Guarding the Phlox

Deer eat phlox and rabbits eat phlox. However, I'm determined to grow my favorite perennial phlox paniculata varieties for summer blooms.

To keep the deer away, I grow all of the garden phlox inside the cottage garden fence. The rabbits fit under the fence. Since planting a few new varieties this year, I've had to spray an organic repellent on the tender young phlox.

The tall garden phlox that I grow:

unknownwarm salmon pink; 2-4 feet; zones 4-8
Robert Pooredeep pink; 2-4 feet; zones 4-8
Davidwhite; 2-4 feet; zones 4-8
Nickyrich purple; 3-4 feet; zones 4-8

Since the salmon pink doesn't work well with the deep pink that I favor, this phlox is mixed with the blue flowers of hardy geranium 'Brookside' and platycoden. At her feet, is heliotropium amplexicaule 'Azure Skies' a perennial ground cover with blue-lavender blooms. This year, some of the blooms appearing from this plant have reverted to a deep pink-purple. I'm going to mark these stems with floral tape so that I can divide and move them this fall.

Phlox 'Robert Poore' is an outstanding performer that bloomed from late June until early autumn last year. The deep lavender blooms work well with purple foliage plants such as heuchera 'Palace Purple'. I also use a mass planting of 'Robert' in front of the stone chimney behind a semi-circle of Indian Hawthorne evergreen shrubs.

This spring, I added phlox 'David' beside the Knock Out® Roses 'Radrazz'. The rabbits found the new, tender perennial and ate the top off. That's when I started spraying the phlox with I MUST GARDEN Rabbit Repellent every two weeks. The white phlox is shorter due to the pruning and has just started to bloom. I have also planted geranium 'Rozanne', annual ageratum and petunias in purple at the feet of the 'David' phlox. The geranium has to be protected from rabbits, too.

Another new addition is phlox 'Nicky' that is a very rich, deep purple. This was an impulse buy, so 'Nicky' is currently being tried out with the yellow border as it advances into the hot summer. However, I think 'Nicky' is a bit too red for the yellow border, so I will transplant the six young plants to the large cottage garden bed that includes purple coneflowers, raspberry monarda, purple agastache, salvia guarantica and salvia greggii.

Phlox grows in full sun and should be watered regularly at the base of the plant and needs good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew. Phlox provides huge blooms for the summer garden and attracts bees and butterflies. With so many colors to choose from, it's a great perennial for the garden!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron

Can You Have Too Many Flowers?

I was planting yet another wheelbarrow full of flowers. I do that a lot. A person passing by drove down the long driveway to chat with me. She jumped out of her car and exclaimed... you have too many flowers!

What went through my head, although I didn't say it out loud was... Really? Isn't that like saying that the sky is too blue?

And so it goes with those of us who dare to garden out front, in the open for all to see!

We live on 4.5 acres of land in a rural setting. Still, we are in a neighborhood and have to abide by covenants. If I could plant it up, the two acre grass meadow out front would also be filled with flowers. But, the grass must remain and it must be kept mowed per our rules.

The south-facing exposure of the front is great for full sun flowers, but during the summer and times of drought, it can be a harsh environment.

We have no backyard space for gardening. Our wooded area of 2.5 acres comes right up to our back deck. We built the house in 2005, so all the garden areas are young. There's still much tweaking to be done.

Sharing land with wildlife is part of the gardening equation. I've learned to garden with the deer. Everything outside our cottage garden fence has to be deer resistant. There's too much garden to use repellents, so I select accordingly.

I keep the birds and butterflies in mind, too. With both a NWF Backyard Habitat and a Monarch Waystation certification, all of the gardens include nectar, host and habitat plantings.

In addition to the front gardens, the butterfly garden wraps around the east side of the house. There is also a waterfall garden with a patio, as well as a fragrance garden with a dining patio, on the east side. Nothing has been done on the west side of the house, other than a few shrubs and perennials to soften the guest parking area. A dry stream garden was also built there to manage the runoff from the meadow and downspouts.

Inside the cottage garden fence, I grow full sun plants that I love, without concern for the deer. However, I've come to prefer the deer resistant perennials of agastache, salvia and monarda. I recently pulled out shrubs and added a mass planting of those right in front of our porch.

