlooms, much less resistant. To my palate, heirloom tomatoes have an obvious flavor advantage over most hybrids (though “JetStar” is good eating). Growing heirlooms next year will require more raised beds or more containers, affording a fair measure of control over soil conditions. To grow tomatoes in-ground next year, I’m restricted to hybrids.  Well, there’s always “Sungold.”

Flowers did better than food this year and there were many floral “firsts.” Winter-sown Patrinia scabiosifolia from Nancy Ondra at Hayefield yielded a dozen healthy seedlings. Now there are five, thanks to the litany of environmental grievances listed above, but The Five look healthy and strong: deep-green rosettes of ovate leaves in full Kansas sun thriving on low-to-moderate water. Tough plants. Next year, fingers crossed, they will send up scapes three to six feet tall with panicles of bright yellow, hermaphrodite flowers that hum with all sorts of insects.

Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants supplied seed of Balloonflower, Platycodon grandiflorus “Sentimental Blue,” which also yielded about a dozen sturdy plants. The rabbits enjoyed them as much as the kale. They also liked the Talinum paniculatum “Kingswood Gold,” the dainty, chartreuse-leaved Jewels of Opar. One plant of each remains, relatively safe in pots, and both are blooming now, stock for next year–if they make through Winter. The Balloonflower blossoms are stunted on my straggling specimen, barely two inches across, of a clear French blue. Opar’s blossoms are tinier still, a half-inch of single pink petals with a boss of bright yellow stamens and minuscule orange fruits.

Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com. Click image to link.

Polygonum orientale. Oh, those excessive and romantic Victorians! Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com. Click image to link.

Last year I read up on annuals popular in the Victorian era. This year I grew Polygonum (Persicaria?) orientale, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate. The knotweeds–Polygonums/Persicarias/Fallopias; whatever they are called todaygenerally do well here, often too well. A flamboyant patch of escapee Polygonum/Persicaria bistorta, has taken over a wet ditch by the North Lawrence pumping station, and the tough but delicate-looking Virginia knotweed, Persicaria virginiana, long ago made itself completely at home in the Burroughs garden.

Of the eight seedlings of Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate set out in Spring, only two survived, contorted by wind and storms. The weakest went to seed at a mere two feet; the survivor is five feet tall by three feet wide and the flower bracts have maintained their hot pink color for two months. Polygonum reseeds easily and I’m hoping for sturdier offspring next year, as in the photo above.

Three more annuals, all new to this garden in 2013, did very well in spite of difficult conditions: Bidens aristosa, Tickseed; Leonotis nepetifolia, Lion’s Ear; and Ipomoea sloteri, Cardinal Climber. Granted, all three are generally known as tough, vigorous plants; rampant or invasive in some areas.

Bidens aristosa borders in full glory at Sweetbay in North Carolina. Click image to link. Photo Alicia Maynard.

Bidens aristosa borders in full glory at Sweetbay in North Carolina. Click image to link. Photo Alicia Maynard.

The Bidens seed came from Alicia Maynard’s garden at Sweetbay in central North Carolina. Her Bidens borders are spectacular: billows of two-inch flowers–which, though two-toned, read as a clear, medium yellow–on sturdy five-foot stems of dark green, pinnate foliage. Bidens species bear close resemblance to their relatives, Cosmos and Coreopsis. I scattered seed in Fall of 2012 (seed needs cold stratification and light to germinate), in three different exposures of the garden: full sun, all-day dappled light and afternoon shade.

The shaded Bidens required little supplemental water, grew to three feet and bloomed willingly, if sparsely, from mid-July to late September. The plants in full sun needed weekly watering but were bushier and grew to four feet, flowering profusely in early August through early October. All the plants were swarming with honeybees; Bidens makes a fine, dark honey.

While at least a hundred species are native to the Americas, Bidens are listed as invasive or weedy in some parts of the country, wetlands in particular. Not surprising, as a single plant can produce up to 6000 seeds. I’ll keep a close eye on volunteers next Spring but Bidens aristosa is a plant I’d like to see full-time in the garden.

