Osmanthus Fragrans (Fragrant Tea Olive)

Osmanthus fragrans is an evergreen shrub for zones 7-9. In spring and again in autumn, this shrub is highly fragrant. For weeks now, our osmanthus have been blooming heavily. We have at least twelve of these shrubs! Needless to say, we have a fondness for this shrub. We planted osmanthus at a previous house as well.

Osmanthus fragrans can grow 10-20 feet high and 8-12 feet wide. With a medium growth rate, it is easy to keep these shrubs pruned, if necessary to fit the space. While they are drought tolerant, they also do well during periods of heavy rain. This is a deer resistant shrub.

These evergreens work well in a mixed border or for privacy screening. The dark green foliage may have reddish orange tints on the tips of new growth. Since osmanthus fragrans works well in full sun or partial shade with acidic soil, it can make a nice backdrop companion for perennial gardens and acid-loving flowering shrubs such as azaleas/rhododendrons, hydrangeas and gardenias.

Dividing Time: Japanese Iris

Autumn is the time to divide clumps of iris ensata (Japanese iris) that have become too large. The best way to know if your irises need dividing is by the bare spot in the middle with blades splaying outward in a circle. This usually needs to be done every 3-5 years. My irises were planted in fall 2006, but they were crowded in gallon pots. My iris are planted in the rain garden where the soil stays moist. I've not had to use supplemental irrigation this summer due to frequent rains. During the drought last year, I sparingly used the drip irrigation (we are on a well).

I will dig out the clumps and separate into individuals. Before dividing, I will have the planting spot ready to keep the roots from drying out. Japanese iris like moist, acid soil, full sun. It is best to plant at least 24" apart to plan ahead for rapid expansion. Plant with the junction of the fans and roots about 1-2" below soil level. I will probably separate the individuals into about 3 fans each.

In my research, I've read that you shouldn't replant Japanese iris in the same spot. I did further research and found suggestions of digging out the soil, using new soil and/or flushing the soil to wash away the root secretions from the previous plants. Given the layout of my garden, I will have to replant some of the individuals in the same place.

When the foliage dies back (yellow) in the fall, I cut it and clear it away to keep thrip eggs from overwintering. Other problems are deer nipping blooms when the irises bloom in late May through mid-June. The damage hasn't been severe enough for me to stop growing Japanese iris.

Gardening Questions from Readers

How do you winter elephant ears (colocasia) in zone 7?

I wait until frost to cut back my colocasia. Last year, I put a mountain of mulch on top of mine and they came back just fine this spring. Some gardeners lift the tubers and store them in a garage or basement over the winter and replant in spring.

Do rabbits eat buddleia leaves?

I haven't had a problem with rabbits (or deer) eating any parts of buddleia. I've not had any problem with diseases on buddleia either.

Can I plant Knock Out® Roses in the fall?

All of my roses were planted in September. I'm in zone 7.

Is tall verbena deer resistant?

So far, the deer have never even tried the verbena bonariensis. I have a mass planting of tall verbena and it reseeds, too. It is a favorite plant. The color works in all other combinations. It is narrow, so it fits in everywhere in a sunny location. It attracts bees and butterflies, and I've even seen hummingbirds go to it for nectar.

Are Dutch iris deer resistant?

I've never had one bloom missing on my Dutch irises. I am confident enough to plant more. I have 100 more bulbs on order to plant in late October. That said, you never know what deer will try if hungry enough.

Do deer eat Spanish bluebells?

I've never had deer eat the Spanish bluebells in my garden. Spanish bluebells are planted in fall and multiply rapidly. The blooms last a long time. After bloom, the foliage is fairly easy to conceal with other perennials.

Do deer eat Lady Banksia rose?

Yes. For some reason, they didn't bother mine this year. I think this is because they found other food. In previous years, they ate every leaf and bloom that they could reach, but did not eat the canes.

What is the best time to see flowers in France?

I've been to the French Riviera in May and Provence in mid-June and saw plenty of flowers. I've also been to Paris in late June where we took a day trip to Versailles and saw flowers in bloom. Hopefully, I'll make it to Giverny one day!

Do deer or rabbits eat agastache?

Never had either critter try the agastache that I grow. No insect problems either. Agastache is one of my favorite plants. It has a long bloom season, too.

How do you divide agastache?

In spring, I take a sharp shovel and cut apart the roots into smaller plants. I suppose you could divide it in fall, but I don't cut mine back until spring.

What month to plant coneflowers?

