Monarch Cats to Butterflies

Metamorphosis is a fascinating process. From an egg to a caterpillar to a chrysalis to a butterfly, the life cycle happens quickly.

If you live in the migration path of the Monarch butterflies, you have an opportunity to provide a habitat so that you can observe this amazing miracle of nature.

Each day, I check the different patches of milkweed in my garden to see if more eggs have hatched. So far this August, there are seven Monarch caterpillars (aka "cats") in my garden. All are on the pink swamp milkweed, asclepias incarnata. I also have white swamp milkweed as well as the orange milkweed, asclepias tuberosa, to serve as host plants.

After the caterpillars eat the foliage on the milkweed plants, they move to another plant nearby as the chrysalis formation begins. The top photo shows a cat that has moved from the milkweed to a purple fountain grass. The grass is growing in a container about ten feet away from the group of milkweed.

Because the milkweed is poisonous, this serves to protect the cats (and butterflies) from being eaten by birds. If a bird takes a bite of a Monarch, it will make them sick and they learn to recognize the Monarch butterfly. The bright orange and black coloring of the Monarch butterfly serves as a warning to the predators. This coloring is a symbol for poison!

Photos and words by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; August 2009

Growing from Seeds: Asclepias Incarnata

The seeds of asclepias incarnata, as well as asclepias tuberosa, will self-sow in the garden if the pods are left on the plants. In other words, you can let Mother Nature sow more milkweed plants. However, because the milkweeds are late to emerge in the spring, it is easy to disturb or destroy the new plants while working in the garden. Even mature milkweed plant locations need to be marked. Here in my zone 7 garden, the milkweeds emerge in June.

Asclepias incarnata, or swamp milkweed is best sited in moist, even boggy, soil locations.

Any plant that self-sows in your garden is a good candidate for fall sowing. For example, I collected the seeds of echinacea 'Prairie Splendor' and purchased seeds of echinacea 'Ruby Star'. I sowed the seeds in October last year while sowing larkspur, poppies and planting allium bulbs. By late spring, the seedlings were showing in the garden. In the last week, a few of the plants started blooming.

There are some disadvantages to sowing seeds in the fall. If you mulch or add compost to your garden, then the seeds will be covered over with a layer of organic matter, making it difficult to germinate. Areas of bare garden soil are needed for direct sowing. Birds may also forage and pick seeds sown in the garden, especially the seeds of flowers that they love, such as echinacea. Some weed suppressors, such as corn gluten, will not only suppress weed seed germination, but also the good seed germination!

Asclepias incarnata (like other milkweeds) is poisonous, so always handle the plants and seeds with care. The flat seeds barely need to be covered with soil, whether sowing in the garden, winter sowing or starting indoors. Asclepias incarnata seeds require refrigeration if started indoors.

Great directions for starting milkweed seeds are available from Monarch Watch. If you purchase any seeds, the packets should always come with directions for proper sowing.

Since asclepias incarnata seeds need cold stratification, some gardeners refrigerate the sown seeds in the cell packs in a refrigerator. I don't have an extra refrigerator for starting seeds after sown in the soil, so I will fall sow my seeds.

Those who like to winter sow, can start their seeds in containers outside in late winter. Seeds can also be placed between moist paper towels inside a ziplock bag to be refrigerated before sowing out in the spring after danger of frost has passed.

Perennials sown from seeds may take longer, sometimes 2 years, to bloom compared to large size plants that are purchased in pots from a nursery. Sow your seeds, mark the spot and be patient! Pink swamp milkweed is a beautiful perennial that is beneficial to bees and Monarch butterflies.

Photos and words by Freda Cameron

Collecting Seeds: Asclepias Incarnata

Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed, is a great perennial wildflower for full sun gardens in zones 3-9.

While swamp milkweed can handle boggy soils, it can grow in regular garden soil with occasional watering. Growing to around three feet tall, it is a good plant for middle of a border.

The soft pink to mauve blooms are bee and butterfly magnets. Don't be alarmed if you see caterpillars munching the leaves as this is a host plant for the amazing Monarch butterflies!

Here are the steps for collecting the seeds from asclepias incarnata. The same seed collection method will work with asclepias tuberosa.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron

Free to See in Washington, DC

Museums, monuments, gardens and government buildings. As a tourist destination, Washington, DC opens the treasures of our country for all to see - for free!

No matter where you're from, you will pay no admission to visit the Smithsonian Museums, the United States Capitol building, the Library of Congress, the US Botanic Garden and other wonderful places.