Leonotis nepetifolia reaching for the sky. This plant is commonly referred to as either "Lion's Ear" or "Lion's Tail." From my research, "Lion's Ear" generally refers to L. nepetifolia; "Lion's Tail" usually means L. leonurus, the most widely distributed species (naturalized in California and the South). To see more, click image to link to Strange Wonderful Things.

Leonotis nepetifolia reaching for the sky. This plant is commonly referred to as either “Lion’s Ear” or “Lion’s Tail.” From my research, “Lion’s Ear” generally refers to L. nepetifolia; “Lion’s Tail” usually means L. leonurus, the most widely distributed species (naturalized in California and the South). To see more, click image to link to Strange Wonderful Things.

Leonotis nepetifolia, Lion’s Ear, a member of the Mint family, elicited the most comments from garden visitors this year. At eight feet tall, with medium-green, heart-shaped leaves and stacked whorls of tubular, bright orange flowers (the lion’s “ear”), it is indeed a remarkable plant, friendly and somewhat coarse. Native to Africa and hardy to Zone 9 (an fast-growing annual here in Zone 6a), Leonotis nepetifolia germinates readily at warm temperatures, the seed lightly covered.

Like all mints, it revels in water but my plants in amended clay were surprisingly drought resistant. Four plants were placed in full sun, two in afternoon shade. The shaded plants languished, barely reaching three feet with no bloom, so give Leonotis nepetifolia plenty of sun, even Kansas sun. Despite their thick, square stems, stand-alone plants were soon toppled by wind and required emergency staking. I stake as little as possible. Next time, I’ll grow them closer together in clumps for additional support. The base of each flower contains a tiny reservoir of sweet nectar that attracts hummingbirds.

Cardinal Climber mingling with Thunbergia alata and honeysuckle. Click image to learn more at Gardening From The Ground Up.

Cardinal Climber mingling with orange Thunbergia alata and honeysuckle. Click image to learn more at Gardening From The Ground Up.

If you wish for serious hummingbird action in your garden, a must-grow is the Cardinal Climber, Ipomoea sloteri, another plant with confusing nomenclature. Dave’s Garden lists the synonyms Ipomea x multifida, Quamoclit multifida and Quamoclit sloteri. The common name, too, is often misleading–Cardinal Climber is frequently referred to as Cypress Vine, Ipomoea quamocliteven by seed companies. Both plants are similar in flower but the foliage of the Cypress Vine is finely cut, like asparagus, while the leaf of Cardinal Climber depends more on the standard, heart-shaped form of the Ipomoea clan and is deeply incised, looking feathered or fingered. Both plants are attractive, but I find Cardinal Climber to be fuller, healthier and more floriferous–hence the crowds of hummingbirds.

An old-fashioned vine, perhaps too pedestrian for fashionable gardeners, Cardinal Climber is one of the most attractive, reliable and easy-going plants I’ve ever grown (in five gardens to date, ranging from Zones 5 to 11). Officially hardy to Zone 9 or 10, depending on position; an enthusiastic annual everywhere else. Given the right conditions–full sun, occasional water in dry times, and a structure to climb–it can reach 20 feet in one season. Cardinal Climber reserves it’s one-and-a-half-inch, deep scarlet trumpets until late August but the profusion of blooms and hummers that follows is worth the wait. The flowers are similar in color to those of Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, another hummingbird attractor, and they pair well together.

—–

* Three years ago, to defend against rabbits, nearly every plant in the garden was caged in chicken wire. A friend came to visit one day and as we sat and talked in the garden he casually remarked, “I imagine the garden at Alcatraz looks like this.”

A Hopi Elder Speaks

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.

Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.

And there are things to be considered:

– Where are you living?

– What are you doing?

– What are your relationships?

– Are you in right relation?

– Where is your water?

– Know your garden.

– It is time to speak your Truth.

Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Almost time.

Almost time.

A Gardener’s Prayer

O Lord, grant that in some way it may rain every day, say from about midnight until 3 o’clock in the morning, but, you see, it must be gentle and warm so that it can soak in; grant that at the same time it would not rain on campion, alyssum, helianthemum, lavender, and the other which you in your infinite wisdom know are drought-loving plants–I will write their names on a bit of paper if you like–and grant that the sun may shine the whole day long, but not every where (not for instance, on spirea, or on gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron), and not too much; that there may be plenty of dew and little wind, enough worms, no plant-lice and snails, no mildew, and that once a week thin liquid manure and guano may fall from heaven. Amen.