I have planted coneflowers in April, May, early June, September and October. They need water to get established. No need to fertilize coneflowers (in my experience). Echinacea 'Ruby Star' is my favorite. I recently planted 'Prairie Splendor' because I got a great deal on them at a local store.

Can I cut back coneflowers after blooming?

I deadhead after the 1st bloom to get a 2nd bloom. After the 2nd bloom, I leave the cones as birdseed for the Goldfinch. If I shake the cones and no seeds fall out, then I cut it back.

All company names or products mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights owned by those respective companies.

Lavender Planting and Care

The last few years have been difficult for growing lavender. Last year, we had a long drought, but I didn't lose any lavender. All of my Spanish Lavender put on a spectacular display this past April.

However, this summer has been very wet and I've actually lost a few of my lavender plants. The drought tolerant plants such as lavender, nepeta, stachys and echinops are finally starting to look better again, much to my relief.

I rely upon my email subscription to Sunshine Lavender Farm for reminders about when to prune or plant lavender. This week, I received my fall reminder that NOW is the time to plant new lavender and to trim existing lavender before the first hard frost. For us in zone 7, that means to carry out the task before Halloween. Rather than try to reiterate the instructions, I'm including the links to the instructions on the Sunshine Lavender Farm website:

Instructions for planting
Instructions for pruning

If you've not grown lavender before, the best advice that I can give you is to plant it high and dry, with well-draining soil. It will need water to get established, but it is best to water at the base of the plant to keep water off of the foliage. The Spanish Lavender that I grow blooms in spring, but Hidcote, Munstead and Provence bloom in the summer.

When I prune my lavender, I put the clippings around plants that are of interest to rabbits. The fragrance of lavender deters the little critters for awhile. Lavender is deer resistant, so it is a wonderful plant to use in a full sun garden.

There's another benefit to growing lavender. Here on our property, we have a natural stream in the woods as well as a manmade water feature. We do not have a problem with mosquitoes, houseflies or gnats. Until proven otherwise, we believe that growing lavender helps to repel these insects. We encourage birds, dragonflies, toads and frogs in our garden. These creatures also help with the insect control. We enjoy outdoor living without having to use insect repellants. We sit outside, eat outside, play and garden without any problem.

Given this belief, as well as the beauty and fragrance of lavender, I am going to replace the lavender that I lost to rain this summer. I may even add a few extra plants!

Gardening Challenge: Deer Resistant or NOT?

For the most part, the flower gardens were rarely browsed during the summer. That’s the way I planned the outer gardens. However, even deer will sometimes eat plants that are listed as deer resistant. I have a high tolerance for winter browsing if the plants rebound and perform without damage in the peak bloom period, so I refer to these as “deer tolerant.” If the damage is too severe to enjoy the plant, then I will either move the plant or shovel-prune it to replace it with something that is more deer resistant.

Recently, the deer have had an increased interest in the garden. This is too early for the winter browsing, so I’m attributing most damage to the new fawns frolicking through the garden as though they are pets! The large herd of deer sleeps in the meadow that borders the garden, but I find teeny-tiny hoof prints around the recently damaged plants. Rabbits are becoming more of a problem, so I am now having to research rabbit resistant plants as well.

First the good news: Agastache, amsonia, asclepias, baptisia, buddleia, canna, cestrum, colocasia, crocosmia, delosperma cooperii, echinacea, echinops, gaillardia, gardenia, ginger, hypericum, iris pseudocorus, lavender, monarda, nepeta, perennial heliotrope, perennial verbena, ornamental grasses, salvia, snapdragons, stacys, vitex, and yarrow have not been browsed by deer. The oak leaf hollies, carissa hollies, osmanthus fragrans, osmanthus ‘Goshiki’, nandina alba, clumping bamboo, eucalyptus, crape myrtle, magnolias and willows have not been browsed by deer. Spring blooming bulbs, such as Dutch irises, daffodils and Spanish bluebells, were not browsed.

The Japanese irises were planted in the autumn of 2006. When the irises are in bloom in the spring, there is occasional nipping of blooms, but not buds and not foliage. I love Japanese irises so much and the damage has been minimal enough for me to leave these in the garden. In fact, I need to divide my clumps and will continue to spread these throughout the rain garden and dry streambed.

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ was planted in May this year. At first, only a few blooms were eaten. Lately, the fawns can’t seem to leave these perennials alone. I find the fawns around these perennials all the time, so I’m convicting them of this particular browsing. I’ve decided to transplant these geraniums inside the fenced cottage garden. If it turns out that the damage is being done by rabbits (that can get inside my fence), then I’ll pardon the fawns.