The Capitol Building is a "must-see" for anyone visiting Washington. The guided free tour takes you into the halls and corridors that you cannot visit on your own. Outside of the tour, the exhibit that describes the Legislative Branch is well done and interesting. A cafe on the ground floor provides a variety of choices from grilled burgers and hotdogs to a large salad bar, sandwiches, and entrees with side dishes.

When you've finished your visit in the Capitol Building, you can take the tunnel connecting the building to the Library of Congress. When it comes to architecture, I love the inside of the Library of Congress. Marble, mosaics, art and artifacts give this building a palatial feel while touring the exhibits or using the library (with a pre-arranged visitor card). The interior is dramatic! I could spend hours studying the intricate details of the interior architecture. But, there are so many more places to visit.

The Smithsonian Museums line the National Mall on both sides. Admission to the museums is free, but special exhibits, such as IMAX theatre experiences, do charge a fee.

Children will love the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum. The Natural History Museum has a live butterfly exhibit (admission fee), as well as exhibits on mammals and ocean life. Gems, such as The Hope Diamond, are also on display. A cafe on the ground floor has many healthy and tasty choices for lunch. The sandwiches, such as turkey on a whole grain baguette, is large enough for two people to share.

The Air and Space Museum is filled with aviation and space fun! Lindberg's Spirt of St. Louis airplane is there as well as space capsules, early airplanes and loads of information. The IMAX and planetarium shows and the flight simulators may be enjoyed for a fee.

The United States Botanic Garden and Conservatory are also along the National Mall, near the Capitol. For gardeners especially, hours can be spent wandering through the paths of the native gardens, the butterfly habitat, the rose garden and the many sections of the conservatory. The Conservatory houses rare and exotic plants, orchids and jungle plants.

White House Tours require a six month reservation that must be arranged through a member of Congress. However, you can walk outside the fence at the White House that includes a view of the vegetable garden and bee hive on the lawn. President Obama and family were supposed to be leaving for a vacation to Martha's Vineyard. However, I snapped a zoomed photo (not shown here) of a dog crate being carried into the White House! Could it be that Bo, the First Dog, was inside that crate?

There is so much to see and so much to do. I could easily spend a week in Washington, but I was in DC for only two days as I was also taking in the Old Town of Alexandria, Virginia and George Washington's Mount Vernon.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: Washington, DC; August 2009

Fluff and Stuff... Annuals in the Garden

Soft textures add an interesting dimension in the garden. As autumn approaches, late perennial grasses such as miscanthus and muhlenbergia begin to form tassels of fluff that are stunning when backlit by sunshine. If you don't have space to grow the perennial grasses, there are a few annuals that can be stuffed into small spaces.

Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' (Purple fountain grass) is an annual in cold zones, but is a perennial in warmer zones 9-11. I use this grass as the main attraction in containers, but also squeeze these into tight spaces in the garden. The fountains of fluff and the deep purple and bronze foliage colors are stunning right now. I've not tried to sow this grass from seeds. I purchased small plants in four inch pots in early spring. The grasses are now around four feet in height.

Silver foliage and pink and purple blooms are great companion colors for purple fountain grass. In containers, I use purple petunias, pink gomphrena, and lavender lantana for blooms. In the garden, I've planted the grass among blue, pink or magenta blooms of salvia and agastache varieties.

Not a grass, but in the form of an annual bloom, celosia 'Flamingo Feather' attracts a lot of attention in my cottage garden. I sowed the seeds directly in the ground in spring. In fact, I had forgotten about them until a few weeks ago when the seedlings suddenly appeared, grew to 30 inches and bloomed! The celosia are soft to the touch, but remain upright among other tall companions of zinnias, agastache and salvias.

Last year, I purchased a few of these celosia in container plantings. I decided to sow them from seeds this year and am happy with the success rate. If you start the celosia seeds indoors, you will have earlier blooms. In my garden, I am happy with the fresh blooms for late summer so that they remain pretty until frost.

The soft, white lace blooms of amni visagna also appeared quite suddenly in the last few weeks. Again, if you like to start seeds indoors or "winter sow" you will have blooms sooner than later. Although I have not tried, the laceflower may be a good candidate to direct sow in the ground in autumn at the same time as the seeds of larkspur and poppies.

The laceflower can be mistaken for the wild Queen Anne's Lace, but it is a completely different plant. The variety that I have is supposed to be pale green, to white. So far, the blooms on my plants are white. However, they are large and bloom on strong, upright stems. I have planted these with red salvia greggii and salvia guaranitica 'Black & Blue' for a red, white and bloom color scheme. I think I like these together!

