Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hebe Plant, Sweet Peas and Organic Pest Control


We went to nearby Ferndale to celebrate our wedding anniversary Saturday and walk through the Victorian village. It is always so beautiful to drive into the town of Ferndale. The hills of pine trees surround the meadows of grass and dairy farms, with the Victorian village sitting at the base of the hills. The stores in town often decorate the front of their shops with planters filled with flowers. While we were walking through town I noticed two planters containing beautiful tall plants with purple flowers. Walking further through town we found a small farmers market happening with vegetables and plants for sale. I found a hebe plant, it turns out it was the same plant I was admiring planted in the containers in front of the store we walked by. The owner of the nursery mentioned that hebes usually have white flowers but this variety had purple flowers. She told me that the hebe would grow four feet tall by four feet wide and preferred full sun. I love purple flowers and use purple as one of my main colors in the garden. I decided the hebe would be a perfect fit to fill in a final bare area in front of the fence in the front yard. With there being only one hebe plant available I didn't have to think twice about buying the plant. I planted the hebe the next day against the fence. I think the airy look of the hebe's green leaves and purple flowers will go well with the garnet penstemon planted next to it.

I planted a few sweet pea plants at the base of my obelisk near the back fence a few weeks ago. After having the first few sweet pea plants chewed up by snails I decided to grow the rest of the sweet peas in a pot for a month or more to make sure the plants were taller and sturdier before planting them out in the yard. I read in my BBC gardening magazine about a tip for organic pest control and remembered I had heard of this method before. You can use crushed egg shells to keep snails away from tender young plants. The rough egg shells scrape the snails when they crawl over them. Crush the egg shells into pieces and scatter them around the base of the new plant. This method should help deter snails on the ground. I've also heard of using sea shells broken up as the same type of method to keep snails away from tender plants. We have started carrying around a bucket of salted water with us when we garden. Collecting snails and throwing them in the bucket with the salted water apparently dehydrates them and dispatches them fairly quickly. I don't want to lose the last of my sweet peas to the snails. I'm hoping growing the small sweet pea plants for a while longer until they get bigger will do the trick and foil the snails.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Planting up Fuchsia Baskets and Penstemon

I added the new small fuchsias I bought at the garden center to my hanging fuchsia baskets this past weekend. I have one established fuchsia in each basket and wanted to build on the baskets. I matched similar colors for each fuchsia basket, white and pink with pink, lavender with purple and pink and lavender with pink fuchsias. The fuchsia baskets have trailing blue lobelia cascading down the front of each basket. The trailing blue lobelia tends to be very full, not exactly what I originally wanted in the baskets since I would prefer the lobelia lie flatter but it still looks good overall. Some of the fuchsia baskets have blooming flowers while others are working up towards blooming. Here on the coast even though it is officially summer all blooming tends to be a month or two out from the blooming patterns of typical summer blooming in Sonoma County. Basically its still early on for fuchsia blooms as they are just getting started here on the north coast.

The penstemon I planted in the front yard is garnet penstemon, it is really a beautiful burgundy color and should look great against the grey color of the fence. After planting the garnet penstemon I cut back my blue penstemon. The blue penstemon was attacked by black fly, the same as the foxglove in the same flower border near the drooping cherry tree. The blue penstemon was really gorgeous covered in blue tubular flowers then suddenly stopped blooming. I tried an organic mix of soap and water on the original black fly infestation on my foxgloves but it did not deter them. My mistake was not spraying them for a number of weeks. Next time I will spray every week with this organic mix to be sure the black fly infestation is killed off. Penstemons need to be cut back yearly for good bloom by summer. I'm hoping since its early in the summer season here that the blue penstemon will grow back this season and bloom again.

I used the organic soap spray on my drooping cherry tree this year just as the leaves started coming out right before bloom began. Usually we have a fly larvae infestation that ruins the leaves of the tree, this fly apparently attacks cherry trees and can have two or more infestations of the flies during the year. I'm not sure if the organic soap spray did the trick early on or if it was our milder winter but either way I plan on spraying the cherry tree early on every season with the soap spray.