I’ve seen occasional nips in the perennial ageratum, but nothing significant. This may also be rabbit damage.

The spirea shrubs were left alone until recently when the deer started picking off the fading blooms. These are deciduous, so I have no serious concern.

The mass plantings of Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ have been in the butterfly garden since 2007. The rabbits eat these flowers as often as possible, but the deer still munch the blooms occasionally. I’m not going to bring those inside the fence because the colors won’t work there. I’ll leave these plants in the butterfly garden. The Goldfinch also strip the petals while they hang on to feed on the seeds. I’m okay with leaving these rudbeckia for the wildlife to enjoy.

One of my Helianthus angustifolius ‘First Light’ has been constantly pruned by the deer all summer. It is blooming right now, so I’ll leave it in the outer garden. I noticed that the deer tried a few of the blooms, but the majority of the blooms were left alone.

Someone has been eating my heuchera. I don’t know if it’s the deer or the rabbits or both. The heuchera were left alone until recently. In the past, these were munched only during the winter and still flourished beautifully in the summer. I’ll try to find a protected location for these heuchera since they are evergreen in my zone.

Although the deer don’t eat magnolias, the deer will rub antlers on these trees. We recently pruned up the lower limbs on our southern magnolia to prevent further damage.

Heptacodium or Seven Son Shrub was planted in 2007. The deer eat the leaves and the blooms. This small shrub/tree is out front in a prominent position, so I’m going to move it to a less conspicuous place and not worry about the deer.

Loropetalum chinense rubrum is definitely deer food in the winter. I have already moved one of these shrubs inside the fence. I am contemplating moving the remaining one to use in an espalier fashion against my stone chimney as it’s blooming beautifully right now. I’d like to save it from being browsed by the deer this winter.

Much to my surprise, the fawns recently ate all of the blooms off of one of my lantana! I’ve never seen the deer show any interest in lantana until now. It was definitely the fawns due to the way my shrub-sized lantanas were browsed. I guess they heard me complain that these perennials were too large for the location!

As always, your experience with deer may vary from my experience with deer resistant perennials, shrubs, bulbs and annuals.

All company names or products mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights owned by those respective companies.

Excitement over Salvias

Yes, I went plant shopping again! During our visit to Denny Werner’s garden, he said that Plant Delights Nursery sells a Winkler’s gaillardia that is purple. Since Plant Delights Nursery was also having an open house (the nursery is primarily mail order), it was a great opportunity to go shopping. Off we went to buy the gaillardia on Sunday. I came back with that gaillardia, and more. I had my mind set on salvia ‘Purple Majesty’, but a few more salvias found new homes in my garden.

I’m not a salvia collector, but I can’t seem to have enough of this plant in my garden! In fact, trying to comprehend the number of salvia varieties available is simply overwhelming to me. I foresee winter reading to research other salvias that will work well in my North Carolina zone 7 gardens. A great resource website with photos and information is Robin’s Salvias in the United Kingdom.

There are often articles about individual salvia, yet I see little information about the use of salvias in garden design. Salvia is the perfect plant in my full sun garden. The attributes of my favorites include: color and texture, a long bloom season, as well as deer and rabbit resistance. I’m using salvia more and more in my outer gardens. I’ve become so fond of salvia, that I’ve started adding them to my fenced cottage garden, too.

I’ve planted ‘Purple Majesty’ next to the red salvia greggii in the butterfly garden. ‘Purple Majesty’ sage has wide leaves such as found on ‘Black and Blue’, a hummingbird favorite. The deep purple blooms look great beside the red greggii that have been blooming since spring. The ‘Purple Majesty’ grows to about 4 feet, so I’m using it in the middle slope of the garden. Other salvia players in the butterfly garden include ‘Marcus’ and ‘Caradonna’, but I need to move those to more prominent locations. I also use tall verbena and nepeta for more purple in this grouping.

Another favorite greggii is ‘Dark Dancer’ that is already growing in two clumps in my front garden. I bought a third one to create a mass planting. Established companions include crape myrtle ‘White Chocolate’ for the deep burgundy foliage that echoes the deep raspberry bloom color of ‘Dark Dancer’, Echinacea ‘Ruby Star’, echinops ‘Ritro’, spirea ‘Neon Flash’ and a pink muhly grass. I’ve been moving agastache ‘Salmon and Pink’ to this vignette for another long blooming perennial. ‘Dark Dancer’ has narrow leaves and grows to about 3-4 feet high and wide. Right now, mine are in full bloom.

