Blooms in the Gravel Garden

The hollies in the foreground will
mature to create a hedge behind the bench. May 2012.

Je ne regrette rien. I regret nothing. The conversion of several hardwood mulched garden beds and gravel parking space to one large gravel garden is working. Over one year later and I'm a very happy gardener. The history of the gravel garden can be viewed with this link.

Gravel gardens aren't for everyone. We don't live in the southwest or west coast where gravel is widely used. This is the southeast where folks love lush lawns, flower-packed or woodland gardens.

We live on a large rural property of over four acres with two acres of meadow grass out front while the back half is in woods. We have a sufficient proportion of soft grass, forest and gardens to balance the portion of gravel used.

Our house is English-inspired, but adapted for our climate. The same is true for the gravel garden. The inspiration comes from England, but it must work here in the southeastern United States. When using gravel, I had to use something locally quarried to be affordable.  No expensive pea gravel here. Our house is gray cedar shakes. Our gravel is gray.

Looking through container lavender to a low hedge or rosemary.
Purple Japanese iris grow from the gravel in the dry stream.
Buddleia hedge in the gravel garden along the meadow edge. May 2012.

Rosemary, Japanese iris, Buddleia are all
thriving with gravel instead of hardwood mulch. May 2012.
The gravel entry garden is easy to keep tidy and weed-free.
View is looking away from the house to the driveway. May 2012.
Yes there are a few weeds now and then. The roots have to reach a long way down to find soil. A gentle tug and wiggle easily removes unwanted weeds.

So far, I've not watered the shrubs, herbs or perennials that are planted in the gravel. The exception was to get the rosemary and hollies for the hedge established with one or two waterings around the time of planting. The buddleia, crepe myrtles, existing hollies, nepeta, salvia greggii and Japanese irises were already mature and have not been watered at all since we added the gravel in April 2011.

View (from rosemary hedge) to cottage garden front gate.
Existing hollies, sedum and dusty miller around crepe myrtle (left).
Nepeta, patches of thyme (front & right) were existing. May 2012
Containers on right are barely visible (see next photo). 
April 2012, containers were added beside flagstone path.
Euphorbia (front) container hasn't done well and will be replaced.
Lavender (middle) is now in bloom.
Salvia (large container) has been blooming non-stop.

To keep the gravel from looking stark in some spots, I'm gradually adding containers of plants that are drought-tolerant. The salvia jamensis hybrid (large container) and lavenders (various containers), junipers and succulents are doing great.

We've been getting regular rainfall so far this year, so I've not had to water the containers. Even without rain, I've selected plants that don't need to be watered often and I'm enjoying the low-maintenance. All plants used in the gravel garden, whether planted in containers or in the ground, are deer resistant.

Perhaps one of the best rewards from changing to this gravel garden is that so much of my time has been freed up to focus on the deer resistant meadow garden and the cottage garden. (We also changed the mulched flagstone paths to gravel/flagstone paths along the deer resistant meadow garden in March 2012.)

Due to this gravel garden and path conversion, I've not been working in the garden full-time.  This redesign has considerably downsized the work that I was doing when I tried to grow more plants in many beds along the driveway, parking area and sidewalk—not to mention all the weeding that I had to do in the mulched paths along the deer resistant garden!

Gardening has been much for fun for me in 2012.  Je ne regrette rien. 

Along the dry stream, a clump of existing monarda will soon bloom.
The salvia greggii is also quite happy to mulched with gravel. May 2012.

Blood Grass, Broadway Lights and a Bush

Spirea 'Magic Carpet' (back)
Japanese blood grass 'Red Baron' (middle)
Shasta 'Broadway Lights' (front). May 27, 2012.
While rearranging the garden last fall, I was inspired to move, rather than give up on a Japanese blood grass (imperata cylindrica rubra var. koenigii 'Red Baron') that had been struggling during drought. By the end of summer 2010, the poor thing was looking rather sad and I wasn't sure if it could be saved. Surrounding it with plants to shade its roots seemed the best solution. The red color of the grass echoes the deep red of a spirea 'Magic Carpet' in my garden.

