Monday, August 31, 2009

Plea For an ID

I'm known to wander through the woods with bag and trowel in hand, just in case I come across a plant that needs relocating to our gardens. We have friends that own a woods near here that holds a treasure trove of natives and they've given us permission to wander at will and take what we want.

We don't want to abuse the privilege, so we've only been there twice this summer, once with the owner along. On the first trip there, in May, I noticed a clump of strappy foliage growing at the base of a tree. The leaves were about ten inches long and originating from a central point in the ground. Upon digging, we discovered it was a bulb.

It had the tell-tale aroma of onion, though ever so slight, so we determined that it was an allium of some sort. It was May when we planted them in a shady spot in our garden, which was like that of its origin, though alliums generally like sun. It grew well all summer, then in mid-summer it put up a stem with a bulbous bud at the tip.

After what seemed to be an extraordinarily long time, it produced a round ball of little white flowers that were pretty unremarkable. The flower head was no more than an inch in diameter and the bloom didn't last long. But the seeds that are now like little beads on the seed head are extraordinary.

They're shiny, pearly, and the prettiest shade of midnight blue. They border on being iridescent and have been perched atop the seed head for a couple of weeks now. I've searched online to try and determine what native allium this might be, but haven't been able to find it.

Any ideas?

Build a Better Mailbox and the World Will Beat a Path to Your Door

Okay, so that isn't exactly what Emerson said, but the best mousetrap is a cat, so let's talk about mailboxes.

We live out in the country, where mailboxes are usually perched atop a post, at a height specified by the United States Post Office and mail is delivered to the box by a rural carrier. This system of mail delivery works quite well...most of the time.

There are those other times when, through no fault of the rural carrier, mail delivery becomes difficult or impossible, due to the mailbox being damaged or destroyed by a passing car or more commonly, the snow plow. It's somewhat understandable that these things happen, since mailboxes, by virtue of their required placement, aren't all that far off the road.
Worst case scenario: the mailbox and post get hit and the post is broken off.

So what's a person to do?

Recently, our niece graduated from high school and her family held a party in her honor. We have a large family on my husband's side (he's one of ten children) and get-togethers such as these are a lot of fun. Some family members don't live close-by, so sometimes we get to see the out-of-towners that we haven't seen in awhile.

Romie's next-oldest sister and her husband are among those that no longer live near us, so we were glad to see that they were at the party. When we pulled in, our brother-in-law was demonstrating a mailbox that he'd invented. He's got a patent (pending) for it and as I watched and listened to him conduct his show-and-tell, I was more and more impressed with the thought and design that had gone into this thing.

Called the "Return-To-Center" mailbox (a play on "Return to Sender"), this heavy-duty mailbox post system, which also includes a quality USPS approved mailbox, can withstand quite a bit of abuse and come out unscathed. Because of its design, the post itself can be situated further off the road than conventional mailbox posts, thus making it less likely to be struck by a car or snowplow.

If the mailbox itself does get hit, the mounting swivels it out of the way. It can rotate on the post a full 360 degrees, so no matter how hard a blow, there is enough give to it to prevent any major damage. Once it stops swinging out of the way, it magically returns to its original mounted position, all the while keeping the mailbox and its contents at a level position.
A side benefit of this is that you don't have to walk into the road or street to retrieve your mail. Just swivel it around, get your mail out, and let it swivel itself back to its original position.


Another great feature is how easily it can be installed. The post is designed to auger itself down into the ground. No digging!

You may be thinking that of course I'm impressed with this mailbox post because my brother-in-law is its inventor. While I do find him to be a fairly intelligent person that I also happen to like, this has nothing to do with whether or not I think this is a great mailbox idea. It just IS. I offered to tell the world about his mailbox post system because I think gardeners and other people just might be interested in hearing about it.

You can read more about it on the website: The Return-to-Center Mailbox Post System. Right now they have an introductory offer which allows you to save $30 off the regular price of the system.

Photo of cat chasing mouse is from Animal Talk. All others are from Return-To-Center Mailbox Solutions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Oh, Henry!

I first saw Henry one day a couple of years ago and it was love at first sight.

I'm a little embarrassed to say that our relationship began as an internet romance. I know, I know...

All the usual questions went through my mind...

"How do I know Henry is really who and what he claims to be?"
"What if I meet him and I'm disappointed?"
"What if he's just after money, then once he gets that, he'll desert me?"

But I couldn't get Henry out of my mind.

They say spring makes you think of romance, but late summer came and I knew I just had to have Henry, one way or another. I would make it happen.

As is true with most romances, things happen when you least expect them. You can plan and scheme and do all the right things, but you can't hurry love.
Then one day, there he was, right in front of me. I looked at him and he looked back and we both knew he was coming home with me.

I'll spare you all the details, but I'll tell you that it was a match made in heaven. I'm so happy I chose him and from the looks of Henry, he's pretty darn happy about things, too. They say actions speak louder than words.