For my cottage garden, I have added the purple salvia greggii ‘Diane’ and the white ‘Texas Wedding’ to a narrow bed that is based on whites, purples and pale yellow blooms in summer. In spring, this bed is dominated by cottage pinks. These are short sages of 18” and 24”, respectively. On the other side of the stream in the cottage garden, I have already been “remodeling” a garden bed where I added salvia guaranitica ‘Black & Blue’ and a deep pink salvia greggii that was simply labeled ‘Autumn Sage’ that I had picked up on a shopping trip earlier this month. The deep blue and the deep pink blooms are a striking combination based on blue tones, especially since the two plants also have different leaf shapes.

Next summer, these autumn planted salvias will be large enough to be fully appreciated and we'll see how well these design combinations work in the garden! Let the excitement continue…

All company names or products mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights owned by those respective companies.

A New Maintenance Plan for Buddleia (Butterfly Bushes)

There is an abundance of buddleia (butterfly bushes) in my gardens. These tough shrubs are not only magnets for butterflies and bees, but they also provide good privacy screening while serving as anchor shrubs in the garden. For full sun, they can take the hottest locations with minimal watering once established. Deer resistance is a requirement in my outer garden, so I make use of buddleia as flowering shrubs that deer won't eat. Zone requirements vary with maintenance of buddleia. My experience is based on my zone.

Here in zone 7, I always cut my buddleia back to about 12-16” in late winter in order to control the size and promote blooms. During the past few summers, I’ve made little effort to deadhead these shrubs during the growing season because the pruning is very tedious. I also have to deal with the bees who aren’t thrilled with my cutting off the shrub while they’re on a nectar meal! I've had them follow the trug full of cuttings all the way to the compost heap!

What I’ve learned this summer came out of using drastic measures to save a group of buddleia that were nearly blown over during a severe thunderstorm. At first, I propped up these leaning shrubs. But soon I realized that to save the buddleia, I was going to have to cut off the top weight. Using my cordless Black & Decker HedgeHog Trimmer, I literally whacked at least 2 feet of shrub off the top and sides of the ‘Royal Red’ buddleias. I then took my small hand pruners and cut back to leaf joints on the most noticeable branches. I did this during the first week of July, which is a really hot time of year! I decided that I had nothing to lose with this extreme deadheading session.

Within two weeks, all three buddleia were blooming beautifully and abundantly! So when another ‘Royal Red’ was recently disturbed by 13” of rain and substantial winds, I used the same severe pruning strategy. So, now in autumn, I have fresh blooms and lush foliage on that buddleia.

Next year, I will continue to cut back the buddleia in late winter. But, I’m also marking my calendar for the last week of June as a reminder to prune the buddleia in my garden with my new “extreme deadheading” regime. Given the results of the latest September deadheading, I will no longer be afraid to cut back buddleia during the growing season. Sometimes we learn new gardening techniques through necessity!

All company names or products mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights owned by those respective companies.

A Sunflower for a Rain or Bog Garden

If you travel the country roads in many eastern states right now, you'll see the native version of helianthus angustifolius, also known as swamp sunflower. The native version can grow quite tall, sometimes reaching about eight feet.

In my perennial gardens, I grow helianthus angustifolius 'First Light' PP#13150 which is a more compact 4'x4' size. Swamp sunflower grows in zones 5-9. If you plant this favorite, you'll be rewarded with generous blooms in September until frost in zone 7. You can leave the seed heads for the birds in winter or cut back if you want a neater garden. Divide with a shovel to create more plants.

This swamp sunflower was one of the first perennials that I planted when we built our home in 2005. It is planted on the east side of the house beside an outdoor water faucet. White butterfly ginger is the companion for this sunflower and both are in bloom right now. The sunflower is literally a mass of yellow daisy-shaped flowers. I divided it for the first time last spring and added a clump to my rain garden where salvia uliginosa (bog sage) keeps it company. I purchased another pot and planted that one in a hotter location that has rich, moist soil.

Helianthus angustifolius is supposed to be deer resistant. The most exposed clump has been nicely pruned and shaped to just under 3 feet in height by the local deer herd. They did such a nice job pinching back the blooms and shaping the plant, that this clump looks better than the lanky clumps that were untouched. It has more blooms, too. Next year, I think I'll follow their example and pinch back the stems on the other clumps of swamp sunflower!