– Karel Capek, The Gardener’s Year, 1929

There’s plenty of work to do in the Winter garden, cutting mostly, but the real fun and soreness begin in Spring. Propagating, transplanting, bed-making and two cubic yards of high-stench compost from the City compost sale. Life is good. The whole place smells like cabbage and horse poop, joy to this gardener’s nose. All photos by Dayton Segard 2013.

seeds on table 11

Seeds from a few annual plants that lived through last year’s heat and drought. This generation should be a bit tougher. Right, Mr. Mendel?winter pruning redbud

Redbud, Cercis canadensis (above), is weedy in Kansas. Seedlings are deep-rooted, hard to pull and persistent. They pop up by the thousands after April rains. A wet, heavy snowstorm in February pruned a significant portion of the maturer garden, snapping 30-foot trees in half and bringing down many brittle redbud branches.

winter pruning

The top halves of these elms came down in a snowstorm this year. My biggest garden priority for 2013 is to clear out all the brush piles, the largest being 25 feet long and more than six feet tall. In this garden, most of the work is woodlot management, a process of careful subtraction. But the corpses are now piled too high to be forgiven as rustic ornament.

Self-seeded arugula coming up in a rabbit-proof (so far) wheelbarrow.

Self-seeded arugula coming up in a rabbit-proof (so far) wheelbarrow.

Soon to be filled deep green "Space" spinach. There will be salads, stir-frys.

Soon to be filled deep green “Space” spinach. There will be salads, stir-frys.

Staked stem of last year's Senna hebecarpa in front, the newly composted round bed, then transplanted bulbs and the Datsun, now fronted by a chorus line of naked ladies, Lycoris squamigera.

Staked stem of last year’s Senna hebecarpa in front, the newly composted round bed, then transplanted bulbs and the Datsun, now fronted by a chorus line of naked ladies, Lycoris squamigera.

lysimachia nummularia pond

Called Creeping Jenny, Pennies from Heaven, Moneywort or Little Golden Loosestrife, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, is always a flamboyant harbinger of Spring. We’re leery of the loosestrife clan in Kansas–purple loosestrife strangles our waterways–but while Jenny is vigorous she’s easy to pull and moderately fecund, to be tucked in the edges of pots of white Pelargoniums, draping streaks of gold. I keep Lysimachia nummularia in a bed by the pond, in three hours of brutal afternoon sun, surrounded by paving. With a little extra water, the trailing, ground-hugging foliage stays bright through June.

Newly transplanted daffodils and naked ladies.

Newly transplanted daffodils and naked ladies.

I’ve always heard that bulbs shouldn’t be moved once growth starts but I confess to doing so on a regular basis with very good results.

I’m corralling all the little clumps of bulbs planted throughout the property, most languishing in the dense shade of the overgrown and tenacious bush honeysuckles, our dreaded Lonicera maackii. Spring is the only time I can spot these bulbs, mostly daffodils and naked ladies, when their leaves break ground deep in the leafless thickets. Cool, overcast days and barely damp earth assuage transplant shock and removing the bulb in a generous clump of soil helps keep the majority of the roots intact. A fistful of compost and water in lightly.

To date I’ve moved Narcissus, Galanthus, Lycoris, Muscari, Crocus and tulips, all in active growth and some in full flower, with very few losses and only the occasional skipped bloom cycle. I was pretty cavalier with Camassia in California but those true blue flowers never failed a season. Bulbs are tough; Colchiums bloom from the naked bulb on a sunny windowsill, and hyacinths and daffodils are forced by the millions each year in tap water.

Potted box, a purple Heuchera, Sedum "Voodoo" and a "Cobra" lily offset soaking some needed rays. I accuse possums of the drastic pruning of the boxwoods.

Potted box, a purple Heuchera, Sedum “Voodoo” and a “Cobra” lily offset soaking some needed rays. I accuse possums of the drastic pruning of the boxwoods.

fake iguana

I have a real-looking plastic lizard (iguanas, of course, don’t survive Kansas winters), and a rubber rattlesnake that I place in appropriate locations in the garden to delight visitors. Every Spring, when I’m cleaning out the deadfall, I rediscover these fellows and scare the crap out of myself. Last week, I made an instantaneous 10-foot lateral move when I found the snake in a drift of leaves under a Thuja. Even the suggestion of a snake has a powerful effect on human reflexes. There are several garter snakes in the garden, welcome residents, but they too give me a start at first encounter.