Too many flowers? After the spring and early summer rush of weeding, planting and gardening, I start to feel like I have too many flowers for one person to manage. But, as for how it looks... I still have a very long wish list of more flowers for the front gardens!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron for Gardening Gone Wild Design Workshop; June 2009

Echinacea Sundown, Ya Better Take Care

The colorful coneflowers lure us in with their beauty. In the past few years, there have been so many new (and patented) coneflowers appearing in the garden shops.

Two years ago, I planted several of the new designer colors. Echinacea 'Sundown' from the Big Sky™ Series was the only one with a 100 percent survival rate. Last year, there was a problem with gray mold, so I was glad to see all of the plants returned this spring.

I pay close attention to the care of these survivors to make sure there are no problems. This year's display is quite impressive as the clumps have had time to mature. As with my other coneflowers, this one is also quite photogenic!

The orange of 'Sundown' has been an easy color to use in my butterfly garden. The two mass plantings are squeezed between the yellow blooms of a hypericum (St. John's Wort), the green and white foliage of miscanthus 'Cosmopolitan', the blue-purple blooms of a vitex, the orange-red blooms of crocosmia and the pink-orange blooms of agastache 'Salmon & Pink'.

I've not had a problem with rabbits trying to nibble these at all, but I think it is only because they prefer to nibble the nearby rudbeckia! Deer haven't bothered any of my coneflowers this year, but there is always the possibility that they will sample the first buds.

If you are interested in growing this coneflower, it is rated for zones 4-9 and needs well-drained soil and full sun. The bees, butterflies and birds love coneflowers, no matter which color you grow.

I deadhead my coneflowers through the summer for repeat blooms, but the final flowers are left on the stems in the fall to provide seed for the Goldfinches.

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: Home Garden; June 2009

Crocosmia Combinations?

Gardeners often receive a passalong plant from another gardener. Gardeners in zones 6-9 may be given crocosmia. Most likely it will be the red 'Lucifer' that is so commonly grown. There are many other interesting colors of crocosmia in shades of yellow, gold, orange and red that I'd like to try in the future.

In my butterfly garden, there are two clumps of crocosmia. I planted orange crocosmia (which is looking more like the red this year) with orange coneflowers. My idea was to pair up the crocosmia bloom with the deep orange cone of the coneflowers between the blue-purple blooms of the vitex and the green and white foliage of miscanthus 'Cosmopolitan'. This crocosmia is so enveloped that it cannot be reached by the deer.

I also have a large clump of 'Lucifer' that was given to me by a friend. Right now, 'Lucifer' is standing quite alone at the top edge of the butterfly garden. The butterfly garden has to be deer resistant. So far, the deer have walked right past the crocosmia, so I'm ready to think about companions for him.

This is a hot, dry site that receives about eight hours of sun here in my zone 7 garden. It takes a tough plant to grow at the edge of the butterfly garden and meadow. Other plantings up there that are in progress include yarrow, verbena bonariensis and nepeta.

Crocosmia is loved by hummingbirds. Yesterday, I was weeding between the two clumps of crocosmia. A female hummingbird perched on the orange one, while a male hummingbird sipped from 'Lucifer'. I want to keep the hummingbirds and butterflies in mind when I give 'Lucifer' some companions.

I will need to dig up the crocosmia next spring as the corms grow right on top of each other, forcing the plant out of the ground. This is one drawback about this perennial and one reason why 'Lucifer' still has no close companions. I have to decide how much space to give 'Lucifer'. Should I have a huge, mass planting? Or, shall I divide it and place it in several strategic places?

There's a garden inspiration that I've seen in a photo of the summer garden (photo #4) on the Bressingham website. Crocosmia is planted with steel blue sea holly (erynigum) and helenium. I do believe deer will eat both the erynigum and helenium.

I have echinops 'Ritro' in my garden that would work for the blue. However, it is nowhere near blooming right now while the crocosmia is in full bloom. I could substitute rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' for the helenium, but the rabbits eat that. It isn't blooming, yet either. Timing is everything with companions!

So, gardening friends - if you grow crocosmia 'Lucifer' what companions are you using? Even if you don't have this crocosmia, do you have any combination ideas?

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; June 2009

Blooms from Seed Swap Plants

Not only did I get free seeds, but my seed-swapping friends planted the seeds for me! They are so considerate, don't you think? My friends were very careful and chose the best companion plants and color combinations when sowing their seeds.

My seed-swapping friends are birds! All winter long, we fed the birds plenty of seeds. They gave me some interesting flower seeds in return for the food. I don't think some of the seeds came from the bird food that we supplied. I think some of these seeds came from other gardens.