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The Horticulturists' Garden

With the Garden Conservancy’s Open Garden Days in Raleigh, NC, Dennis (Denny) Werner and his wife Georgina opened their home garden to the public. Both Denny and Georgina are horticulturists. Denny is the director of the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University, a professor of horticulture, as well as a plant breeder. His recent work includes the new compact, low-growing buddleias such as ‘Blue Chip’. This is the first in the release of the Lo and Behold™ series of dwarf Buddleia. Every year, the Raulston Arboretum conducts field trials of bedding plants that provide gardeners with information about performance and growing conditions.

My husband and I were greeted enthusiastically by Denny who was ready to answer any questions that we had about his beautiful home garden. The 160 foot long perennial border thrills any gardener, but there are also wonderful garden compositions around the home, the pool and the wooded areas. There are island beds constructed to provide wonderful meandering paths through the backyard gardens. Hardscape and garden art accent the gardens, drawing the eye to creatively designed vignettes. Denny selected the plants for his garden. His passion for gardening is evident in his delight and joy in sharing his plantings with us.

The stars in the woodland edges are different forms of hollies laden with berries in shades of red to orange. The foundation plantings are deep and abundant with small trees, evergreen shrubs, ferns and hostas. Foliage and texture are pleasantly combined to add dimension to the front garden entrance. In fact, these vignettes are so stunning that I prefer to call these "gardens" rather than "foundation plantings".

One perennial that immediately caught my eye was an unusual gaillardia (blanket flower) in one of the backyard garden vignettes. Denny told us about the rare and endangered, Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri, known commonly as Winkler’s Gaillardia, a Texas native. This beautiful, heavy flowering perennial has white petals and a deep purple cone. It grows about knee-high and is a xeric plant. Denny has companions of salvia, nepeta and other drought-tolerant perennials in this area.

On the other side of this grouping are tropical plants, including a gigantic colocasia, introduced from Thailand. (Look for Colocasia gigantea Thailand Giant Strain to the left in the photo of Denny.) Denny uses a ‘Black Magic’ colocasia to add drama and contrast with the giant colocasia. A banana tree provides additional height and elongated leaves to balance the large elephant ears. Red-blooming hibiscus and canna provide additional leaf interest as well as punch from the bloom color.

The swimming pool gardens overflow with billowing bedding plants anchored by specimen ornamental trees and shrubs. A specimen tree under planted with coleus provides a sense of depth and shade while the prolific blooming petunias, zinnias and other annuals soften the patio around the pool. A water feature tucked into a corner of tranquility provides a transition from home to swimming pool. A little wooden picket fence surrounds the swimming pool gardens providing spaces for beautiful borders on both sides.

Whenever I’m in a wonderful garden, it’s difficult to leave. It was a rewarding visit. I came away with some great gardening ideas and met another wonderful gardener and plant expert. I appreciate the work of horticulturists who are dedicated to the research and development of plants for our gardening enjoyment.

Photos and Story by Freda Cameron. All company names or products mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights owned by those respective companies.

Identifying Flower Colors

Lately I've been coveting a color/colour chart from the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK. The chart includes 884 colors to use to correctly identify flowers.

If we used a standard color chart here in the US for flower color identification, then it would make plant shopping so much easier. It would take the guesswork out of trying to decide if a bloom color is going to be a red, red-blue, red-yellow, etc. Creating color combinations in a garden design would be so much easier!

I've noticed only one US online plant retailer using the RHS color charts, but since I don't have a color chart, I can't look up the color myself. The cost of the chart is hefty at 170GBP or $311 USD. A mini-guide is available for around $44 USD, but I still can't justify buying the RHS chart until color identification becomes standard for flower colors. I don't think the plant industry should create a new chart since there is already one in use.

Until then, I will say that my favorite flower color is magenta, as in my roses, azaleas, coneflowers and salvia that are still blooming this morning. That's as close as I can get to telling you the dominant color theme in my garden.

Morning Coffee in the Garden

Come to my house on a pretty morning and we’ll have our coffee on the waterfall patio. Hidden away in a little corner, the east-facing patio takes advantage of the sun, creating an idyllic spot for a long, leisurely morning. Listen to the waterfall and watch as hummingbirds, preparing for their upcoming migration, flit between feeders.

A large calla lily grows among the stones in the waterfall. I have divided it numerous times, and more leaves always sprout up from the roots. In the spring, the calla lily blooms a beautiful pristine white. Right now, it’s a proud stand of lush, graceful leaves. If we watch the water edges, we might see a little frog peering back at us from his rock ledge perch just below the water. The gold creeping jenny softens the edges of the patio while sedges and shrubs drip over the water.