Euonymus fortunei "Coloratus," or Wintercreeper, a locally invasive species.

Euonymus fortunei “Coloratus,” or Wintercreeper, a locally invasive species.

Euonymus fortunei “Coloratus,” aka Wintercreeper, is, to my mind, the kudzu of the Midwest–except that kudzu is palatable and nutritious to man and beast. Wintercreeper quickly makes a greedy, semi-woody and rooty groundcover, becoming a woody shrub or small tree over long time, or climbing 30 feet into trees, rooting into bark. While I favor a “no bare earth” policy, this Euonymus verges on punk. Dainty, bright orange seed capsules are pretty with snow but the leaves are generally dark and dull and it can stretch under a driveway slab and scramble house walls. I remove far more than I keep, though it can be useful in wilder places–even attractive, with burgundy-purple winter foliage–within the mower’s reach.

The seeds in the hay bales are sprouting. Must be rye or alfalfa because the cat is very fond of the greens.

The seeds in the hay bales are sprouting. Must be rye or alfalfa because the cat is very fond of the greens.

The wild cherry, Prunus serotina, in bloom and covered with giddy bees. There's a big beehive in the crotch of the pond Catalpa, and the wild cherry blossoms are their first feast of the year.

The wild cherry, Prunus serotina, in bloom and covered with giddy bees. There’s a big beehive in the crotch of the pond Catalpa, and the wild cherry blossoms are their first feast of the year.

Looking east to the pond patio and the back of the house.

Looking east to the pond patio and the back of the house.

Looking west from the pond patio at the back of the house.

Looking west from the pond patio at the back of the house.

Seeds sown to date 2013

  • Allium christophii
  • Amaranthus tricolor “Illumination”
  • Amaranthus “Hopi Red Dye”
  • Amaranthus “Leaf Karl Ramberg”
  • Beans “Yard Long”
  • Borago officinalis
  • Browallia americana
  • Calamintha “August Clouds”
  • Centaurea cyanus “Blue Boy” – Bachelor’s Buttons
  • Chrysanthemum “Becky” – Shasta Daisy
  • Dianthus “Sooty” – Sweet William
  • Digitalis ferruginea – Rusty Foxglove 
  • Dill “Dukat”
  • Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower
  • Eryngium yuccifolium – Rattlesnake Master
  • Heuchera villosa “Autumn Bride”
  • Iris sibirica – Siberian Iris
  • Kale “Siberian”
  • Lavender “Munstead”
  • Lespedeza thunbergii – Bush Pea
  • Malva sylvestris “Zebrina”
  • Mizuna mixed species
  • Monarda punctata – Bee Balm
  • Mustard “Southern Giant”
  • Nasturtium “Cherry Rose”
  • Nasturtium “Moonlight”
  • Nicotiana alata x mutabilis “Bella”
  • Nicotiana “Lime Green”
  • Nepeta cataria – Catnip
  • Okra “Cowhorn”
  • Patrinia scabiosifolia – Golden Lace
  • Platycodon “Sentimental Blue” – Balloon Flower
  • Polygonum orientale – Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate
  • Poncirus trifoliata – Hardy Orange
  • Pumpkin “Jack O Lantern”
  • Rudbeckia maxima
  • Rudbeckia triloba
  • Senna marlilandica
  • Solanum atropurpureum “Malevolence”
  • Solanum quitoense – Naranjilla
  • Spinach “Space”
  • Spinach “Summer Perfection”
  • Tagetes “Disco Red”
  • Talinum paniculatum – Jewels of Opar
  • Thalictrum pubescens – Meadow Rue
  • Tithonia rotundifolia – Mexican Sunflower
  • Tomato “Chocolate Cherry”
  • Tomato “Beefy Boy”
  • Thunbergia alata – Black-Eyed Susan vine
  • Verbena “Buenos Aires” – Tall Verbena
  • Watermelon “Crimson Sweet”
outside inside 2:23:13

Outside, the frozen pond. Inside, green house guests.

