September 30th, 2013
In my career as a garden coach, I’m often asked to suggest herbaceous perennials which will provide color and interest in the August and September (and beyond) ornamental garden. There are several good choices, including Joe Pye weed, buddleia, Japanese anemone, and cimicifuga, but agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’ is my current hands-down favorite.
This one to three-foot tall-and-wide chartreuse beauty offers late-season punctuation and purple bottle-brush flowers which are a powerhouse source of nectar for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. It’s licorice scented. And Bambi won’t touch it.
The golden foliage emerges early in the spring and retains its color all season. The purple-blue flowers come along in August and September and if deadheaded, ‘Golden Jubilee’ will stay in bloom until frost flattens the foliage. If not deadheaded finches will grab the seeds, which is in itself a delight to watch.
All parts of the plant are scented, and given the hot dry conditions it favors the scent intensifies, turning the garden into a fragrant meadow. It’s great for cut flowers; combine it with small hosta leaves, verbena bonariensis and Black-eyed Susan for a charming bouquet.
‘Golden Jubilee’ doesn’t want a lot of water, and in fact will be unhappy if not placed in a dry-ish, well-drained location. (water well until established, of course). Space the plants some twenty inches apart. It’s tolerant of a wide variety of soils. To prevent lank growth, fertilize only once per year, in the fall. And it does benefit from a shearing after the first bloom flush.
There are numerous agastaches, and all love sun, but give this one just a bit of afternoon shade to protect the leaf color. Hardy from zones 5-9, ‘Golden Jubilee’ grows at a medium rate, developing naturally into a dense clump without any pinching or pruning. It’s therefore grand in beds and borders, but adapts well to life in pots also. In fact, some garden designers employ it instead of chartreuse coleus.
‘Golden Jubilee’ self-sows decorously in my sunny garden. There have been reports that after several years the seedlings may revert, but for me they’re remained true for the seasons I’ve had the plant. The seedlings are a cinch to dig up and pot for give-aways or to add to the gardeners golden garden.
Square-stemmed agastaches are kissing cousins to coleus, though they prefer more sun. This particular cultivar is named for the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee in 2002 and is still creating a big buzz in the horticultural world.
Accompany the plant with ‘Knockout roses, sedum ‘Autumn Charm’, and small grasses such as festuca ‘Elijah Blue’ and pennesitum ‘Little Bunny’. At its feet a perennial geranium such as ‘Tiny Rubies’ or Lancaster might be sited.
Some may know agastache as an herb, and it does have culinary uses if chemicals are not used in the garden. The young dried leaves may be used for a minty tea, in salads or dried for potpourri. Tender early leaves are tasty in fruit cups or salads. Add tough older leaves to cooked dishes.
Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’ was named a 2003 All-America selection and I have to concur. It’s a winner!
September 4th, 2013
If there’s ever a lull in the ornamental garden it’s in September. The beds are full and lush, the rains more reliable, and it’s not yet time to plant bulbs. ‘Tis the season to read. Here’s my recommendations for new garden books. Now that the kids are back to school, curl up in the hammock or pull up a porch chair and dig in!
America’s Romance with the English Garden. Thomas J. Mickey, Ohio University Press, 2013. Ever wonder why gardeners seem to revere all things horticulturally British? Though we have thankfully grown beyond blind emulation, there persists admiration for the English style of gardening. In this beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched book Tom Mickey transports us to a time when we were seduced by the marketing efforts of 19th century British seed and nursery catalogs. He explains why America’s love affair with the lawn is a grand example of how the British horticultural industry sold us on the must-have of a green sward. The “Featured Plant” selections tender a primer on such old-fashioned stalwarts as weigela, white pine and clematis. Offering fascinating lessons in art, history and horticulture, America’s Romance with the English Garden is a special book, one that will remain on your coffee table for all to learn from and admire.
2nd Edition, All New Square Foot Gardening, the Revolutionary Way to Grow more in Less Space. Cool Springs Press, 2013. We gardeners of a certain age recall the first edition of Square Foot Gardening, issued in 1981. Written by engineer and formerly frustrated gardener Mel Bartholomew, the book showed us how to maximize our plot. The trick, he related, was to condense productivity by establishing four plants per square foot, by improving the soil, intercropping, and growing vertically. Square Foot Gardening was the gardening bible in our youth. Now twenty-five years later in this new edition our buddy Mel has updated his thoughts on mixing perfect soil, constructing raised boxes and extending the season. He’s also taken his concepts and applied them to community gardens, school yards, non-profit hunger initiatives and humanitarian efforts across the globe. This compact, easy-to-read book is the perfect accompaniment to a current, more inclusive gardening style.