Look out across the stream and you’ll see the butterfly garden where the blooms wane with the arrival of fall. The plumes of ornamental grasses sparkle from the backlighting of the sun. The osmanthus fragrans are in bloom, filling the morning air with a heavy, sweet scent. We might also catch a whiff of sweetness from the butterfly ginger blooming in the fragrance garden below the waterfall.

When we’re ready to stroll through the garden, you can choose the path. Through the gable gate, we can see the azaleas and roses repeating their blooms in the cottage garden. Or, we can start in the fragrance garden on our way to the outer gardens. Whichever path we choose, we’ll walk slowly to savor the morning and enjoy the tranquility found in gardens.

Garden Inspiration: Hoya carnosa (Wax Plant)

I’m going out of my gardening zone today to travel across the Web to the West Coast. Today’s inspiration is grown primarily as an indoor plant.

We’ll take a peek at a gorgeous plant grown by my dear friend Betsy. Not only is Betsy extremely talented with textile art , but she is also an avid gardener and photographer.

Betsy gardens outside and also grows indoor plants, among them the Hoya carnosa (also called wax plant or shooting star). Betsy says “The blossom is hard and waxy and gives off a powerfully sweet intense smell. I had to stop sewing one night when I had to close the windows because it was cold out and the fragrance just kept getting stronger and stronger.”

In some climates, the Hoya can be grown outdoors (zones 9b-11) in a hanging basket or potted with stakes. The Hoya is actually a tropical vine that likes indirect, bright light. It can reach a height of 15 feet! I did a little research and read about folks inheriting Hoya from their mothers or grandmothers. Some have been growing Hoya for over 40 years! This is obviously an incredible pass-along plant. Propagation of Hoya is by stem or leaf bud cuttings, and air layering. Hoya must be kept out of bright sunlight. There are many colors and I found some YouTube videos showing the time lapse progression to bloom.

Another interesting fact is that Hoya belongs to the milkweed (asclepiadaceae) family. The umbellate clusters of blooms do resemble the more common asclepias that I grow as hosts for Monarch butterflies. There are over 200 different species and some cultivars. Most commonly known is this Hoya carnosa, but collectors have many other species.

Now that we’re all tempted by this sensational Hoya, I did some Web surfing and found very few sources for purchasing these plants online. I suppose this a case of depends on who you know!

All company names or products mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights owned by those respective companies.

Mislabeled Plants: Just Tell Me the Truth

Has this ever happened to you?

You buy perennials on your "wish list" with a vision of specific color combinations. You wait until the spring or summer in anxious anticipation to see the results of your carefully planned design. The plants begin blooming. But wait...that gaillardia is supposed to be yellow, not burgundy and gold! That lantana looks like 'Ham and Eggs'!

It's not my imagination. My gardening friend also bought the gaillardias and saved the plant label. I planted my "yellow" gaillardia beside my nepeta. This was fortunate as the nepeta can handle this burgundy/gold color.

I'm no gaillardia expert. These are the first that I've ever owned. Last year, I hated them. This year, I hate to love them, but I do. They have bloomed continuously all summer long on pure neglect and full sun. I'm starting to give gaillardias more credit. Only, I need to know what color I'm really buying next time.

I lost my lantana label, but it wasn't 'Ham and Eggs'. I'm just guessing at 'Ham and Eggs' based on the pink and yellow bi-color blooms. However, the habit is not 2 feet high as would be expected with that particular lantana.

My lantana is more like 5 feet high and 8 feet across...or, so it seems. I've not actually gone out there and measured it. I tried in vain to dig it up and move it after it overwhelmed the flower bed. It won. Actually, there are three of those. I successfully moved one to the outer garden, but the other two are in beds flanking the walkway...and I have to cut our way through to be able to pass without being attacked by all the disturbed honeybees, bumble bees and carpenter bees that flock to these plants. Another continuous blooming perennial that survives on neglect and full sun. Even the heavy rains all summer haven't damaged these lantana.

If I'm to learn a lesson from this, it is to not buy seedlings in 2 inch pots. However, I like to buy in quantities and I don't want to have to wait until a plant is large to see it in bloom before purchasing.

So, my gardening friends, please tell me...

UPDATE: I have received some wonderful suggestions. Gaillardia 'Mandarin' and Lantana 'Athens Rose'

Garden Inspiration: Who Says Fall has to be Red and Gold?