Nearly a foot of snow from Thursday’s storm. Unbroken white, the world looks clean.

On the back porch, a Phantom petunia plant, several Pelargoniums, a two-foot, three-year-old “Hill’s Hardy” rosemary (to be planted out permanently in Spring*), a yellow lantana and the Napoleon pepper–hauled from the ground and cramped into a plastic pot after second frost–are all in bloom. Napoleon, presumably porch-pollinated by brown recluse spiders and airborne cat hair, has set three tiny, green fruits since December–miniscule and exalted salad garnishes.

Petunia "Phantom" blooming in February on the back porch.

Petunia “Phantom” blooming in February on the back porch.

Cuttings taken in October–Greek oregano, catmint, pineapple and culinary sages, columnar basil, Verbena bonariensis, red Lantana, copper sweet potato, Sedum “Voodoo,” Rosa “New Dawn” and an unidentified firethorn (Pyracantha)–have struck and thrive. Plumbago auriculata, a potted tropical I gladly coddle from year to year in the service of nostalgia, is setting buds for more sky-blue flowers. Outside on the frozen patio, under crusted drifts of snow, only the Galanthus are blooming.

On the front porch, a few boxes of winter-sown seeds: rue, Rudbeckias maxima and triloba (large amounts for a meadow project), Patrinia scabiosifolia, Echinacea pallida (another large amount), and 50 seeds of Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate, a Victorian favorite getting a lot of Internet chatter lately.

Plenty of sun on the back porch–a bank of large windows facing south and west. I’ll hang the fluorescents next week, standard 4′ shop lights, less than $20 including tubes. The fluorescents compensate as the winter sun rises, a pretty good seed-starting situation. So much life indoors with Winter outside, wind hard at the windows.

I’ve said it a thousand times: I don’t like plants in the house. Outside is where well-placed plants are happy. Though I shy from the houseplant concept, I can’t deny the selfish pleasure of puttering among my seasonal house-guests, potting up and grooming, misting and dreaming of April. I’m the innkeeper at a vegetable B&B. When snow is on the ground, a roomful of sun and living greenery is encouraging and its nice to still have a few fresh herbs for the kitchen.

Back porch, Feb. 2013.

Back porch, Feb. 2013.

Here in Kansas, gardeners are forced indoors each winter. Coming here from California, where gardens require year-round attention, I appreciate that seasonal pause. After seven months of fighting hard clay (mud in spring, terra cotta in summer), incessant winds, blistering heat, ferocious storms, voracious wildlife and what seems to be every angry bug on the planet, a body needs rest. Winter is a time for assessment and planning, for research and  diagrams, for tending the garden in your mind.

This winter, like every winter, I spend many pleasant hours with plant catalogs, tripling the size of my wish list to what now must equal an inventory of the Huntington. I covet every zone-possible conifer in stock at Forestfarm and two burly Pittosporum “Tobira” on the side; quince, serviceberries, Aronia and elderberries from Raintree; every Allium, Crocosmia, Ipheon and Tritelia at Brent & Becky’s Bulbs; seriously, the entire seed inventory of J.L. Hudson; one-third of the offerings at Chamblee Roses; and every sharp, bolt-resistant green available from Seeds from Italy; for starters.

When unbridled desire and the information overload get too ridiculous, I head for the back porch and pull a few dead leaves off the potted geraniums, look at the ice on the pond and remember that this house sits on barely an acre of land and Nature rules most of it. That puts things back in perspective. What I really need is more parsley.

Back yard facing west, Feb. 2013.

Back yard facing west, Feb. 2013.

An additional advantage of the winter pause? Shoveling snow, another form of landscaping. Apart from the fun of creating fleeting pathways and miniature Himalayas etched with Yeti trails–seeing a familiar landscape in a different way–I use snow as mulch in planting areas.

One inch of rainwater equals about 10-16 inches of snow, depending on your source, so I shovel an extra foot or two of every snowfall around (not on) the Viburnum and wildflowers in the gravel by the road, and the roses and boxwood hedge half-sheltered by the porch overhang. Their roots seem to appreciate the extra snow-melt; they leap when the weather warms. Plants grow better with water from the sky than water from the tap.