Fairy Gardening; Creating Your Own Magical Miniature Garden. Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner, Skyhorse Publishing, 2013. Garden trends come and go, but I think fairy gardening is here to stay. It appeals on so many levels, to so many different types of gardeners, and of course, harkens back to our Victorian antecedents. Bawden-Davis and Turner delve, in seven easy steps, into such essentials as developing a theme, designing with a focal point, creating action, using ordinary items, the importance of contrast, how to tell a story in miniature, and how to craft surprising micro-landscape twists. Of course they include suggestions for plants and habitats, and how to care for the miniature environment. (One of this gardener’s favorite chapters was the one concerning decorating for the holidays.) The fairyland plant suggestions are divided into groundcovers, “shrubs”, “trees”, and further are subdivided into sun/shade conditions. Crammed full of ideas, the photos alone are worth the price of the book.
Fellow gardeners, take a breather from late-summer activities and spend some relaxing time reading about your favorite hobby….gardening!
August 13, 2013
When I moved to the Northeast I immediately missed Indiana’s rich deep dirt and was thunderstruck at the thin and rocky soil in my new Connecticut garden. It seemed that everywhere I stuck my trowel it either rebounded off a stray boulder or recoiled at the ledge lurking just beneath the surface. I grieved the loss of my Midwestern loam but, as gardeners do, I pulled up my Muck boots and adapted to my New England conditions.
In the process I learned much about creating a garden in rock-infested or root-infiltrated, shallow soil. It takes a bit of finesse, some elbow grease, and plant know-how, but a great garden can be built in the face of such adversity. But first, a diagnosis is necessary. Ascertain what’s wrong with your site. Which one of the following conditions is your particular affliction?
Ledge rock close to the surface:
Part of the beauty of New England lies in its magnificent landforms created by the glaciers thousands of years ago. That’s also a gardener’s bane. Either the soil was scraped off by the rivers of ice and not replenished or is so thin as to be unsupportive of vegetative life. Here’s what to do: Since ledge isn’t be uniformly even, scout with your spade to discover pockets where there’s more dirt to work with. Excavate these and fill with good soil. You can haul this in or produce on site by simply layering organic amendments such as chopped leaves, mulch, and compost. Let this mixture mellow a season and then plant. Emphasize drought-tolerant plants such as sedum, daylilies and hosta whose tuberous roots hold moisture.
A variation of the famous ledge is soil which is so full of rocks that it truly is a “Rock Garden”. What to do? First look upon the findings as treasure. Consider the distance these bits of bedrock travelled via ice sheet and marvel at the strength of Mother Nature. Gardeners elsewhere envy the bounty of natural rock we find every digging day in our yards. Use a sturdy shovel to hoist the riches out of the ground. If that won’t do the trick, shanghai the nearest teenage boy and bribe him with chocolate-chip cookies. If still no results, leverage an iron bar under the offending boulder, and apply shoulder power. The rock should give way, but remember, it may have been in that surrounding soil for a thousand years. If it won’t budge, consider using it as an ornament in situ. If the stone can be levered out of the ground, use as coping around a pond, edging in a bed, or ornamentation in a border. Other uses: Build a rock wall or use flat stones for a path. Construct a rock garden. Manufacture a dry stream bed or retaining wall. Make a drainage area under a downspout. The possibilities are endless.
New England is famed for its tree cover. But these trees have roots, and some, such as maple and birch have surface roots which suck up available moisture and nutrients, making gardening difficult. It is possible to plant between tree roots, and is acceptable to annually sever a small portion of tree roots to accommodate a garden. But this is a lot of work, and questing roots will have their way in a year or two. Consider a container garden with a commitment to regular watering. A longer-lasting solution is to excavate the area for the bed as best you can and then layer strong plastic sheeting as a barrier between the bed and the tree roots. Fill the excavated area with good soil.
Gardening is full of challenges. But gardening on the ledge can be done.