Please note: The species Japanese blood grass is on the noxious weed list of many states. In 2009, the reputation was so bad and the confusion so widespread that a local nursery couldn't sell blood grass. After a few months of waiting, I was allowed to purchase the better-behaving cultivar. If you are shopping for this grass, make sure you purchase imperata cylindrica rubra var. koenigii 'Red Baron'. It is suitable for zones 5-9.

Spirea 'Magic Carpet' has been moved more times than I can count! I think I've finally resolved my color issues with it. The spirea starts out quite orange tips in early spring, then the tip color turns to the deeper red-rust that I love. I have three of these shrubs in the deer resistant garden and there have been no issues with self-sowing. The blooms are a nice pink and I don't deadhead this spirea as I do another variety, 'Neon Flash' (also shown below).

Beyond the blood grass:
Spirea 'Magic Carpet' (front)
Stipa grass (middle)
Spirea 'Neon Flash' (back).  May 6, 2012.

Leucanthemum 'Broadway Lights' ™
begins as a soft yellow and lightens to creamy white.
Blue ageratum is allowed to roam around the path plants.
May 27, 2012.
My existing leucanthemum 'Broadway Lights'™ turned out to be a pretty good candidate to complete the combination with the spirea and blood grass. I've had this shasta for many years and use it to dot the path in the deer resistant meadow garden. A perennial for zones 5-11, deadheading is not required as the buttery flowers fade to white, but I like to neaten up the plants. The foliage remains evergreen in my zone7b garden.

I snapped today's photo when the first blooms of the shasta were open. Soon, the path in the deer resistant garden will once again be dotted with yellow daisies.

The leucanthemum clumps are just beginning to bloom along the path.
Deer resistant meadow garden. May 27, 2012.

Favorite Accent Plant: Wine Cups

Deep rose wine cups (callirhoe involuncrata) scampers over
lavender perennial heliotrope, gold leaf tansy and purple sedum.

Wine cups splash a long way in the garden—literally! The tender stems of lacy foliage are far-reaching. The blooms lightly dance over, under and around other plants. This isn't a monster plant that takes over. You can easily cut or reroute the thin vines to your liking.

This native perennial, callirhoe involuncrata, isn't a specimen plant. This is a mingler, a socialite that loves to engage fellow plants in pleasant combinations. Place it where it can party in the garden in zones 3-9.  Speaking of party time, wine cups are early to bed, closing up in the evening and opening again with morning light.

Rabbits have a taste for wine cups. I've never tried this among deer, assuming that they'd like to attend a wine cups tasting, too. I have only one plant inside the cottage garden fence, purchased in 2010 and then moved to position it away from the prying noses of bunnies. I use a rabbit repellent. Wine cups is growing among perennial heliotrope (heliotropium amplexicaule), salvia, lambs ears and tansy—disgusting appetizers to a rabbit palate!

I have a fondness for monochromatic groupings where I use the same bloom color from different plants. Shaped like the California poppy, the wine cups are the same color as my petunias and salvia greggii 'Diane'. Soon, my gaillardia 'Grape Sensation' will be in full bloom, adding to the deep wine mess—mass.

Don't drink to take this test.
Splash! All of those wine cups blooms are from one plant.
There are also California poppies, salvia greggii 'Diane'
and petunias in the same wine color.
Stemware. Wine cups with salvia farinacea 'Victoria'. 

Purple Milkweed Blooms Create a Buzz

Purple milkweed (asclepias purpurascens) attracts bees and other pollinators.
A Monarch Butterfly host plant. May 2012
The first milkweed to bloom in my garden is ascelpias purpurascens, a native wildflower. Blooming and returning reliably this purple milkweed was purchased and planted four years ago. To date, there are only two seedlings that have volunteered nearby. Unlike common milkweed (ascelpias syriaca), this one isn't an agressive self-sowing perennial and I'd actually like to see more of this asclepias variety.