The best thing about shoveling snow is that it doesn’t weigh as much as soil. Another storm forecast for Monday, another inch or two. Bring on the snow! Plump up thirsty roots and feed our impoverished aquifers. Spring will be here soon enough–with luck, a wet one.

*Concerning rosemary in Kansas: I learned the hard way that three-inch nursery pots of rosemaries billed as hardiest (“Arp,” “Hill’s Hardy), even when planted in warm, late-spring soil, have a less than 50 percent chance of getting through their first winter. Potting the rosemary up and bringing it in for the first two winters, kept damp and well-misted in the sunniest spot, increases the odds of survival to about 80 percent and above, depending on micro-climate.

poncirus trifoliata charles university prague photo karelj

Fruit of tree Trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata), from the Botanical Gardens of Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo Karelj, Wikimedia Commons

Any close and worthwhile contact with the earth tends to make one original or at least detached in one’s judgments and independent of group control.” – L.H. Bailey

Plants exist in both reciprocal and antagonistic communities, just as humans do. Plants shield their progeny, respond in their own ways to countless stimuli, adapt over time to their situations and, now we know, smell danger. Their lives are no less complex, no less vital than the lives of human beings. Think of the lives dependent on plants: soil, bacteria, worms, insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, humans and who knows what our bounding technologies will discover next. Now think of the lives dependent on humans.

In the year 2013, it is way past time for treating plants solely as means to a selfish end, as “material” for the design conceits of landscape “professionals” or as fodder for the nefarious ambitions of Monsanto, Big Ag and Big Hort. It may sound trite and yet so true: plants are people too.

These blogs, listed alphabetically and all by creative and joyful plant stewards, are my most valuable refuges and references.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens
The silky hairs glow in the light, and the plant looks like it is covered with hundreds of silver flowers–simply breathtaking.  …It is a multi-stemmed shrub that forms an almost perfectly rounded umbrella shape of cinnamon colored branches.” – Carolyn on Edgeworthia

For the introduction to Edgeworthia alone, Carolyn’s blog is a frequent port of call. Good to find a nurseryperson motivated just as much by the love of plants as the pressing need for the buck. The nursery business is about as profitable as restaurants–for those who make it past two years, its still mostly a labor of love. That’s Carolyn’s key to success: love of plant life and generosity with practical advice. Carolyn specializes in shade plants but no mail-order–this is a home nursery, in the truest sense.

Dirt Simple
Those gardeners that never water anything are not really gardeners. Those gardeners that water over and over again given a tough summer season are fearful gardeners. I understand that fear-I reacted to the steamy heat and dry with my hose, open full blast. But I see now that my off the top of my head reaction was harmful. Thoughtful watering makes for a great landscape and garden.” – Deborah Silver on watering

Gardeners are nearly always creative, generous folk and Deborah Silver is our Queen. A true professional (she gets up before dawn), Deborah is a master of restraint; restraint is the seed of elegance and good living. Most of civilization’s enduring gardens take a lot of money and Silver has earned the level of working with monied clients. What discreet, appropriate hardscapes! What boxwood! What exuberant containers! Deborah makes timeless and restful gardens, homes for vigorous plants all suited to place. She is today’s Russell Page. Or today’s Deborah Silver.

Hayefield
…For those of us who garden simply for our own pleasure, I can’t see any reason to judge our success on how closely our gardens conform to the guidelines of “good design” – unless that’s the standard we want to use, of course.” – Nancy Ondra, “Its Personal, Part 1”

To say that Nancy Ondra has a green thumb is an understatement. Hayefield, Nan’s Pennsylvania garden, is a plant lover’s dream. And while most gardeners have cats or dogs as gardening allies, Nan has alpacas. Think of all that good poop! Nan’s many books are essential references, her book on grasses a particular favorite. A natural photographer, Nan’s blog is packed with inspiring visuals and down-to-earth, practical advice. You want to be a virtuous plant steward and make a beautiful, happy garden? Follow Nancy Ondra.