Adding a variety of annuals to the garden has been rewarding as they fill gaps among perennials while providing new textures and fresh color throughout the growing season.

Photos and words by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; August 2009

Rain Gardening in the South

book review by Freda Cameron

Where was this wonderful book when I built my rain garden two years ago? I had to scour the Web and bookstores looking for information on how to build a rain garden. There would be no crispy plants in my rain garden right now if I could have read this book first!

Rain Gardening in the South: Ecologically Designed Gardens for Drought, Deluge, and Everything in Between was written by Helen Kraus and Anne Spafford.

As I read this book, I kept having those "ah-ha" moments as the authors helped me understand what I did wrong, and right, in building my rain garden.

Kraus and Spafford explain everything from the importance of rain gardens to the fun of designing the garden and plant selections. The authors walk you through the process of understanding how water runoff flows across your property to digging out the site for your rain garden.

The book is filled with great illustrations and an abundance of photos that make it so easy to understand the concepts. There are many color design plans, such as this one by Anne Spafford, to provide inspiration for creating a beautiful rain garden. Advice is given on basic design principles that can be used for other gardens as well.

Pages and pages of ground covers, perennials, vines and shrubs are listed by sun or shade categories. These tables also provide the important details about each plant - such as size, habit, foliage and useful notes.

Finally, there was a chapter written just for me. Troubleshooting! The problem? Drainage too fast; established plants dying. Kraus and Spafford walk through the possible problems and offer solutions. And, I know they are right!

No matter where you live, Rain Gardening in the South is a great resource. Rain gardens are not only good for the environment, but solve runoff and erosion problems while being beautiful displays of flowers and foliage.

About the book authors:

Helen Kraus holds BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in Horticultural Science from North Carolina State University, where she currently teaches.

Anne Spafford holds a BS degree in Ornamental Horticulture and an MLA in Landscape Architecture from the University of Illinois. She teaches in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at North Carolina State University.

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Flowering Gingers in the Garden

The aviary at the NC Zoo™ in Asheboro, North Carolina is filled with tropical plants. Peering through the foliage looking for colorful birds, I spotted a tall, red torch ginger. A tropical plant, Etlingera elatior, is suitable for zones 10b and 11, not my zone 7. Although I can't grow the gorgeous torch ginger in my garden, I do have a ginger that never disappoints.

My white butterfly ginger is blooming early this year. During these late summer evenings, the sweet fragrance hangs in the air. During the day, you have to get close to the bloom to inhale the fragrance. This tall (4-6 feet) ginger has been divided a few times and is now in different locations around the garden. The mother plant, located in the fragrance garden on the east side of the house, is always the first one to bloom.

Hedychium coronarium is a tropical plant or tender perennial for zones 8a through 11. I'm pushing the zone by letting this ginger overwinter outside in zone 7b. The original ginger is up against the house, receiving morning sun and afternoon shade. After the frosts turn it to mush, I cut it back. The ginger gets covered with fallen tree leaves in the winter. In colder zones, it can be lifted and stored over the winter like other tender perennials such as colocasia, brugmansia or dahlias.

Expanding rapidly, you only need an eight inch root section to start your own clump of white butterfly ginger. Within a year, you'll have a mass planting and will start dividing it to give to all of your gardening friends. In spring, when the green shoots first emerge, you can take a sharp shovel or knife to cut off sections of the ginger.

The deer have never attempted to eat the foliage or the blooms. I now have a large clump out front at the top of the dry stream where the ginger is easily reached by the deer. The deer have no fear of crossing our patio to nibble on impatiens out of my containers, but they haven't tried the white ginger during their nightly food raids.

The late summer blooms are perfectly white and continue until frost. The foliage is a rich green and beautiful, so it's easy to use in a part shade, perennial border. For gardeners interested in a "moon garden" of white flowers and fragrance, this is a perfect perennial.

Photos and words by Freda Cameron; August 2009

Monarch Butterflies Arrive in Chapel Hill

Two Monarch Butterflies arrived in my Chapel Hill, North Carolina garden today. If you are tracking the Monarchs, Chapel Hill is at latitude 35°55'N and longitude 079°06'W.

The Monarchs found all of the asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) as well as the asclepias tuberosa. The milkweed doesn't have to be in bloom when the Monarchs arrive as it is the leaves that will host the Monarch caterpillars. The female Monarch will lay eggs on the leaves and it will take a month for the eggs to become adult butterflies.