Through the Web, we are able to share and see what’s going on in gardens around the world and gather ideas for designs. Today’s garden inspiration comes from Brenda in USDA Zone 5, western New York. Brenda describes herself as a compulsive gardener. Her alias is “gottagarden” on the GardenWeb forums where many gardeners are inspired by Brenda’s talent for designing gorgeous gardens.

Brenda provided the following description and photograph of one of her favorite vignettes:

If you are a purple lover, like I am, then you want to extend the use of this pleasing color in all gardening seasons, even fall. Here is the view from my kitchen window in early September. These colors are beautiful from mid August through October, providing a long-lasting display. Forming the background are purple butterfly bushes and the variegated ornamental grass, miscanthus. Butterfly bushes, or buddleia, grow in zones 5-9 and may sometimes die back in winter in the colder regions, only to emerge again in spring. The bushes and grasses add height and structure, even in winter when the leaves and blossoms are long gone. Dahlia bulbs are scattered throughout this garden to add bursts of color in a coordinating shade of purple. Sedum 'Frosty Morn' has variegated leaves and almost white flower heads that add splashes of light to the foreground all summer long, echoing the sparkles of white from the tall miscanthus. This unusual white-flowering sedum is hardy in zones 3-9. Finally, the verbena bonariensis provides a tall and airy veil. This verbena is a heavily reseeding annual that fills in all the gaps and creates waves of violet to tie the vignette together.

All company names or products mentioned are registered trademarks/copyrights owned by those respective companies or persons.

Wildlife: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar: Good guy. I planted lots of bronze fennel last year for the Black Swallowtail caterpillars. Bronze fennel is a host plant for Black Swallowtail Butterflies. I counted thirty caterpillars the other morning…great butterflies to come.

Fawn: Oh so cute, but such bad behavior. The fawns have been munching the “deer resistant plants” such as geranium ‘Rozanne’, rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and helianthus angustifolius. We’ve had one set of twins and two singles born in our woods. The fawns come out any time of the day. They watch us come and go in the garden and meadow.

Bullfrog: This ugly fellow is the size of a Chihuahua! I’d like to say he’s a good guy, but unfortunately these bullfrogs are invading the world. They will eat anything that will fit in their mouths, including native frog species, birds, butterflies and each other. He lives in our water feature and I worry so much about him taking down a hummingbird. I’ve seen him make huge leaps straight up out of the water and over a plant to catch a butterfly.

What's in your garden?

Baking with Culinary Lavender: Scones

On a Saturday or Sunday morning in the fall, bake a batch of scones. Have your tea and coffee in the garden to enjoy the pleasant weather.

I adapted a tried-and-true scone recipe to create these lavender scones. The original recipe for cranberry scones came from my best friend. I just left out the cranberries and used the ground culinary lavender when mixing the dry ingredients. For me, there's nothing more therapeutic and enjoyable than baking scones.

I use culinary lavender (finely ground) from Sunshine Lavender Farm in Hillsborough, NC . If you grow Provence Lavender, you can dry it and grind it to make culinary lavender.

It is difficult to describe the flavor of lavender. It's refreshing, but not minty. It tastes just like you'd think lavender will taste from that aromatic fragrance. A local ice cream shop will occasionally make vanilla and chocolate lavender ice cream with this same lavender. I've also had delicious cupcakes made with lavender. Go ahead...try baking with lavender!

Lavender Scones

Makes 1 dozen scones.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (substitute whole wheat if desired)
1/2 cup sugar (I use turbinado sugar instead of refined white)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons culinary lavender
3/4 teaspoon salt (I use Kosher or sea salt)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon grated orange zest (I use a microplane)
1 cup buttermilk (lowfat is okay)

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lavender in a large bowl.

Add butter and beat with an electric mixer (or pastry blender) until well blended.

Stir in zest.

Pour in buttermilk and mix until blended.

Gather dough into a ball and divide in half (I use a knife).

On lightly floured surface, roll each half into a circle. I make mine thick so that I get 6 scones (pie shaped wedges) out of each half. I use parchment paper to reduce the amount of flour needed. I also tend to hand shape, rather than roll the circle. I cut the wedges with a sharp knife. I gently tap the 3 sides of the scones on the parchment to make smooth edges.

Place scones on lightly greased cookie sheet.

Bake in preheated 400 F degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden.

Let cool.

Variation: you can omit the lavender and use dried or fresh cranberries or blueberries. You can use cinnamon instead of lavender if you want that flavor. I don't glaze my scones, but you can do that if you like.