Kansas Garden Musings
My feelings have run both hot and cold for Arundo as long as I’ve grown it.  I admire the easy-care maintenance of the grass because it requires only cutting it back to the ground each spring; no extra water, no fertilizer, no shaping. …On the other hand, even the variegated form is so uninspiring that I’ve never taken a picture of it.  Ever.” – Professor Roush on Arundo donax

Professor and Mrs. Roush live in rolling prairie, the Flint Hills of Kansas, gardening in increasing drought, blistering heat and incessant winds. The Prof, a veterinarian by day, is the go-to guy for tips on successful gardening in extreme and unpredictable weather–sometimes even Doppler can’t catch it–which the Midwest deals in spades. Quite the rosarian, Prof is the reason I gladly tussle with Pyracanthra (covers the view of utility boxes), and choke up in May with Madame Hardy’s first bloom.

Louis the Plant Geek
Silvery when young, the basal leaves of first-year plants mature to a chilly celery green. The leaf-to-leaf gradation of silver to celery-green is most prominent in first-year clumps, and is subtle as well as showy.” – Louis Raymond on cardoons

The things Louis Raymond does with plants will blow your mind: topiary Poncirus, espaliered quince, pollarded Paulownia and mini-forests of Cryptomeria. A maven of the color wheel, Louis is a modern Axel Erlandson but much more sensitive to a plant’s well-being than most garden designers of today and yore. Training plants is much like herding cats but Louis has the touch–nearly everything flourishes under his hand, which he often uses for scale in his pictures. Exacting, truthful advice and a perfect balance between design and stewardship are Louis’ hallmarks. I hit this site at least once a week and always laugh with wonderment.

Rob’s Plants
In late October, balloonflowers are strong contributors to the autumn foliage scene, their leaves turning a rich butter yellow that’s especially striking when the sun comes out to play.” – Rob Broekhuis on Platycodon grandiflorus

When I come across a new plant or want to do a better job of pleasing an existing garden resident, the first place I go is Rob Broekhuis’ invaluable reference site. Based in Pennsylvania, he grows mostly from seed and is scrupulous about germination records, making happy homes (check his pictures), for well over 1000 robust plants on less than an acre. Thanks to seed from Rob (check his trade/sale list), I’m now on increasingly friendly terms with Solanum atropurpureum, Thalictrum pubescens, Eryngium yuccifolium, Heuchera villosa and Platycodon “Sentimental Blue.” Many thanks, Rob.

Rock Rose
A garden without grasses just isn’t a garden. There is no lawn to mow in our gravelly garden but there are grasses. Not the sweeping vistas of grasses that are sometimes used in garden design but individual clumps scattered throughout. One of my favorites is the ruby crystal grass, Melinus neviglumis, with it’s pink puffs of seed heads.” – Jenny on grasses

Jenny should shoot for National Geographic, her pictures are that composed and insightful. Based in Austin, Texas, Jenny and her husband David travel to the great gardens of the world and her unprejudiced delight in the many ways of making gardens is inspiring and infectious. Her home garden is an oasis of desert blooms, grasses and pools of water, a resting place.

Sweetbay
Two butterfly bushes in a small bed by the back porch door are gone, so I added a couple of spare blue mist shrubs and mulched with hay to encourage the catmint to grow more. If the blue mist shrubs don’t make it through the winter I need to come up with a study woody plant on the small side that can cover the view of the hardpan underneath the back porch.” – From Alicia’s post on hay

Alicia Maynard’s is an ideal country garden: big in scale, careful in appointments but never contrived or fussy. Every plant in Alicia’s yard looks happy to be there. Hers is a garden for reflective strolling, lazy picnicking or dozing to the music of flowers, insects and birds. Her Bidens borders would make Gertrude Jekyll hit the drawing board. When I visit Sweetbay online, I always imagine the smell of honeysuckle and deviled eggs. The Sweetbay garden loves life.

What Ho Kew/What Ho Hidcote
Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of my time at Kew so far has been maintaining and becoming acquainted with the large Passiflora collection held in Zone 9! …The simplest way I can describe them is as the tropical version of Clematis; vigorous blighters that clamber about all over the shop on tendrils, and with delightfully beautiful flowers that are consistently showy and fascinating across the genus!” – Bernie on Passiflora

Bernie used to work at Hidcote, now he’s at Kew. What is it like to work at a global destination garden? Bernie will tell you, cheeky fellow, and illustrate with photographs that actually depict plants in garden contexts. A bona-fide plantsman, Bernie brings haute horticulture to the masses, laughing, covered with bugs and dirt.