Today's favorite nectar food appeared to be verbena bonariensis, orange cosmos and marigolds grown from seeds that I randomly sowed throughout the butterfly garden this spring. The Monarchs also visited the coreopsis, buddleia, and agastache.

The plants shown in the photos are, from top to bottom, cosmos, marigolds and milkweed. The cosmos and marigold seeds are readily available from many local and online sources.

Milkweed is more difficult to find unless you have a local retail nursery that supplies butterfly garden plants. However, milkweed is often available from online plant nurseries. For moist soil areas in bright sun, asclepias incarnata, is a tall, beautiful plant. All milkweed is slow to emerge in the spring, so mark the location so that you don't lose track of the plants. Milkweed returns in early June here in my zone 7b garden.

For more information on Monarchs and the fascinating migration, please look at the Monarch Watch website.

Another wonderful resource, especially for children's classroom participation is the Journey North:Monarch Butterfly Migration website.

Photos and words by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden, Chapel Hill, NC; August 13, 2009

Spaced Out. Me, or the Plants?

There are times when I group plants too close together on purpose. I've learned this through the experience of what can happen to new plants within the realms of a very large garden. There are also factors like deer, rabbits, hot sun, humidity, drought and overwintering to consider. Although it takes a little longer to figure out the best, and prettiest, plants for my garden, I think I will save money and disappointment in the long run.

Will Bambi Like the New Plant?

I like to place new "deer resistant" plants at the edge of the outer gardens where the deer can't help but stumble over the newcomers. If the deer are going to eat a plant, I want to know as soon as possible so that I can get over it and get on with my life.

Pass me a tissue because I'm crying and trying to get over a recent loss. The deer munched a gorgeous rose of sharon down to a skeleton. I enjoyed the flowers and rich foliage for a month. The fantastic blooms were huge and I suppose the deer thought that the blooms were blue plate specials delivered by a local diner! This dashed my dreams, but I'm glad that I purchased only one to test with my deer herd.

Is it the Right Plant for My Garden?

I grow plants in a small space to test for the growing conditions as well as the beauty and care of the plant. This way, I can make up mind on whether or not I like a plant before I redesign a section of the garden around it.

If the newcomers are grouped together in one small section, then I don't have to run all over the garden to check on them. This is a time saver and great for lazy and forgetful gardeners like me.

Agastache is among my favorite, reliably deer resistant perennials. I'm trying out several new varieties this year, so I grouped them together in a small section at the top edge of my outer gardens. I want to see how long each variety blooms, which require deadheading or if the bloom color fades quickly.

This is also a great way to try out companion plantings. While my test area is for determining which agastache will be planted in big drifts in the garden next year, I am actually pretty pleased by grouping several agastache varieties together to make a mixed drift.

Lost in Place or Not Made in the Shade?

Perennials in my garden seem to exceed the advertised size and mature quickly in my gardens with the good soil and long days of light.

If planted a little two-inch pot perennial with the older residents, the poor thing would not only be shaded out, but lost in place. I sometimes squeeze a new plant along a sunny edge of the garden where I won't have to crawl through the garden on my knees with a magnifying glass to check on the progress of the new addition. I can transplant it later to a more permanent location.

I recently stumbled over a poor little coreopsis that I thought had not survived. Turns out, I just forgot where it was located for the last two years! I may have to retract some unkind remarks about that coreopsis, but I can't even remember the name of the particular variety.

I may start my seeds along the edges next year as I cannot find several hundred cleome! Perhaps they couldn't germinate in the shade among the hoards of tall perennials? The seeds may just be on vacation and wait until I've sown another hundred seeds next spring and then the cleome will launch a massive takeover of my garden.

Measure Twice to Plant Once?

As for correct spacing, I thought I had spaced my plants with plenty of room to grow when I created a new area in the cottage garden in September 2008. Well, I don't know exactly why everything is now super sized and therefore, too crowded! The perennials look like mature plants that have overgrown their space. All of the annual seeds germinated. The plants either exceeded their advertised space requirements or I was having too much fun and not paying attention to details while digging the holes.

It's not a terrible problem, but it means that I'm going to have to do the plant shuffle again soon... this time, the plants will be spaced out, but not me.

Photos and words by Freda Cameron

Females Work on this "Honey-Do List"

Did you know that the females do ALL of the work in the honey bee world? Between 1-3 days of age, they clean the hive and regulate the temperature. Some of the honey bees flap their wings at the entrance to the hive to create air conditioning!

