I’ve been looking at this photo for quite a while now, trying to figure out why I find it so disconcerting. I think it must be because my eyes don’t know where to go. A sunflower is so visually arresting that you’re drawn right to it, only in this case, you’re drawn to it, and it, and then it, and it, and it …

Then again, it could be mystical. Wikipedia says that the seeds in sunflowers are arranged according in a series of interconnecting spirals and that the number of left-hand spirals and right-hand spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. And Fibonacci numbers are something having to do with the “golden spiral” and “golden ratio” that appear in strange places in nature, like the arrangement of the fruit cones of a pineapple and the prickly things on pine cones and unfurling fern fronds. I would explain more but I didn’t understand the explanations so I can’t. I’m a gardener, not a mathematician.

The first of my sunflowers bloomed this morning, and I was thrilled to see it. So will my next-door neighbor Julio be. Julio rarely talks to me about my garden, but he must like sunflowers, because he asks about them. He first brought them up about a month ago, while I was weeding the tomatoes. “No sunflowers this year?” he asked.

“They’re coming,” I assured him, and pointed one out. It was only about a foot tall.

He looked dubious. And he must have been, because he asked about them again a few weeks later: “You didn’t plant sunflowers this year?”

“I did. They’re just not big yet. It takes them a long time to get big.” You’d think he’d understand that; he’s the dad of four kids. But I guess he won’t really be satisfied until they’re eight feet tall.

Gee, you don’t think he’s in a hurry because he’s tired of looking at us, do you?

Photo by Bruce Fritz.


Almost four-o’clocks!

It’s almost time for four-o’clocks! Also known as Mirabilis jalapa (“mirabilis” meaning “wonder” or “marvel” and “jalapa” being the name of a Mexican town), four-o’clocks are one of those plants that I can’t understand why everybody doesn’t have a garden full of them. Yes, I know they self-seed like crazy, but that’s a good thing, not a bad one, so long as the seedlings are easy to pull out when they crop up where you don’t want them, and these babies are. I also like the size of four-o’clocks. At between two and three feet tall, they’re hefty enough to fill up empty space cheaply and reliably.

Sure, the flowers don’t open until the afternoon, but look at the bonus you get–different-colored, and even multi-colored, blossoms on the same plant! Plus they have a faint, sweet fragrance that’s never too intrusive, but remains haunting and alluring. (Visitor to garden: “What’s that lovely smell?”) They come up year after year after year after year as volunteers. I don’t know any plant that’s more likely to self-sow. And if for some reason you don’t WANT any more four-o’clocks, the seeds are big, about the size of peppercorns, so you can just sweep them up with a broom.

Though I really don’t know why you’d want to do that …

Photo by Vaikoovery licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Put that white garden on hold …

At least until these coneheads are done blooming. This one is particularly happy this year. I got it from Burpee three or so years ago, and it looked good last summer, too–right up until it split down the middle and fell over. It did,  however, self-seed a clone next door to it. I’m always happy for free plants!

But the subject of coneflowers reminds me–I also got that ‘Milkshake’ coneflower this year and haven’t seen hide or hair of it. My entire garden is backwards this year–I was telling My Neighbor Marcia today that it looks better from her yard than it does from mine. Those expensive Orienpet lilies I got? You can’t even see them behind all the larkspur. They’re about two feet tall, just like my mutant Oriental lily was. I have to venture into the backyard next door to even see what’s in the Magical Larkspur Forest. Too much of a good thing?

Nah. I love the Magical Larkspur Forest. 🙂

Another argument for white gardens

Maybe I’m slowly being converted. This beauty is blooming all over my side yard right now. It’s Proven Winners Hydrangea arborescans ‘Incrediball,’ and I have to say, it’s pretty incrediball. Really. The inflorescences are the size of footballs. (I know, I should have held something up to show you the scale, but I was too embarrassed to, since the photo I shot of a lily earlier today had a big section of my arm in it …)

I didn’t use to give two figs for hydrangeas. Maybe they’re one of those plants that grow on you as you get old. My first one was a blue lacecap with variegated leaves. I don’t even remember where I got the danged thing, but it’s still lovely and blooms with great faithfulness. I have two more bushes courtesy of Proven Winners–‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Invincibelle.’ Please, don’t make me choose a favorite.

And I love that I can cut the branches and bring them inside and dry them every year. They’re absolutely trouble-free, in my experience; that’s the only pruning mine ever get!

An argument for white gardens

I’ve always thought the concept of a white garden was overly precious. When there are so many beautiful flowers in so many wonderful colors, who would limit the palette that way? It’s pretentious, like having some exotic species of dog, or a Maserati. It doesn’t say “I love gardens and gardening”; it says, “Look at me! I’m special!”

This poppy may have changed my mind.

Most of the poppies I planted this year have come up red, or reddish-orange. This one came up pure, pristine white, like a bride. And as I admire her bobbing in the wind, I’ve been tempted into thinking: You know, an entire garden of flowers this cool and clean would be pretty neat. I don’t think of white as emphatic, but it sure is here, against the broad green leaves of a sunflower coming up right next door.