Serving suggestion: Serve with preserves or lemon curd. I prefer orange marmalade with champagne (from Scotland) if I don't have any homemade on hand.

Left-overs: If you have left-overs (not likely) you can wrap a scone in a slightly damp paper towel and microwave for 15 seconds if you like your scones warmed up.

Azaleas for Repeat Blooms

Appropriately named Encore® Azalea , I’ve been pleased with the repeat performance of spring and fall blooms. Azaleas are interesting to the local deer herd, so it is necessary to keep these flowering shrubs inside the fenced cottage garden. These azaleas do well when planted in the fall or winter, giving the roots time to establish before the spring blooms.

I’ve found that the Encore Azaleas can take more sun than some of the other varieties that I’ve grown at previous houses. I have three tree-form (Autumn Amethyst™ and Autumn Twist™) planted along the garage wall in the cottage garden. I’ve found that Twist (middle azalea) doesn’t look as striped as expected. This little area along the wall is a micro-climate protected from the west by the garage and shaded in the afternoons.

I grow golden creeping jenny at the feet of these azaleas which helps retain moisture and prevent weeds. While creeping jenny hasn’t been invasive in my garden, it is aggressive and will rapidly fill a garden bed. Check to see whether jenny is considered invasive in your area before planting it. Other companions to these azaleas are heuchera ‘Purple Palace’ and a few volunteers that nature planted including a phlox ‘Robert Poore’ and purple petunias. I like the phlox so much that I intend to transplant more seedlings to the area next spring.

On the other side of the cottage garden, I have three more Encore Azaleas planted beneath the edges of a Kwansan cherry tree. I have geranium ‘Brookside’, balloon flowers, garden phlox and creeping perennial heliotrope as companions in that area.

My tree-form azaleas were planted two years ago and the shrub-size were planted three years ago. The blooms are most bountiful in April. There are a few occasional blooms in the summer if there is no drought. In the first weeks of September, the azaleas put on another good show in the garden.

The hardiness zones for Encore® Azalea include 7-10. Most are listed as 3x3 to 4x4 in size, but my tree-form specimens will be taller and hopefully fill up the blank wall. Azaleas prefer slightly acidic soil, so you may want to get a soil test if you’ve not grown azaleas before. These azaleas are rhododendron hybrids. Best of all, these evergreen azaleas provide year round interest.

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Great Grasses for the Garden

For spectacular height in your garden, try an ornamental grass such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Cosmopolitan’. Throughout the summer, the wide variegated green and white grass blades provide a wonderful background companion for perennials with rich bloom colors in orange, purple, and deep blue or bright red. I use Echinacea ‘Sundown’, verbena ‘Homestead Purple’ and agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ around my Cosmopolitan. The color doesn't fade and the 'Cosmopolitan' never looks tired in the heat. Nor does it fall over in the rain.

I planted a three gallon 'Cosmopolitan' in the spring 2007. Right now, the tassels have taken this ornamental grass to a lofty 7’h x 3’w that will remain interesting through the winter. I have this grass planted on the east side of the house in the butterfly garden. It is especially beautiful backlight with the morning sun on a frosty or snowy morning. This grass doesn’t fall over and the fountain shape is beautiful. This grass works for zones 6-9.

Maintenance is easy. I cut ornamental grasses back in late winter or early spring about the same time that I cut back buddleia and trim lavender. It’s an easy keeper and I’ve had no problems with seedlings appearing around this grass. I can’t say the same for my Eragrostis (blue love grass), a heavy seeding ornamental grass that I am now in the process of eradicating from my garden. I love the soft, billowy plumes of my Cortaderia selloana (pampas grass), but those are exiled to the meadow so that I’m not injured by the sharp blades while working in my perennial gardens.

If you don’t want a grass as tall as Miscanthus ‘Cosmopolitan’, then consider Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Zebra’. 'Little Zebra' is a few feet shorter with yellow/green banded foliage in the same beautiful fountain shape. While I use it for the foliage, the yellow banding is soft enough to compliment perennials in soft shades of yellow, violet or blue. All summer long, 'Little Zebra' provides lush green fountain-shaped foliage along my garden path. In the fall, it shoots up straight bronze plumes that create a see-through veil of interest in the garden.

Whichever miscanthus you choose, you can't miss with these two ornamental grasses. With interest in summer, fall and winter, these grasses are worth having in the garden. If I had the space, I would try more of the miscanthus grasses such as 'Little Kitten' and 'Morning Light'. When there are no blooms, try plumes!


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