Sweet Quilled Coneflower
Rudbeckia Submentosa 'Henry Eilers'

Zone: 4-8
Height: 36-60"
Full Sun
Blooms mid-summer to early fall
Drought tolerant
Fragrant foliage (vanilla-scented)
Native Midwestern prairie plant, discovered in southern Illinois
More information

Monday, August 24, 2009

Where Did All the Zucchini Go?

August 8th was Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day. I couldn't wait. We grew zucchini this year, after a couple years' absence from our gardens, but for all the blooms we got, the bees and butterflies must have passed them over for pollination. No zucchini forthwith.

The illustrious zucchini holiday came and went and our porch was bare. All except for some tumbleweeds of Boo's black fluffy fur and a couple of spent flowers from the Passiflora. No zucchini on our porch. Okay, so only one of our five neighbors even has a garden and they didn't grow zucchini. Still, I left my car window open at church and no one threw any in there either.

I don't care for banana bread. Overly ripe bananas make the inside of my mouth hurt. (So do walnuts.) But I love love love zucchini bread and looked forward to having some of that zucchini that everyone is always pushing on me so I could make a few loaves and freeze some up for winter. I tried to plan ahead by planting my own, but the best laid plans obviously don't always work out.

Sooooo...sigh...I guess I shall go to the grocery store and do something I don't think I've ever done before in my life -
buy a zucchini.

There's a first time for everything.

The Perennial Care Manual - A Book Review

Before I post a book review, I like to read the book. All of it. But I received one earlier this week that would be impossible for me to read in its entirety, digest it all, and post a review before it ever comes out in its second paperback printing. And mark my word, it will have a second printing.

Two Christmases ago, our older daughter asked for a good basic book on gardening. She was brand new to the pastime obsession - just a few years behind her mother - and she needed some basic information on how to do it. Oh, how I wish The Perennial Care Manual: A Plant-by-Plant Guide: What to Do & When to Do It by Nancy J. Ondra had been in publication then!

This book is, in a word, comprehensive. When I think of the time and effort that went into this book so that beginning and veteran gardeners would have a good manual of reference when it comes to growing perennials, the book should cost three times its list price of $24.95.

The lengthy subtitle - A Plant-By-Plant Guide: What to Do & When to Do It - is the key to the value of this manual. Taking 125 popular plants and discussing planting, staking, pruning, mulching, dividing, and propagating pretty much gives you all you need to know to grow a successful and varied perennial garden. Rob Cardillo supplies the appropriate and beautiful photography to support the information.

No, this isn't a book to be picked up, read cover-to-cover, then put back on the shelf. It's as the title touts - a manual. You'll turn to it again and again for its good advice, tried and tested by Nancy herself.

The Perennial Care Manual: A Plant-by-Plant Guide: What to Do and When to Do It (paperback)
by Nancy J. Ondra
$24.95 List Price (Amazon Price: $16.47)
Hardcover also available

Nancy J. Ondra is the author or coauthor of 11 gardening books, including Grasses, The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer, and Foliage, for which she won the American Horticultural Society Book Award. She is a member of the Hardy Plant Society and gardens on four acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She is a contributing author to the blog Gardening Gone Wild, as well as her personal gardening blog, Hayefield.

Rob Cardillo has been photographing gardens, plants, and the people who tend them for more than 20 years. He captures plants at their best for books and magazines, horticultural suppliers, and landscape designers throughout the United States.

Other reviews:

Pam of Digging
Carol of May Dreams Gardens
Dee of Oklahoma Examiner

The product or merchandise being reviewed in this blog post was the sole compensation for testing and reviewing the product. All opinions expressed here are mine, with no suggestions whatsoever by the manufacturer or distributor. If I like it, I'll say so. If I don't, I'll say that, too.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Swallowtail Update

When I walked into the family room this morning, I caught a whiff of dill and I remembered. Two days ago, I brought in the largest and darkest Black Swallowtail caterpillar from the garden, supplied it with fresh dill and parsley (in case it was still hungry) and secured it in the punch bowl where several Monarch butterflies have been born.

Yesterday, I saw the caterpillar had suspended itself by silk threads and was hanging upside down from one of the dill stems. That's just how they do it and just what I'd expected to find in the next couple of days. This is the equivalent of a Monarch assuming the 'J' position. Soon, it would shed its final skin and pupate.

When a Swallowtail caterpillar pupates at this time of year, it's anyone's guess whether there will be a butterfly emerging in about 9-11 days or whether this one is bundled up for the winter. There's still a lot of warm weather left, with enough time for a new butterfly to mate, lay eggs and do this all over again, so hopefully, I'll get to see a butterfly emerge.

The smell of dill reminded me to check on the little guy this morning and when I did, I found that I'd missed the actual forming of the chrysalis, that it had happened some time in the night. If I'd been more alert, I'd have sat watch so I could see it happen.

In the picture, you can see several things:

  • The frass at the bottom of the bowl. That's caterpillar poop, in case you didn't know. The caterpillar rids its body of all waste just before it pupates.
  • Its old skin, which it shed as it formed the chrysalis, is hanging on the dill stem, too. In previous moltings, the caterpillar would have eaten it.
  • The color of the chrysalis. Swallowtail caterpillars can have chrysalides of varying colors. The most common is dark brown, but more rarely they will be light brown or green. Looks like we've got a green one, unless its color changes as the day goes on.

