Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

Echinacea from my garden, Jenny Frech 2011

My mom and I always get a chuckle when we see someone buying purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, at the greenhouse.

This flower has always performed well for us.  I’ve gotten oodles of starts from mom and passed on baby flowers to friends and neighbors.

This is one of my favorite, easy-to-grow flowers.

Purple coneflower is native to the eastern half of the United States.  It is well adapted to a variety of conditions including: cold winters, wet springs, hot and dry summers, and clay soil.  Once coneflower is established, the only care it needs is a little bit of root splitting when it gets too dense.

Coneflower is easy to start from seed.  I just sow the seeds where I want them, sprinkle a little bit of dirt on top (or not) and then let the springtime showers germinate them.

As a perennial, coneflower won’t flower the first year.  You’ll get plants that are about 8-12 inches tall.  If you have other flowering plants in your garden that first year, they will be pretty inconspicuous.

The next year, and in following years, you should have a nice clump of flowering pinkish, purple flowers, between 24 and 48 inches tall.  I’ve heard, but haven’t tried this, that if you cut them back in the late spring/early summer, that the plants will be fuller and less gangly when they bloom in mid-summer.

The blooms look pretty for about 3-4 weeks, and then the petals start to brown.  Some people will choose to deadhead the flowers at this time.  I leave the seedheads as they are.

Goldfinches come to the flower bed all winter long to feast on coneflower seeds.

The seeds that don’t get eaten will reseed themselves, producing even more plants to share with friends.

Echinacea "Irresistible", Photo by Jenny Frech 2011

Echinacea "White Swan", Photo by Jenny Frech 2011

Echinacea is popular, easy to grow and makes a great background flower, so plant breeders have developed unusual varieties.  My first fancy variety was White Swan that I started from seed. This year, I finally broke down and bought a couple of the expensive, er, specialty varieties.

Coneflower comes in a variety of colors , some are puffy and frilly, and others look like a double decker flower with one set of petals stacked on top of the other.

As always, I recommend starting with the basics, in this case it would be the basic purple coneflower.  The basic flowers of any variety generally outperform the ones grown for appearances. That being said, White Swan has always performed well for me.

While searching for images to use for examples, I ran across  WhiteFlowerFarm.com.  This website gave me a bad case of the “Gotta Have Its” as I wiped the drool from my chin.  For even more variety, hop on Google and do a search for “fancy echinacea” and you will be amazed at the variety.  When ordering online, check Davesgarden.com for reputability of the store you are buying from.

Echinacea "Hot Papaya", photo by Jenny Frech, available at Whiteflowerfarm.com

Echinacea "Fancy Frills" photo from Gorge Top Gardens

Echinacea "Sunrise", photo from Gorge Top Gardens

Echinacea "Bubble Gum", photo from White Flower Farm

Echinacea "Flame Thrower", photo from White Flower Farm


Echinacea "Double Decker", Photo from Gorge Top Gardens

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My mom is planning a memory garden for her new house.

Which got me thinking about the flowers in my garden that remind me of special people.

Montana Blues from Jeanette

Two people feed my flower obsession, my mom and Jeanette. Jeanette is my former neighbor.  I haven’t seen her for several years, but I still consider her to be my flower mentor.

There are oodles of flowers that remind me of Jeanette: cleome, sweet peas, Christmas cacti, giant pink rose bushes, coreopsis, flowering quince…

One time, she came home from church with Easter lillies that she pulled from the trash. She gave me some and told me to plant them. For many years the lilies returned. I moved them from house to house, but they disappeared along the way.

My whole garden style reminds me of Jeanette. Her philosophy is to let flowers reseed themselves and let them come up where ever they may to create a grand surprise for us. I’ve expanded on her love of mixing and matching, by tucking away annuals into nooks and crannies.

I still have a flower that she gave me.   As freely as I give away starts, I don’t share my Montana Blues, a fancy bachelor’s button. I’ll be glad to share some once I’m sure they’ve spread enough and are here to stay.

Lantana reminds me of my artist friend, Jan

This year I bought a yellow and pink lantana and put it in a pot with some petunias.

I can’t see lantana anywhere without thinking about Jan.

My friend Jan and I were both part-time traveling teachers at the same schools. She taught art, and I taught science.  At one of the schools we shared a room and exchanged moral support.  In the window, Jan kept giant lantana plants with sandpapery leaves. Guara always reminds me of her too, and how she calls the baby plants, “pups”.

Hollyhocks are part of the childhood memories of my Grandma Frech.

She didn’t bake me cookies or read stories aloud when I was a little lassie, but I recall two fun moments. The first is completely unrelated to flowers.  She babysat us and we played Land of the Lost underneath the dining room table that now resides in my dining room.