The list of tasks increases with each day. By the time they are 21 days of age, the female honey bees have learned to fly and forage for food by collecting pollen and nectar from flowers.

There are even more fascinating facts, flower gardens and fun for everyone at the new Honey Bee Garden exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro. The zoo is located in the NC Piedmont, a central and convenient location to access from all areas of the state.

The exhibit is a pleasant place to linger at the NC Zoo™. There are winding garden paths with comfortable benches as well as a huge, bronze honey bee sculpture for children to climb while parents enjoy the photo opportunities.

Inside the "Honey Bee Barn" a live hive can be viewed through glass. Bees enter and exit the hive through a glass tube from the outside. The hive buzzes with activity and the honeycombs are visible, too.

Of course, the gardens encourage visitors to plant flowers for the bees while the videos, posters, and signs explain the importance of pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, to the world's food supply. The educational displays are easy for children to understand while being interesting enough for adults to learn a lot about honey bees, too.

The importance of wildflowers, trees and even weeds in bloom is expressed along the pathway signs through the gardens.

Gardeners, you will appreciate this advice for your honey-do list - let weeds bloom first, then pull before they set seed - so that the honey bees have time to collect pollen from the weed blooms!

Photos and story by Freda Cameron; Location: NC Zoo™, Asheboro, NC; August 2009

Garden Inspiration: Black Flowers

Black flowers? Really, why not? I was curious about the varieties of black blooms as well as black foliage plants that are potential candidates for gardeners after seeing the interesting black and white flower gardens in Giverny, France.

All it took was a bit of web surfing to come up with a few example candidates to add a touch of black to the garden. There are many more seeds, bulbs and perennials available from a variety of sources. All you need is your imagination to add the intrigue of black to your gardens.

First up, unique "jewels" in the hellebore collection from Terra Nova Nurseries captured my attention.

The black Helleborus Winter Jewels™ Onyx Odyssey and the white Sparkling Diamond could be used for a beautiful late winter to early spring display.

Cottage gardeners may be interested in growing black hollyhocks, angel's trumpet, poppies or bachelor's buttons. While traditional cottage gardens are known for color, I can see using a dash of black with blue or white. Some of the gardeners who are fond of a "red garden bed" may find a touch of black fits well into that color scheme, especially when using red and black poppies.

Hollyhock 'Black Beauty'
Black Peony Poppy Seeds
Black Ball Bachelor's Button Seeds

Bearded irises are on my list of plants to add to my garden. After seeing photos of stunning black irises, I am very tempted to find a suitable space in my sunny gardens. I'd like to use the black irises with blue flowers, perhaps more irises or use salvia guaranitica 'black and blue' as a tall background perennial. Two black irises from Schreiner's Gardens bloom in mid and late season, which may work with the timing of the bloom on the salvia.

Iris 'Before the Storm'
Iris 'Anvil of Darkness'

Those looking for more exotic plants with black blooms have some interesting possibilities. How about a black agapanthus or jack-in-the-pulpit? Plant Delights Nursery, located here in North Carolina, offers these unusual plants.

Arisaema triphyllum 'Black Jack' (Black Jack-in-the-Pulpit)
Agapanthus 'Back in Black' PP 16,244 (Back in Black Lily-of-the-Nile)

For a black and white combination in one plant, why not black foliage with white blooms?

Terra Nova also offers a black bugbane with fragrant blooms, Actaea simplex 'Black Negligee'.

Annie's Annuals has a very unusual geranium with black foliage and tiny pink to white blooms. Geranium sessiliflorum ‘Nigricans’ (Dwarf Black Cranesbill) is a tiny, dwarf perennial for front of the border.

Another ground-hugger with black foliage and yellow blooms is Ranunculus ficaria 'Brazen Hussy' (Brazen Hussy Lesser Celandine), a spring ephemeral from Plant Delights Nursery.

Black Current Swirl Angel's Trumpet from Swallowtail Garden Seeds has black stems and purple swirled blooms.

If you prefer a more familiar black foliage plant, then Heuchera Obsidian from Bluestone Perennials may be a good option. Although the blooms are pink instead of white, they also offer an elderberry, Sambucus Black Beauty, that has near-black foliage in a shrub to small tree form factor, depending upon the growing conditions.

Speaking of tall plants with black foliage, Colocasia esculenta 'Black Runner' (Black Runner Elephant Ear) and Black Castor Bean are great candidates for making a huge impact in the garden. Castor bean is a poisonous plant, so use with caution.