This year the young drooping cherry tree has grown over five feet tall and is looking beautiful with its branches full of healthy green leaves. I'm looking forward to seeing how well the new fuchsias fare with their companion fuchsias and hope the baskets fill out well with blooms this summer. Can't wait to see how the garnet penstemon establishes itself in the dry area against the fence and the multitude of blooms it will produce during the summer months in the coming years.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sweet Peas, Penstemon, Godetia and Fuchsias for Summer

This past weekend we went to the local garden center. It has been a number of weeks since I've visited the garden center so I stocked up on some plants for summer. I have been wanting some sweet peas to grow up the metal obelisk in the back yard. For the first two summers I grew sweet peas from seed for the obelisk and saved seed from the plant. I was unlucky that the seed I planted from the last flowering did not come up this summer so I decided to buy a small six pack of multi colored sweet peas already started. I planted some of the sweet peas at the base of the obelisk after getting back from the garden center. I have a few more sweet pea starters to plant out. I'm thinking of planting them in the front yard at the base of the clematis so the sweet peas can crawl up the scrolled metal trellis the clematis lives on. Since the clematis is done flowering for this year it might be a good use for the trellis and brighten the corner near the stairway.

I saw a six pack of mixed color godetia in the annuals section and got one to plant in the back yard planter. I have had godetia growing in the planter for two summers now and they flower beautifully, filling the planter with color along with the dianthus and fuchsias growing there. I'm working on filling out the long planter with perennials but in the meantime the godetia fills the spaces left from bulbs in spring. I planted the godetias in the planter yesterday afternoon and look forward to the generous number of flowers they produce during the summer months.

I spotted small two inch fuchsia pots for sale at a low price so I nabbed three of them to add to my fuchsia baskets that surround the covered hot tub area on our back deck. I have two fuchsias I grew from cuttings last summer as well. I plan on planting up a second fuchsia in each of my five hanging baskets to add to the number of flowers for the summer baskets. I will probably mix colors of fuchsias since these are different varieties than the original plants I planted in the baskets. I purchased a double fuchsia with white petals and pink sepals (my first double fuchsia) that I will add to the white fuchsia I have; a fuchsia with pink petals and lavender sepals; and a two toned pink fuchsia with light pink petals and darker pink sepals. The baskets also contain a dark blue lobelia that cascades over the edge of the baskets. I'm guessing three fuchsia plants per basket would be ideal but for now I'll go with two fuchsias per basket and see how full the flowering goes this summer before adding more fuchsias to the baskets.


The last plant I purchased is a garnet penstemon. This perennial is really beautiful in the garden. I had the garnet penstemon in my Petaluma back yard as well as a deep purple penstemon plant, both flowered throughout the summer months and put on a great display. I have an area in the sun against the front yard fence adjacent to the fuchsia colored rhododendron that would work well for this colorful penstemon. This area is not the easiest one to get a plant established in so I'm hoping a hardy penstemon will work well for this spot. I plan to plant up the fuchsia baskets, remaining sweet peas and garnet penstemon over the coming weekend.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Trimming Hedges, Climbing Roses and Passionflower Vines

This past weekend I spent time working in the front yard and did more work than I usually do for the day. I started off with mowing the lawn, trimming the lawn with the weed whacker will wait 'till next weekend. I trimmed up the roses as I do every few weeks, cutting back their excessive upward growth above the shape of the rose bushes. The flowering of the roses has basically stopped now. I've fed the roses before blooming time and feeding makes no difference in terms of the length of flowering. It makes me long for the grandiflora roses we had in our Petaluma yard, they bloomed all summer long. With well established roses trained up on the fence there's not much else to do but keep them trimmed and wish they'd flower more during the season.