This hollyhock is a little bit fancier than the ones Grandma grew

The second is a sweet and simple memory.  Outside of the farmhouse was a patch of dark pink Hollyhocks. When they were in bloom, she would make dolls for me using a bud as the head and an open blossom as the skirt. I wish I knew how to make them like she did.

Bleeding hearts and daylillies remind me of my Aunt Nina who also has a flower obsession. Nina has jam-packed flower beds, which always have something in bloom.  She loves Hostas too, which rubbed off on my mom.

Lots of flowers make me think of Mom.

She has a special fondness for violets because they remind her of her grandmother. Once we visited the wooded lot where her grandmother’s house used to be. We took a few starts home.

My daughter is starting to enjoy flowers.  She claims to not like gardening much, but she spends hours playing in the dirt.  That is the makings of a gardener if you ask me.

She is starting to ask to plant particular flowers, and is claiming favorites.  This summer she declared poppies as her favorite.  How can I argue with that?  We planted several from seed.  When I’m missing her I visit her crab apple tree and the poppies underneath. The memories and joy that flowers carry with them is one of the reasons I love to garden.

When I spend time meditating by pulling weeds and planting seeds, I’m spending time with the people I love.

When I stroll through the aisles at a greenhouse, I’m looking for connections. What flowers are near and dear to your heart?  I bet there’s a link between our favorite flowers and someone we love and admire.

Violets, my mom's favorite

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The bag of potatoes artfully dumped on the front lawn. You can tell it's June because the grass is green.

I grow a lot of my own produce.  But for whatever reason, I don’t grow lettuce anymore.  That seems really weird to me because back when I took my own produce to the farmer’s market, I sold a lot of salad mixes.

So, most Saturdays I try to make it to the Goshen Farmer’s Market.  I stop by the Sustainable Greens booth and get either baby spinach, tatsoi, or spicy salad mix.  All of them are fantastic, but I could eat a whole bag of spinach or tatsoi by myself.

Last fall, while making our farmer’s market rounds, we noticed a box of free fingerling potatoes.  The sign said that they weren’t really good for eating, but that they would be good seed potatoes for next spring.

I do raise potatoes.  Last year, we didn’t raise nearly enough.

So we took home a small bag of our better than bargain potatoes, and put them in the bottom of the pantry, and didn’t give them another thought until spring.

When we took them out, we had a crazy sculpture of growths.

I can’t believe that I forgot to share these photos of the potatoes before we planted them.  We got about an hours worth of chuckles out of artfully posing potatoes with mad eyes.

This is better than any sculpture I've seen lately.

Jeremy either pretending to smoke a pipe, or actually trying to clear his sinus cavities.

This dramatic image is brought to you by Bullwinkle.

This one is so long it goes out of focus. Could I crank up the drama anymore?

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When I tell people that I love to grow roses, they often gasp and say, “I can’t grow roses, they’re too fussy and difficult”.  Well, that can be true for certain tea roses that need babying, but most roses are extremely hardy, easy to grow, will sit on oodles of bloom most of the summer.

When I first started gardening, I do what most beginners do, I went out and bought a tea rose.  You find them at every nursery, and even big box stores.  The photos on the little identification tags remind us of the flowers we get at Valentine Day or our birthdays. These are not necessarily the easiest to grow.  In fact, the cheap roses that we often start with will be disappointing in almost every case.

My first rose was Chicago Peace.  It was pretty, but I didn’t think much more about roses until I moved into a higher crime neighborhood.  My mother-in-law at the time, offered to buy me some flowers for my birthday.  I decided that I wanted something big, bushy, and full of thorns to plant by the fence and back porch to deter creepers.  I chose several shrub roses for the task.

Geoff Hamilton (R): A David Austin, pink old English, has lots and lots of petals

Photo from Heirloomroses.com

Graham Thomas (R): A David Austin, yellow old English also has lots of petals

Photo from Heirloomroses.com

Bonica: small pink roses cover this shrub rose

photo from Heirloomroses.com

Iceberg rose, showy for most of the summer

The iceberg shrub rose is one of my very favorite roses in the whole wide world. It does okay in the shade, blooms all summer long and is bushy. I have gotten one for every house I've lived in.

The only one of the roses that I still have is an iceberg rose.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the David Austin roses anymore.  They are spectacular. (note to husband: this would make a good birthday present next year!)

When we bought our house two years ago, my favorite own root rose company was going out of business, and I purchased ten or so own root roses.  Most of them were climbers and ramblers.  I planted a couple around the house, but most of them are on the hill down to the walk out basement.  I’m hoping they will cover up the hill to help with erosion, and provide lots of beauty.

Here are some of the roses that I currently enjoy, that are easy to maintain.

Fairy climbing, a crazy climber full of blooms

photo from pzrlibrary.com

These two white roses may just be taking the favorite spot from Iceberg, they are doing fabulously.