Being deer and rabbit resistant, the only issue I've had has been with the orange and black milkweed bugs eating the blooms. I pick those bugs off the flowers and send them packing.

The large globe blooms attract pollinators and the leaves are food for the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly—though they seem to like the thin-leaved swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata) when choosing plants in my garden for egg-laying. There have been times when I've had to move Monarch caterpillars from the swamp milkweed to the leaves of the purple milkweed!  I tend to think this is because of the location of the milkweeds, with the swamp being among lush plants that serve as good places for the chrysalis and metamorphosis.

The veins in the long leaves of purple milkweed are a deep raspberry color like the large blooms. The sturdy stems are not weighed down by the blooms, standing straight in the garden, up to three feet in height and two feet in width. It is easy to tuck this one into a small space.

Hardy in zones 3-9, purple milkweed prefers a bit more moisture when planted in full sun (as in my garden). Though, in my garden, it is planted in a rather dry area, but the roots are shaded by neighboring perennials such as nepeta and agastache.

This is my favorite milkweed in terms of ornamental uses in the garden as well as being out of the ground in time for the early migrating Monarch butterflies.

Frilly Bloomers

Peony poppy
Frilly blossoms weren't intentional, but reading the May Dreams: Finished with the Frilly Flower Phase post prompted me to take a look around my own garden. Yes, there are some fru-fru flowers tucked here and there that are blooming right now.

I don't grow peonies, but I grow peony poppies and that was my criteria when selecting this poppy. The full flowers fit the frilly flower formula. Peony poppies self-sow if you allow the seeds to ripen. Just shake the pods around and wait until next year.  I'm still hoping my pale pink and nearly black (purple) ones will bloom. We had an incredibly warm winter and the poppy germination rate has (so far) been disappointing. Unlike me, poppies like a bit of a cold winter.

A mix of dianthus.
I scattered seeds of "mixed" dianthus in the cottage garden, for the fragrance, not the frill.  These sweet little pinks are so easy to grow and now that I take into account the frilly factor—I do find the form flattering on this flower.  These frillers are great fillers. I like to use a mix of colors because I cannot make up my mind as to which color I prefer. I don't usually transplant the dianthus around, though I did pilfer a solid white to relocate with a blue salvia.

Spirea, stipa, spirea—with a dash of blue nigella.
There's a whole lot of frill going on with the spirea blooms. The frilly pink blooms on two varieties of spirea  are filtered by the flowing stipa grass. There's a dash of blue nigella, another frilly fru-fru flower that was pulled after I took this photo—it just didn't belong there and I have hundreds of other nigella. A still photo doesn't do this spirea-stipa vignette justice. I should take a video. The stipa is especially lovely with a bit of glistening morning dew, backlit by the rising sun and swaying in the breeze.

Verbascum 'Southern Charm'
Verbascum 'Southern Charm' casts a frilly eye upon the garden. The stem even looks frilly with buds and blooms on the spike. This dainty flower is quite the trooper, returning every year and never asking for anything except to be cut back after the first bloom is finished—only to rebloom.

Amsonia hubrichtii frilly foliage and flowers.
Native plant, amsonia hubrichtii's wispy foliage and star-quality flowers qualify as frilly in my book. Not ruffle-skirt frilly, but delicate and feminine. Another tough plant, this amsonia blooms in spring, then the foliage looks great through rain and drought, cool or hot temperatures. In autumn, the foliage turns gold. This is a great plant for frill-seekers. If you want more amsonia, let the seeds ripen and drop to the ground. If you don't want more, then wear gloves to prevent the milky sap from getting on your skin when you deadhead.

Verbena 'Imagination'
I've already bragged about verbena 'Imagination' in a previous post. Again, this is a plant with frilly blooms and frilly foliage. Tough as nails, this verbena is a ground-sprawler that blooms non-stop from spring until hell freezes over. And, yes—it self-sows. It is easy to pull, so no worries.