I used the hedge trimmer for the first time this weekend, it was pretty easy to use but can wear on your arms and shoulders after a while. Usually my husband trims the hedges but he was working on our the overgrown back yard flower bed which needs to be taken apart and redone. Since my husband was busy with the back yard flowerbed I decided to tackle the overgrown passionflower vines myself. Once it hits June here on the coast our passionflower vines on the front yard fence go nuts and grow out a good foot or more. I plugged in the hedge trimmer and trimmed the vines back a good six inches, shaping the vines on the sides and trimming back the growth in the front. I have to do some work under the vines since the passionflower vines always have small seedling vines growing at the base of the growth from its rampant seeding. A little trimming underneath will help clean up the edge at the bottom of the vines.


Next I took on the hedges that surround our front yard. The hedge is comprised of privet and boxwood shrubs with the privet most predominate in the mix. The hedge is squared off and needs to be cut to match the slope of the sidewalk in front of our house. During the late spring stems of the privet grow up higher than the hedge line and have to be cut back to keep the general shape of the hedge. This hedge is a fairly aggressive grower during the summer so I decided to cut back the beginning growth to keep it in shape. I've found that if you do not trim back the privet at least once or twice a year to shape it can get out of hand fairly quickly. The stems of the hedge were harder to trim compared to the lightweight structure of the passionflower vine. I did manage to trim back the current growth this weekend but I will need some lessons from my husband on shaping the hedge by trimming back more severely later on in the season. In Victorian times hedges like this one were popular used as a fence line around the Victorian home front yard. I'm not too fond of the hedges, I'd prefer a wrought iron fence so you could see the yard better but once again the hedge shrubs are established in the yard for many years so hedges it is.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Johnson's Blue Geraniums Brighten the Garden


I planted two Johnson's Blue geraniums in the front yard last spring and was pleased with the color of the brilliant blue flowers and lacy texture of the geranium leaves. Once the plants died down I wondered if the geraniums would come back well in spring since most geraniums I've dealt in my garden did not die back in winter either in Petaluma or Eureka climates. This spring the Johnson's Blue geraniums plants both came back and grew even bigger than last year, probably a good foot tall and wider still. I'm trying to root a piece or two of the Johnson's geranium so I can produce more of this plant since it is so pretty when flowering. I'm not the biggest fan of the traditional orange and red geraniums but scented geraniums, ivy leaf geraniums and specialty geraniums such as Johnson's Blue I find great additions to the garden. When it comes to dependable garden plants you will rarely find such pest free, sturdy bloomers and hearty plants as geraniums.

I have another geranium in the garden that was planted by the previous home owner. I don't know the name of this particular geranium but it produces smaller purple flowers in comparison to the Johnson's Blue geranium and has similar lacy leaves. This geranium is planted in a white ceramic planter near the back yard gate that also holds pink "naked lady lily" bulbs (Amaryllis belladonna), the leaves entwined with the geranium are lily leaves. If you've ever dug up an Amaryllis belladonna bulb you know they are huge, and similar looking to a sweet potato in shape. Oftentimes you can find these lilies growing wild near the roadside out in the country. They are remarkable for their bare stalk with a number of brilliant pink trumpet shaped lilies at the top of the stalk. The Amaryllis belladonna bulbs send up large leaves that die back then the lily stalk grows and flowers appear later. As you can imagine even a few of these in a ceramic planter would crowd the planter after a few years time. This year the geranium is flowering less, it is usually covered in blooms; I'm pretty convinced it is being edged out by the large lily bulbs. The Amaryllis belladonna bulbs in the white planter managed to crack the planter in half. I'm waiting for the time after the bulbs flower and die back then will dig out the lily bulbs to replant in the yard. We already dug up some other Amaryllis belladonna bulbs from behind our house and planted them in the back yard so adding more to the back yard will be no problem and in fact will be welcomed. I'm hoping the purple geranium plant survives the dividing process and can be saved either in the broken planter or replanted elsewhere in the garden. It should be interesting to find out how many Amaryllis belladonna bulbs are in that planter after all.

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