White Meideland ground cover rose

photo ©Jenny Frech 2011

E.B. LeGrice (TM) shrub/short climber

©Jenny Frech 2011

Carefree Delight, I was a snob about this rose at first because you can find them everywhere.  It’s for a reason.  This thing grows like crazy and blooms the entire summer.  If you are worried about your green thumb, try this rose first!

photo from The Tree Farm

These roses are amazing.  I never knew how easy it could be to grow them.  All that’s required is some decent soil, full sun (although the iceberg can tolerate some partial shade.)  Pruning is a snap, just dead head them when they’re finished blooming at the nearest leaf node.

I do have a few musts though if you are trying to grow them for the first time.

  • Always buy roses from a reputable company.

It will cost you more, but in the long run you will have a faster growing plant with nicer blooms, that won’t die over the winter.  The cheapies that you can buy for $3 in a bargain bin at the box store probably will bring fungus, virus, or disease with them.  Reputable companies sell plants that are virus free.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a mail order company to recommend to you, since mine went out of business.  Try Davesgarden.com for reviews of a company you would like to purchase from.  Jackson Perkins and David Austin roses have always worked wonderfully for me from nicer greenhouses.  Expect to pay $20-$40 for a nice rose at a greenhouse (or wait until the end of June when they go on sale).

  • Check the zone, especially if you are buying online.

There are many gorgeous roses that I lust over, but they can only be grown in the south.  You might be able to cheat a little if the rose is protected, but don’t come crying to me when it dies in a harsh winter.

  • Look carefully at the leaves before purchasing.

Do not buy a plant that has black spots on its leaves.  You will be bringing trouble home with you.

  • If you have a choice, buy a “own root rose”.

Most roses that you buy at the store are grafted to a more vigorous root.  If you’re plant dies back to the root, you will end up with a boring old red rose, instead of the one you purchased.

  • Decide what plant will work best for the space you want to plant a rose.

Roses vary greatly in space requirements from a miniature that probably only needs about 1-2 sq. feet to a rambler that will take over the side of your garage.  I seldom buy tea roses, but when I do, I plant other mingling type flowers with them so I don’t have to look at their spindly canes.  Shrub roses will fit the bill in most cases.

  • Climbing roses don’t really climb, at least not like a clematis.

You have to train the canes.  I have a trellis for mine, but you can also use things like fishing wire to keep it propped up.  Climbing roses also work well on a hill.

Whatever you do, do not purchase or transplant Rosa multiflora.  Brought in as a hedge, it is now an invasive species.  You can find it on roadsides and in wooded areas and it chokes out native species.

DO NOT purchase or transplant this rose, Rosa Multiflora. It is an invasive species. photo USDA

My apologies if this makes you want to run out and plant a rose in the middle of July.  The heat of July is a terrible part of summer to think about roses, but they were on my mind while I was trimming them up the other day.  So think about roses today, but make a list for roses to plant this fall or early next spring.

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To me planting flowers and playing in the garden is like painting. The flowers are my paints. But the paints are magic and appear only for a limited time.

I consider color, height, texture, and blooming times, like a painter considers the brush to use. I read somewhere that flowers should be like fireworks. They don’t all have to be blooming at the same time. But, there should be a focus in the garden.

I plan where the flowers are going, they don’t always bloom in synch or they get too tall or too short.
I get unexpected results.

Some are just really bad, ugly mistakes.

Some are delightful.

I love these deep red standard size snap dragons. There are about 24" high and came back from last year's roots which really surprised me. I think I had a couple of babies that came up from seed. I have them with a white Meidiland ground cover rose and also E.B. LeGrice (TM).

Pinks and lavendar. Both were outrageous this year, like blankets of flowers. the photo doesn't really do them justice.

Orangy-Peachy midsize snap dragons with larkspur. You can't see it in this photo, but I also have orange violas with these. It's very cute.

These are very small roses, about the size of a quarter. I don't know the name of them, but I love the deep pink. It is supposed to be a climber. Here they are with feverfew, which can be a reseeding nightmare. But it does look great under rose bushes and it's relatively easy to pull.

Same rose bush shown with lamb's ear. My lamb's ear was very pretty this year. This combo looked old fashioned.

Short yellow daylillies (I'm thinking Stella Doras) with purple verbena. This is the type that is more willowy and it stands about 12-18" tall. I like it because it reseeds.

I LOVE Bee Balm. It comes in all colors, but the tall red is my absolute favorite. It is big, bold, and striking. Here it is shown with a Jackamani clematis, but it also looks really cool with red hot poker in front of it.

And one combination that makes me want to lose my lunch…

I hate this combo. This is a beautiful daylilly. Daylillies are not my favorite, but I can appreciate them-just not with baby's breath. Ick! Ick! Ick! I separated these two.

Please share your favorite combinations in the comment section with a link to your photo.

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My facebook friends are all probably sick of hearing me blabbering on and on about all of the cool birds in my backyard this year.

