Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Annuals I’m Trying from Seed (Part I)

I like thunbergia and grow it in hanging baskets. I always assumed it was a shorter vine, but apparently it grows seven feet or more. In the baskets I just pinch it when it heads out. This variety, ‘Blushing Susie’ looked particularly pretty.


I have read that if you grow thunbergia in a pot you can cut it back in the fall, bring it inside, and have blooms over the winter.

We have a “pansy greenhouse” which has one heater and still occasionally goes below freezing. We put our tough plants in there like dianthus and dusty miller and of course, all kinds of pansies. New this year will be the viola ‘Endurio Sky Blue Martien’ which is an All American Selections 2010 "cool season award winner".


The Panola series is a cross between a pansy and a viola and is very floriferous. I am adding 'Panola Baby Blue Mix' to our collection.


One of my earliest blooming pansies is 'Purple Rain' and I will offer it again, along with a new variety, 'Rain Blue and Purple. This series spreads and is taller than others. It can cascade, when used as an edging, making it perfect for window boxes and hanging baskets (if you have the patience to dead head them).


'Rain Blue and Purple' changes in color from purple and white to purple and blue as each bloom matures. The flower is 1.5 inches, smaller than most pansies, but there are so many of them there’s quite an impact.

I like the ‘profusion’ series of zinnias and this year I am also branching out to try some of the ‘zahara' series. These are not cutting zinnias, rather shorter varieties used for bedding. My problem with zinnias in our cooler growing conditions has always been botrytis and the "profusion" series have been trouble free. 'Zahara promises more of the same, with 20 percent larger flowers.



Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Deer and My Garden ~ ~ ~ and Deer-resistant Cut Flowers

I am not a hunter, but when I see deer grazing in my perennial gardens I find myself thinking unkind thoughts about the graceful creatures.

A good fence or a gun are really the only two surefire ways to keep deer out of your gardens. I’ve tried human hair, blood meal, soap bars, urine of all sorts, and all kinds of sprays.

The best product I have used is called Tree Guard. It has Bitrex in it, a bitter compound that has been used to stop children from sucking their thumbs, and also has a latex to adhere to the leaves. Unfortunately the latex gummed up my sprayers and perhaps the company has now fixed this problem. This spray does last a few months with one application, but of course it wouldn’t effect new growth. In my case I have too many plants in too many places to maintain the sprays.

A few years ago the deer were so plentiful that while we slept they were walking up and down the benches of plants for sale, munching whatever appealed to them: a Bambi buffet. And so we constructed a fence around the shade display garden and another fence around the area where we keep hostas and surplus plants.

We forgot to close the door one night and a bear wandered into the enclosure, realized s/he was fenced in, and completely tore down one side of the fence to escape.

Deer are hungriest in the early spring when the first shoots in a garden must look extremely appetizing. One year a friend and I decided to fill our village shopping area with spring flowers. Twenty window boxes crowded with tulips poking out of the soil were ready to move. I put them by the driveway to be picked up. The next morning it looked as if a herd of elephants had attacked the boxes. Half of them were knocked over and every tulip was destroyed. The answer, for spring flowers, is daffodils.

If the deer are hungry enough, they will munch on just about anything, but there are certain plants they generally find unappealing. They’d rather not eat fuzzy leaves like lambs’ ears or foliage with aromatic leaves such as ornamental oregano or most herbs. I have no idea why they gobble my roses, thorns and all, and seem to like tomatoes as well. Supposedly they don’t eat poisonous plants, but they munch on my smaller delphiniums.

From my 20 plus years of donating plants to the deer, I have found they usually leave certain plants alone, and using that knowledge I am planning a deer resistant garden just for cut flowers with the following plants:


Aconitum (monkshood)
Achillea (yarrow)
Baptesia (false indigo)
Digitalis ambigua (a true perennial foxglove)
Echinacea (cone flower)
Monarda (bee balm)
Nepata (cat mint)

Annuals -
Blue salvia
Cutting marigolds
Snap Dragons

There is a nursery in Michigan that only sells deer resistant plants, so you can look up to see what they recommend. And keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the most widely grown fruit in US home gardens. Proponents of heirloom tomatoes say they taste better than hybrids. I’ve tasted some mighty good hybrids, but then again I remember my “first time” with ‘Prudens Purple’.

Reif Red Heart

I define an heirloom as a variety that can reproduce from saved seed and that existed before World War II. Hybrid tomatoes are bred for production and disease resistance first and then flavor. You can not save their seeds as they will not reproduce true to type.

The best selling heirloom tomato is ‘Brandywine’ and it is now offered by most mainstream catalogues. The fruit is a dark pink and the leaves look more like potato leaves.


Unfortunately, so many individuals got involved in saving seeds from this variety that inferior strains came onto the market. Some ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes can taste pretty bland. Furthermore, it has not been a good producer for me and it is late season. I offer it because customers ask for it, but I would also recommend ‘Pruden’s Purple‘ for the northern grower, as it ripens a week or two earlier than ‘Brandywine’ with similar flavor.

Last summer I trialed all kinds of heirloom tomatoes, but the cool wet season topped off by by late blight thwarted most of my efforts.

My customers tend to be enthusiastic gardeners, so I will offer a good selection of heirloom tomatoes again. Among those that I will also definitely grow for myself are the following:

‘Moskvich’ - A really early (60 days) indeterminate, tolerant of cooler weather and with promised good flavor for such an early tomato. Most heirlooms tend to ripen late for my short season.

‘Earl of Edgecomb’ - This is an orange tomato with both “excellent yield and exceptional flavor .” It is an heirloom from New Zealand that matures at 73 days.

‘Cherokee Purple’ - A lot of serious tomato growers pick this one as having the best flavor. It’s on the late side, so I will try to put some good healthy plants in the ground.

I’m not a purist, and my garden will have just as many hybrid tomatoes as heirlooms. I grow the heirlooms more out of curiosity and for fun, hoping I’ll find a winner. The hybrids are the backbone of my tomato garden. Here is a list of other heirloom varieties I will be growing to sell.

Aunt Ginny’s Purple
Black Krim
Burpee Gloriana
Cosmonaut Volkov
Early Rouge
Kellogg's Breakfast
Oregon Spring
Pink Brandywine
Prudens Purple
Red Penna
Reif red heart
Sweet Home
Urban Beef Steak