Maybe this yellow lily came all the way from Jamie and Randy's garden! They received a sunflower gift from the birds and THEY grow Oriental lilies in their gardens! Perhaps their Goldfinches brought the lily to my garden?

The birds planted the lily with the deep purple salvia nemorosa 'Marcus' and gold/burgundy blanket flower, creating a nice little grouping in the butterfly garden. There is also a purple coneflower in that mix of free seeds. Since I grow the salvia, blanket flower and coneflower, then I suppose my flowers could have reseeded. However, there's no way that the yellow lily came from my garden.

There are also two perfect yellow, short sunflowers. The plants have very similar flowers with a height around 30 inches. I have no experience with sunflowers, so I have no idea how to find these seeds - other than buying sunflower bird food! I like these so much that I'd love to have a mass planting to brighten up the color in the butterfly garden.

One sunflower showed up in the cottage garden between the color-coordinated pale yellow shasta daisies and yellow coneflowers. The other showed up in the butterfly garden with agastache 'Blue Fortune'.

Not only did I receive some interesting plants in the seed swap, my feathered gardening friends were gracious enough to sow the seeds in good locations!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; June 2009

Captivating Coneflower

My new photogenic garden favorite is echinacea purpurea 'Prairie Splendor'. I used my Canon SX10 IS for all photos.

On the Sunny Side

The most challenging flower bed in my garden has a full sun problem. All day long. From sunrise to sunset, year-round, this narrow strip in the cottage garden is in full sun without relief unless it's cloudy or rainy.

This narrow strip squeezes between a gravel path and the stream in the cottage garden. I wanted a succession of blooms here since this is our "front yard" so to speak. In early spring, the edging of cottage pinks is pale pink. During the rest of the year, the dianthus provides soft edging along the gravel path to keep this area from looking too bare during the winter months.

Achillea 'King Edward (zones 3-8) is a low-growing pale yellow ground hugger that blooms in early spring. The six-inch high yarrow is a filler until the daylilies crank up. Edward doesn't like humidity, so he'll be cut back to hide during the summer.

As summer begins, the yellow and white blooms of a random mix of 'Happy Returns' and 'Joan Senior' daylilies take over. Happy blooms before Joan. Both are reblooming varieties and dependable choices.

I grouped three leucanthemum 'Broadway Lights™' at one end. As those shasta daisy clumps mature and need dividing, they will be interspersed among the daylilies. This shasta starts out a pale yellow and eventually becomes white in full sun, so there can be a mix of subtle color differences on the same plant.

An orphaned echinacea 'Harvest Moon' from a group of non-survivors in the outer gardens is planted with the leucanthemum. This lone survivor is glorious right now. I do hope it continues to flourish. (Note: This plant was labeled 'Harvest Moon' but I've seen photos on the web that show a pale orange flower instead of yellow.)

This spring, I added several groups of gaillardia 'Golden Goblin' here and there for the long, hot days of summer. The plants are small seedlings and haven't yet bloomed. I've tried gaillardia labeled "yellow" before - and, they were burgundy and gold. I hope these will bloom as labeled!

As summer heats up, the flower bed will be cooled down a bit with a mix of purple blooms. Zinnias, angelonia, gaillardia 'Grape Sensation' and phlox 'Nicky' are randomly interspersed between the earlier perennials. These are all new additions this year to fill gaps in the border.

Why did I use yellow as the predominant color? There's another angle to this bed.

Looking across the yellow border and the stream, it is backed by the cottage garden mix of magenta, purple and blue. This backdrop of deeper bloom colors gives the narrow yellow border an illusion of depth.

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: Home Garden; April-June 2009

Sedum Tips: Gardening in a Pinch

How do I keep the fall-blooming sedum in my garden from splaying open?

That was my question on a gardening forum. The answer was, of course, to pinch back the tips anytime in late May through July 4. That wasn't all the advice that I received from Carrie, another North Carolina gardener. Carrie suggested that I take the tips and just stick them in the soil to make new plants.

I posed the question about sedum maintenance as I had not grown the large-leaved sedum long enough to have experience - because the deer eat them! You wouldn't think a sedum would be on the deer menu, but they sure ate the 'Autumn Joy' that I tried a few years ago.