This is another of Ian Spomer’s cellphone panoramas. Click on the image, then enlarge. Move left to right, and imagine yourself in the middle. Three years ago, this was a big thicket.

Why is there a rotting Datsun in the garden? Its Burroughs‘ car.

Apart from a 1947 incident in south Texas when Burroughs and his wife, Joan Vollmer, were issued a pubic indecency citation for having sex in their car on the side of the road, driving doesn’t figure much in the Burroughs record. But not long after Burroughs bought this property in 1981, he decided he wanted to drive again. He was in his late 60s then, with a pronounced shoulder hump. The cramped Datsuns of the time, then a no-frills economy car, suited his posture. The license was obtained, the car purchased, and Burroughs drove around Lawrence. His friends say he could barely see above the steering wheel.

After a respectful while, a year or so, a Meeting of the Handlers was convened. It was agreed that William was a frightening driver. Burroughs was approached and, being a wise old cat, he surrendered the keys. The Datsun was drained out, pushed into the back yard and, legend has it, the keys thrown into the creek bordering the property, now Burroughs Creek, nearly 30 years ago.

The past two winters, raccoon families have nested in the Datsun’s back seat. Lichen is gaining ground on the car’s surface, a kind of lichen that thrives on auto paint and rusting metal.

This pathway was carved out in 2010, originally two feet wide. A coppiced Catalpa is on the left, turning chartreuse before retiring for winter. Photo: Ian Spomer

Alley looking east. Photo: Ian Spomer

Many of the saplings you see in the above two pictures will be removed this month. In 2009, the alley above was barely three feet wide. Over 200 trees have been cleared since then, mostly elm, walnut, hackberry and silver maple. The wild blackberries on the left–tart, tiny fruit that the birds always get first–are tedious to remove, as is the honeysuckle. But every gardener knows that endurance is insurance. Photo: Ian Spomer

Lonicera maackii, fall berries and foliage. Photo: Ian Spomer

Lonicera maackii berries. Birds eat them last. Photo: Ian Spomer

I’m ambivalent about Lonicera maackii. I curse it frequently, yet can’t deny an appreciation for it’s flowers, fruit and amenability to pruning. Its a case of making lemonade from lemons, as it is with many invasive plants. Make an asset of over-abundance, teach the plant to suit your design. Isn’t that the essence of cultivation? I think L. maackii is beautiful, requiring much less attention than most roses and much easier to pull when unwanted.

The yard that abuts the Burroughs property belongs to the neighbor two doors south. He has an L-shaped lot which crosses the creek and connects to Burroughs’ deep back yard. Photo: Ian Spomer

Looking east to the garage garden. Photo: Ian Spomer

That glorious yellow-orange foliage on the tree at right belongs to Koelreuteria paniculata, the Golden Rain tree, which borders on invasiveness in Kansas. I pull at least a hundred K.p. seedlings per season and you see this tree barging all over town.

Koelreuteria paniculata is a four-season plant with bipinnate leaves. Spring growth is bronze and pink, followed in summer by foot-long panicles of tiny, orchid-like yellow flowers that shed after three weeks to cover the ground with a “golden rain.” The flowers are followed by inflated, russet seed pods looking very much like pods of Physalis alkekengi built large. After a brilliant foliage display in autumn, the bare winter trunks would figure well in a Tim Burton movie.

Dead center, the black, contorted trunk, is Catalpa speciosa, the Northern Catalpa. Photo: Ian Spomer.

Catalpa speciosa is another somewhat invasive tree in Kansas. It’s twisted branches, so beautiful in silhouette, are brittle and easily snapped in strong winds. It coppices well, making a four-foot-tall shrub with fuzzy, foot-wide leaves.

Gardening here is essentially woodlot management, a process of considered subtraction. I have removed far more plants than I have put in, and I have the brush piles to prove it. I leave the smaller brush piles in the less-visited areas areas of the garden to be engulfed in Clematis terniflora and provide habitat for wildlife. A pair of red foxes made their home in a honeysuckle thicket last Spring.