Finally, if you'd like to recreate the black and white tulips for a spring display similar to that in the garden inspiration from France, then you can get a paired combination from White Flower Farm with their black and white tulips in the Nuit Blanche Tulip Mixture. Even the name is French!

Photos are courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries. Words by Freda Cameron. August 2009

Gardening on the Edge with Perennial Heliotrope

Hot sun, drought conditions, deer, rabbits - bring on the harsh conditions and this perennial heliotrope will stand up to all of them. In fact, it will bloom non-stop from early summer until a few frosts take it down in late fall.

I discovered this plant three years ago when visiting a local nursery in Chapel Hill. I had never heard of perennial heliotrope until that time. It is nothing like the sweetly fragrant, annual heliotrope. You may not want to stick your nose into these blooms because they will be covered with honeybees and butterflies. You won't like the fragrance anyway, so don't bother to put your face to the ground to try to smell this heliotrope!

Heliotropium amplexicaule 'Azure Skies' is the official name of this perennial. I have written about it so often that my regular readers are probably thinking "oh, not THAT plant again." Of course, when you're on to a good thing, it is difficult to stop talking about it.

This perennial heliotrope is a fantastic ground cover. The foliage and bloom shape is similar to verbena 'Homestead Purple' though the blooms never stop and it is very hardy.

This plant is now part of the Southern Living™ Plant Collection. When Southern Living's Grumpy Gardener, Steve Bender, and photographer, Ralph Anderson, were here in July, they got to see my overuse of this perennial!

The heliotrope edges one bank of the stream in the cottage garden. It is now started, and should completely edge the hellacious guest parking bed next summer. It is also here-and-there in spot plantings around the garden. Why not? It is just so reliable for me.

There's only one little downside to this plant. The taproot grows really, really, really long! If you decide to move it later, you may still grow little kids back at the location of the original mommy plant. I've not found that to be much of a problem, though I don't recommend planting it near roses like I did the first time. It may crowd the roots a bit.

If you live in zones 7-11, find it. It is now carried at Lowe's® Home Improvement garden centers and perhaps other retailers in your area, too. Give it a try for your hottest and sunniest locations. You don't have to prune back the blooms at all. I give the edges a trim (when I can get the bees off of it) only to keep it from taking over the bridge!

Let me make this perfectly clear - Heliotropium amplexicaule is totally deer and rabbit resistant!

Photos and words by Freda Cameron; Location: home garden; July 2009; This is NOT a paid advertisement and no products or discounts were received for recommending this plant or sources.

Container Garden: Just Peachy In the Shade

How do you select plants and flowers for a container garden? I like to walk around acres of greenhouses to see what is interesting for the focal point! Yes, it is time-consuming, but a lot of fun - if you can find suitable plants.

Finding a tall, spiky plant for a shade container almost had me baffled for awhile until I asked for some help at the greenhouse. An indoor plant for my zone 7, Dracaena marginata 'Tricolor', was suggested for my pair of outdoor summer containers. Tropical zones can grow this one outside year round, but I will have to bring these inside to overwinter.

The beautiful colors in the Dracaena marginata 'Tricolor' gave me cues for companions. The green, white and peachy stripes of the leaves are easy to use in a centerpiece plant. I decided to look for peach blooms and headed for the impatiens section.

I found a gorgeous impatiens, Fusion Peach Frost, to use as an accent plant. These impatiens were a bit expensive, so I purchased only one for each container. Little did I know that only one of these plants would later take over the large containers to steal all the attention! This is an annual that mounds beautifully and blooms non-stop. The delicate peach blossoms have a darker peach throat. The hummingbirds buzz up onto the front porch to sip from these lovely plants!

Keeping the budget in mind for the fillers, I selected a cell-pack of begonias for the waxy leaves with deeper orange-pink blooms than the impatiens. This is another annual with blooms that are loved by the hummingbirds.

Merlot Coleus adds a touch of darkness while Red Ruffles provides a touch of orange-red foliage. I already had Red Ruffles growing in my garden, so I lifted a plant or two to stuff the container a bit more.

When I say "stuff" a container, that is what I typically do for annual plantings. However, in the case of using this large impatiens, it's a good thing that I used only one!

For comparison and growth rate, the top photo was taken in late June, one month after planting the containers. The bottom photo was taken in late July, two months after planting. I used a good potting mix and have not fertilized the plants at all since planting in late May. Only the coleus have been pinched back to prevent blooms.

Photos and words by Freda Cameron
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