In September 2008, I planted three fall-blooming sedum in the protected and fenced cottage garden. I purchased 'Bekka', 'Green Expectations' and 'Purple Emperor' (top photo) from a local nursery where I could see the bloom colors to make sure they coordinated with my magenta, purple and blue color scheme.

I've used this "pinch and plant" method with delosperma cooperii (ice plant) quite successfully. It works especially well when the soil is wet from rain.

To be able to expand my sedum population with just routine maintenance pinching is great. Sedum can be quite expensive, so this is also an economical way to expand the garden.

Using my smallest hand pruners, I carefully cut off the full tips of the sedum. Most of the tips were 4-5 inches in length. I trimmed off the lower leaves to create enough stalk to plant the tip. After a few weeks of keeping the soil slightly moist, all of the tips are now firmly rooted as new plants.

I had almost too many tips to find space! When I started pruning off the tips, I hadn't stopped to think about how many new plants I would have. Making a quick decision, I planted the tips along the stepping stone and gravel paths in the cottage garden. I tried to mix them in with other edging plants, rather than creating a row of edging. I think the plants will be easy enough to move when I need to do some rearranging.

The "mother" plants look great as the tips are growing back quite nicely. I will have pretty, mounded plants for my fall blooms without any splaying.

With so many free plants, I may even try to grow a few sedum outside the fence again - in deer territory!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: Home Garden; June 2009

Echinacea and Monarda Pairing: Berry Red

Who doesn't like raspberries? The blooms on this monarda really do have that deep berry red color.

I'd like to claim the pairing of monarda 'Rasperry Wine' with purple coneflowers as my original design idea, but I can't. The combination came from a garden forum friend. I'm using a different variety of coneflower. The friend used echinacea purpurea 'Magnus' and I'm using 'Prairie Splendor' in my cottage garden.

This is the first year of bloom for these perennials. Not a bad showing at all!

The monarda is slightly taller (48" instead of 30") than I expected, but we've had a lot of rain so far this year. A White Flower Farm introduction, Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' is suitable for zones 4-9 and can spread rapidly in southern gardens like mine. I planted three in the outer gardens and one in the cottage garden last fall and every single plant is now a mass planting. I think this is a good thing as they are easy to pull up and/or move. I prefer to move them in the fall, but the monarda can be divided and moved in the spring, too.

Echinacea purpurea 'Prairie Splendor' was a Fleuroselect 2007 Gold Medal winner. While it is also supposed to be short (around 22" high), mine are taller after a lot of rain and full sun. This coneflower is rated for zones 3-9. This perennial is supposed to bloom the first year with a long bloom season. I'll provide an update on the bloom time later in the summer.

Our garden inspirations often come from each other's plant combinations. Garden forums and blogs are filled with great design ideas!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: home cottage garden; June 2009

Garden Inspiration: French Blue

The beautiful blue flowering shrub was everywhere I looked in Paris. It was in street plantings as well as public gardens. The flowers were fragrant and the foliage looked evergreen to me. Could the blue shrub be unique to France?

When I came home, I had to track down the information on this plant. The shrub is ceanothus or California Lilac. I'm sure the West Coast gardeners are familiar with this gorgeous shrub as it is a native in Oregon and California. Ceanothus is a new one for me as I've never seen it growing around here in North Carolina. I'm sure I would have noticed!

Ceanothus apparently thrives in poor soil and drought conditions. As with many native species, I think it's one of those plants that resents too much pampering from gardeners.

Ceanothus sounds like an easy plant to grow, but will it grow in a zone 7b garden with deer? It is supposed to be deer resistant and some varieties are rated for USDA zone 7, but most seem to be for zone 8 and hotter.

While ceanothus may never find a home here, I can imagine all the ways I'd like to use it to bring the hard-to-find blue flowers to my garden. The shrub may be a West Coast native, but I'll always think of it as divine French blue!

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: Paris, France; May 2009

Update on the Purple Container Garden

I've gone overboard with container plantings! I was reading about Rob's Plants in Pots in his garden in France and stopped to think about how many pots that I've planted this year (at least 17).

As long as the rain continues to fall on a regular basis, there should be no problem. I had abandoned container gardening in 2008 for fear of another drought like the one in 2007 when I lost most everything planted in pots.

In April, I planted three large containers with a purple color scheme (see story Container Garden: Purple, Purple and More Purple for "before" photos and a list of plants used).