I just can’t help myself.

These birds are great.

Earlier in the summer, we had tree swallows and bluebirds duking it out for nesting boxes, so I added a couple of new ones.  Ultimately, Two families of tree swallows raised their babies.  Last week, both boxes fledged. A total of 8 of 12 babies lived to their fledge date.

Apparently, there is very little learning curve for flying if you are born a tree swallow. The babies, on their first day of freedom, swooped by my head so close, I thought for sure they were going to take it off.  One bird swooped me at least a half of a dozen times.  I jingled my keys at it, and ran back inside. I suppose that’s great fun if you are a teenager bird.

Last week, we had a baby robin on the front porch. It wasn’t quite ready to leave the nest. He squaked and squaked, but refused any worms that I tried to feed him.

I believe, although I never actually saw the nest, that we had a meadowlark nest and chicks. Meadowlarks nest on the ground. Every time I walked near one of the bluebird boxes, a large bird would fly out of the tall grass. At one point in the summer, there were a couple of newly fledged birds hanging out in the backyard. I never did get a good look at them, but it wasn’t for trying.

I don’t think our bluebird friends had a successful hatch. Maybe next year will be better.

A few weeks ago, while walking past a very small river birch, I noticed an empty nest; a little while later, a blue egg with brown speckles.  Until finally there were four eggs, and a very diligient father perched in a nearby tree to guard the nest.  Yesterday, the first of the eggs hatched.  This morning, the second.  I took a little video because the little guys are so ugly they’re cute, and it’s not every day that you get to peer into a nest like this.


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One of my favorite flowers to share, Love-in-a-Mist

Looking for inspiration

I’m reading a book called, “The Happiness Project”.  In one of the chapters, the author, Gretchen Rubin, suggests that we should look to the things that we do in our spare time as inspiration.

One of my favorite things to do is, garden.  But even more fun than that is sharing flowers from my garden.

In past neighborhoods, I’ve arranged flower exchanges to swap flowers with friends and neighbors.  They are super easy to plan, and I usually end up with some pretty great new finds.  This year, I tried to plan one, and only one of my friends showed up.

Hey, that’s okay.  More great plants for me!

My friend Julie brought over bronze fennel, a rose, oregano, and walking onions.

I then took Julie around my house and we dug up anything that I had enough to share, and that struck her fancy.

When you love to garden, most everything strikes your fancy.

A couple of days ago, my friend Rachel came over, and again we strolled around the flowers, digging up flowers to spice up her beds.

Since I can’t possibly share all of my flowers with my readers, I thought I might share the what, why, and where to plant of some of my favorites.

First up…


a.k.a. Nigella damascena, Devil-in-the-bush

Love-in-a-Mist flowers, these are a cross between Persian Jewels and Miss Jekyl

I got my first start of this plant about eight years ago from a neighbor with a wild backyard full of cottage garden flowers.  She was moving, and wanted to make sure that starts of her plants got to those of us in the neighborhood that would treasure them.

I planted the start in a partially shaded area underneath a rose bush by a shed.

The plants grew well, and each year reseeded themselves.  The variety that I got was all periwinkle blue.

I love the blue and magenta. Most of the flowers this year were white though.

Last summer, I purchased a couple of starts from Prairie Trail farm in Goshen.  I believe I got a Miss Jekyl and a Persian Jewels.  The starts were tiny at the beginning of the summer, but by mid-summer, the starts were about a foot in diameter (the whole plant, not the stem!).  They flowered beautifully, and reseeded themselves in my flowerbed.  I did save seeds too, to share and plant in other places.

I love self-sowing annuals.  It’s what cottage gardens rely on.

My former neighbor, and flower mentor Jeanette, taught me to delight in the gift of flowers coming up in unexpected places.  Because of her, I dead-head (cut off the old flowers) much less than I used to, so the seeds can feed the birds and the flowers can decide where they would like to grow next year.

This year, the love-in-a-mist was a little too close to the front of the border.  They are a bit taller than the perennials, that the year before were in front of the nigella.

The flowers are completely unique.  They have a ferny green backdrop behind delicate petals, and green curls coming from the center of the flower.  When the flower is spent, an alien looking pod forms.  The pods are full of loose little black seeds.  I recommend just leaving the pods on the plant.  In the winter, it will create a lot of interest when the other flowers have gone away.

But, the pods can be just as fun brought inside and dried.

What if you don’t have friends that have a start of Love-in-a-Mist for you?

A pack of seeds will do. (The sample seed shop has them, and I love their seeds.  Or, if you have some seeds that you would like to trade, I could save some for you this year.)

Just scatter the seeds in spring or summer where you would like them to grow, an violá, you have some plants.  They will grow in the sun and partial shade.

Now get cracking, and go outside and plant something!

Love-in-a-Mist in all its podded glory

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