Itea 'Little Henry'
If bottle-brushes are frilly, then itea 'Little Henry' is another fine candidate. This part-shade small version of a sweetspire shrub has a tendency to run about, so pull the sprouts to keep it from filling up the area. The white blooms go every which way, but are charming nonetheless.

While I never intentionally purchased frilly bloomers per se, each delivers a dose of delight in my garden.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel.  All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.

Cottage Garden Goes to the Gold

Coreopsis is surrounded by ground covers with
near-twin blooms of light purple verbena 'Imagination'
and heliotropium amplexicaule.
Shades of pink, purple and blue have dominated my cottage garden over the years. I shook things up a bit this year with addition of bold gold in the form of a native wildflower, coreopsis. Yet, I'm not quite sure of the circumstances. The seed packet (I took a photo) said "coreopsis palmata" (prairie coreopsis), but the flowers look like coreopsis lanceolota to me. What do you think?

Sown from seeds last year, the success rate has been almost overwhelming! While the coreopsis is great for poor soil, given the good soil of the cottage garden, the mounds are huge, full and extra tall (close to three feet high).

There is another possibility regarding the seeds. I sowed a packet of "mixed cottage garden" seeds that included annuals and perennials. Perhaps this coreopsis came from that mix instead? The hint at this possibility is that coreopsis is also growing among hesperis matronalis (Dame's Rocket) that must have come from the mixed packet—along with a barrage of susans (yet to bloom).

Before you all attack me with your gardening hoes, Dame's Rocket is not yet on the invasive list here in North Carolina. The plant is invasive in other states and countries. I'll have to manage it properly to prevent it from escaping the confines of the garden.

The coreopsis blooms have been going strong for at least three weeks, but I've not had to deadhead at this point. Yesterday's heavy rainfall beat the plant down a bit, but it is bouncing back and not drooping too much given the beating.

I've not seen any rabbit damage, but I've not seen any rabbits in the garden so far. There is a feral cat hanging around, not to mention a few black snakes and a hovering red-tailed hawk. This coreopsis is also growing out in the deer resistant garden and I have seen many deer. So far, so good.

I'll let the coreopsis grow as a test this year. If it performs well, I may just let it remain in the cottage garden. I have enough already, so I will deadhead the coreopsis and not let it go to seed.

As for the color gold—right now, I'm enjoying the glowing brightness among the purple blooms.

Coreopsis with Dame's Rocket (invasive in some areas).
Coreopsis with purple larkspur
(and buds of purple cornflower, not yet opened).
The "back side" of the coreopsis as viewed from the porch after the rain.
The "faces" of the coreopsis follow the sun, just like sunflowers.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. Deer and rabbit resistance varies based upon the animal population and availability of food. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.

Cinco de Mayo: Aztec Chocolate Chile Cookies

Sweet, spicy and chocolate—Aztec Chocolate Chile Cookies are perfect for Cinco de Mayo. I learned to make these cookies during the winter and served them with chocolate chile espresso pot de creme. My husband and I decided that these are among the best cookies in the world! In other words, these cookies will disappear rather quickly.

The recipe that I used came from the blog, Savour Fare. I altered the recipe by using powdered ancho chile instead of chipotle. My photos were taken with an iPhone and therefore don't really show the darker color of the chocolate cookies as the photos on the recipe blog.

The cookies while cooling...before they disappeared!
I used Madagascar vanilla and Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa. Using quality ingredients will give you the best results. The cinnamon, honey and ginger add so much to the flavor and if you love ginger snaps, just imagine those flavored with intense chocolate and dash of spicy chile. The chile isn't overwhelming at all, so don't let that ingredient prevent you from trying these easy cookies.

One tip that I'd like to pass along is my non-messy method for rolling cookie dough into balls. Using a regular flatware spoon in my left hand, I scoop out the dough. In my right hand, I swirl another spoon on top of the dough to create perfectly rounded balls without putting my hands in the dough. This method makes quick work of the task as well.

With no eggs in the dough, you can pass the bowl to hungry onlookers to clean it up for you!

Rolling the dough with spoons keeps hands clean.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel.  All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.
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