I've been pleased with the progress and the design of the container plantings. The color combination looks great and all the plants are happy and healthy. I made one plant change since the original potting on April 9. I had pink gomphrena planted in the garden, but it was a favorite snack of the rabbits, so I moved those annuals to the containers.

These fragrant, purple petunias have to be pinched back occasionally to keep the plants full, but everything else is carefree. The Persian Shield is holding up to the full sun location, but the other plants in the pots and in the garden, do provide a bit of shelter.

Story, container design and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; June 2009

The Best Bird Feeder for Your Garden

This bird feeder is inexpensive and the squirrels won't raid it. The deer and rabbits won't congregate around it. You don't have to ask someone to refill your bird feeder when you're on vacation.

You may be tired of reading my stories about verbena bonariensis, but the American Goldfinches persuaded me to write about it again. The finches graciously posed for photos to give the verbena that added WOW factor. If you'd rather see butterflies on your verbena, then the finches suggest you take a look at my recent photos of a Monarch butterfly.

I've generously accommodated the wishes of the finches by providing mass plantings of verbena around the garden. In case you need some design ideas, it's an easy purple plant to use. It's everywhere - in the butterfly garden it is mixed with achillea 'Coronation Gold' and nepeta 'Walker's Low'. In the front deer resistant garden, it squeezes in between salvias and agastache.

Verbena bonariensis is a perennial in zones 7a through 10b. Colder areas can save the seeds and treat this verbena as an annual. It grows to around 3-4 feet in height and likes full sun and well-drained soil. I lost a few of my original plants during our cold winter when the temperatures dropped around 10°F, but there were enough seedlings available (it reseeds if you allow it) to carry on.

I have an ample supply of verbena by the front porch in the cottage garden, planted closely with agastache 'Purple Haze', echinacea 'Prairie Splendor', monarda 'Raspberry Wine'. There are also other perennials and annuals, such as poppies (now finished), larkspur, cosmos and zinnias sown in the same garden.

Today, there were four males and four females dining on the same clump of verbena by the porch. Goldfinches nest in June and July, so I can only assume these even pairs are matched up.

Since they are strictly vegetarian, Goldfinches rely upon seeds for their food year-round and need the flowers from our gardens.

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; June 2009

Growing in the Nursery

Every June the deer herd decides to use the grassy opening in our woods as a nursery. This doe gave birth to her fawn while two other does and one other fawn were present. The doe trio has been together every year since we've lived here. Every year, two or three more fawns are born.

During the day, the fawns nestle down in the wooded, grassy space, just behind our screened porch. Do the mothers think that with our presence, it is unlikely that the the fawns will be disturbed while they are away foraging for food? These three female deer are not particularly afraid of us. They don't usually run away when we're outside until we make them leave. Knowing the fawns are being hidden nearby, we just give them their space this time of year.

As the fawns grow stronger, they even venture closer to our house during the day. The Japanese iris blooms are sometimes eaten. A few monarda blooms are missing, but the majority of the clumps have been left alone. Other than that, not many flowers are sampled in the deer resistant garden when the fawns are learning about foraging for food.

Story and photos by Freda Cameron

2009 Return of the Monarch Butterflies

The first Monarch butterfly showed up today. I planted more asclepias incarnata (milkweed) for them yesterday as I had lost quite a few plants during our cold, wet winter. I added the extras just in time! The milkweed serves as a host plant for the Monarch caterpillars. Favorite nectar plants include verbena, buddleia and agastache.

Our garden is a certified Monarch Waystation. For more information about requirements for certification, please visit the website of Monarch Watch.

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; June 6, 2009

Blue Buddleia

The butterfly bushes are starting to bloom again. One of my favorites is a blue buddleia that I planted above spirea, salvia, echinacea and monarda that are raspberry to magenta in bloom. The purple larkspur and Japanese iris are among the other plants in this area of the garden.

But, which blue buddleia? Several years ago, I purchased this buddleia labeled as Adonis Blue™ that is supposed to be a deeper, almost navy blue.

I rely upon the butterfly bushes in the deer resistant garden. Of course, the visiting butterflies and bees rely upon them as well. Hardy in zones 5-9, I cut mine back in late winter here in zone 7 of North Carolina.

Regardless of the true identity of this butterfly bush, I'm very happy with the size as it seems to stay under five feet tall and four feet wide. The color also works well in my garden, so I'm happy with that, too. I'd just like to know the true identity of this buddleia.

Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; June 2009
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