And I also like the way the white plays off the blue-gray tone of the hairy poppy foliage. I don’t think I could ever bear to only plant one color of flowers–and what would you do with all the shrubs and perennials that aren’t already white? It would cost a fortune to replace all them, not to mention that it would break my heart. Still, she is lovely, isn’t she? A girl can dream …

A pink lady

When I was a kid, I was always curious about the alcoholic drink known as a “Pink Lady.” It sounded so pretty and frilly, and I wanted one! I still have never tasted a Pink Lady (who would order a drink with a silly name like that?), but I think of them every summer, when these hollyhocks bloom in my garden. I stole the seed years ago (shh!) from a stand of plants beside a neighbor’s garage where they grew, unkempt and wild. I’m glad I did, too, because a year later, the neighbor tore down the garage, and that was the end of the original stand of plants.

I’ve tried to grow other kinds of hollyhocks–have even spent good money in pursuit of the yellow-flowered, fig-leaved kind—but I’ve never had any luck. I’m not exactly overrun with these pink ones, either. In fact, last year I didn’t have any appear, which made me very nervous indeed. But this year, I have this one and another that’s just starting to grow. I guess that’s what “biennial” means!

In case you’re wondering what’s in a Pink Lady, it’s gin, applejack, grenadine, lemon juice and raw egg white, shaken with ice and strained into a glass. It sounds absolutely disgusting. It sure is pretty, though.

Hello, yellow

This is my favorite lily in all the world. I have no idea what its name is or where I got it, but I’ve had it in the garden for as long as I can remember, and I love it because it keeps cloning itself. What started out as one huge head of yellow lilies has gradually spread through one of my smaller plots to become lots of stalks of pretty yellow lilies. I love the cool, smooth color, like butter or maybe bananas, and the tiny sprinkling of freckles. The stalks are about four feet tall, and they’re stiff and strong; the flowers are waxy, with good substance, and they stick around for a while; they don’t blow away on the first strong wind. This lily’s progeny are now poking up through my son’s red rose bush; the lilies follow hot on the roses’ heels every year.

You have to get right up on this lily to catch the sweet fragrance, but that’s something I never mind doing. I don’t cut these, or mess with them in any way at all, lest I break the magic spell that has them spreading all over the yard!

I say it’s my favorite lily now, but just wait until the next kind blooms!

Bacopa cabana

Does that take you back to the heyday of Barry Manilow? Me too.

Mostly, plant breeders seem to focus on more-and-better versions of familiar species. Every now and then, though, they usher along something completely new. The moment I saw bacopa, I knew I’d never seen it before. And I knew I wanted it, too.

I have two nice hanging planters I keep on the back cabana–okay, back patio. Every year I try to fill them with something different, or at least a different combination. This year, each has a single plant of Proven Winners’ Bacopa ‘Snowstorm’ and a single plant of a deep magenta petunia. It’s a match made—accidentally—in heaven.

I love the bacopa because it doesn’t just trail–it sticks out from the planters. The stems are stiff and wiry and, so far, about a foot long, so the planters are surrounded by halos of white flowers. The graceful softness of the petunias contrasts perfectly. I’d never met bacopa before this summer, but I suspect she and I are going to be long-time friends.

A word to the wise–the Proven Winners website notes that because of those wiry stems, it isn’t easy to tell when bacopa needs water. And if you let it get too dry, your steady stream of white blossoms will be interrupted for a few weeks. So they suggest you plant your container-planted bacopa with a sort of mine canary–a plant that wilts more easily in dry weather. My petunia serves as a warning; when it gets limp, I know it’s time to give the bacopa a drink.

A particularly pretty poppy

If you know me at all, you know I’m poppy-crazy. Maybe it’s the opium? Anyway, I caught this pretty lady late this afternoon, putting on a show for me. That’s larkspur in the foreground and background, and you can just see a white poppy very uncharacteristically behaving shyly there on the right side.

The thunderstorms that have been blowing through don’t seem to be bothering anything in the garden. The poppies lose their petals, but by morning a whole new crop has opened. The Asian lilies are blooming–I do wish I had fewer oranges and reds and more yellows and pinks. I swear I don’t know where the oranges and reds come from; I only ever order the pastel mixtures.

I also have mystery lilies. They have long, fat buds like Orientals, but the damn things are only half a foot off the ground–with the buds fully formed! And of course they’re in the way back of the garden, hidden by a whole lot of other stuff, because what kind of Oriental lily is six inches high? I suspect they’re mutants that I bought in a box or bag at Home Depot in a fit of greed. I hope to heaven they’re not the expensive “Orienpets” I ordered last fall!

What’s in the box?

No, it’s not a Monty Python routine (obscure joke there)–it’s the BIG box of trial-gardening plants that just arrived from Proven Winners. Hooray, Proven Winners! There are lots of my favorite Superbells, in yummy flavors like cherry and grape. There’s a cool-looking daylily, and a coneflower, and two spireas, one with light-green foliage, one with dark. There’s a lovely apricot verbena, and another that’s pink. So why am I sitting here typing instead of outside planting? Because it’s 100 degrees out, for one thing. And for another, I’m hoping for a bit of rain tonight to soften up the ground a bit. But I’m gonna get them in as soon as I can, and will introduce them more formally after I do!

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