I'll put the bowl at the top of the bookshelves so it will be safe from the 'other' cats and maybe I'll have some butterfly news for you in about two weeks!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Daylily Divas

It's nearing the end of daylily season here, which means that each day I go to the garden, I do two things: I deadhead the wilting daylily blooms and I admire each new one that has opened up. As their name suggests, daylilies bloom for just one day, but on a mature daylily plant there's never a shortage of open flowers because each "fan" has a flower stalk with several individual blooms on it. Seldom are all of them open at once. This means the flowering of the daylilies lasts quite a long time. Yay!

There are other things to like about daylilies, too. First of all, there are thousands and thousands of different ones to choose from. Secondly, it's doubtful that there are many other plants that require so little care. As one of my hybridizing friends says, "Just dig a hole and plop it in." That's not far from the truth.

I don't have a daylily bed or even a daylily section in the gardens. They are peppered throughout the gardens, with a few of them grouped together. I have my favorites, of course, but I really like them all. If I had to choose an absolute favorite, it would probably be:

'South Seas'

'Prairie Champ'

'Sunday Gloves'

'Alabama Jubilee'

'El Desperado'


'Ruffles n Lace'

'Cherry Chapeau'

'Cherry Lace'

'Big Smile'

'Czar's Treasure'

'Leprechaun Eyes'

Lovely Lana
(Unnamed unregistered hybrid by Lana Wolfe)

'Etched Eyes'


'Swirling Water'

'Black-eyed Stella'

Wolff 734
(An unnamed unregistered hybrid by Barbara Wolff)

'Siloam Double Classic'

'Lady Fingers'

'Red Volunteer'

'Sarah Christine'

Lana Wolfe Hybrid - Apricot w/ Purple Eye

H. fulva 'Flore Pleno'

'Hush Little Baby'

'Strawberry Candy'

'Frans Hals'

Barbara Wolff Hybrid 726


Yeah, that one.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dill: It's Not Just For Dips Anymore

Actually, it never really was. Some clever person figured out that it added flavor to sour cream and a really good chip dip was born. But way before that, dill served a higher purpose. While we humans have lots of yummy things to eat, the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly caterpillar only eats a few.

We grow all their favorites here at Our Little Acre - dill, parsley, fennel, carrots, and rue. But they're chowing down on the dill exclusively. I grew that one from seed and just a week ago, it had foliage. Now it doesn't. In one short week, three of them have stripped it and it's my guess from their differing shades of color that one of them is about ready to pupate.

In the past two weeks, we've seen a lot of different butterflies flitting about here. On the day of the garden walk, it was as if
they were on parade, too. Monarchs, Red-Spotted Purples, Tiger Swallowtails, and of course a gazillion Cabbage Whites, Silver-Spotted Skippers, and Sulphurs. Occasionally, an Eastern Comma would come into the picture. Funny thing, though - I've not seen a single Black Swallowtail, yet these caterpillars are proof they've been here.

The caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail looks somewhat similar to that of the Monarch, but the Monarch is only black, yellow (can look greenish) and white striped. No spots. The Black Swallowtail has green stripes as well as stripes consisting of alternating black and yellow dots.

I love this time of year. The Monarchs are everywhere, both flying about the garden and crawling all over the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Soon, they'll be starting the great migration south. We're along a major migration corridor and peak time will be mid-September, so the caterpillars we're seeing now no doubt will be the ones that make the trip.
Unlike the Monarchs, the Black Swallowtails don't migrate. They'll pupate and hibernate through the winter.

While I get antsy to start cleaning up the uglies in the garden about now, I have to stop myself or at least be very careful, so as to not disturb the cycle of life going on there.

Silver-Spotted Skipper on Coreopsis 'Redshift'

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tiny Jewel in the Garden

Every fall, I carefully dig down in the dirt to retrieve small bulbs, rub the soil from them, and place them in a netted bag. They spend the winter in a box in my cool basement until spring, when I get them out and put them back in the ground.

I do this with quite a few bulbs and corms, but few excite me more after planting than my beloved Coral Drops (Bessera elegans). They are late to the summer party, reaching bloom size here in zone 5 in August, after putting up slender grass-like foliage earlier in the season. While the foliage lays down, the flower stalks that come later are strong and hold the flowers aloft quite easily.

Coral Drops are beautiful at first glance, with their deep reddish-orange color and dainty bell-type flowers dangling a little more than a foot off the ground. They look as though they would tinkle in the slightest breeze.

But come closer and gently turn the one-inch flower upward and you will see the secret they hold that most will never notice.

The ivory and orange stripes will surprise you enough, but the pistil and anthers are purple! They aren't fragrant as far as I can tell, but the charming beauty of these little-known treasures of the garden make them one of my favorites.

They're hardy in zones 8-11 and can be grown indoors and out as a container plant. They're native to Texas and Mexico, so you know they like full sun. They seem to like it in my Ohio summer garden, too!

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