Jul 23, 2015

The Summer Time Blues


I probable spend more time than most people thinking about color in the garden.  When I shop for plants, I notice what other people have in their cart.  I usually observe a riot of colors.  I wonder if all those flowers are going in the same bed.  Impulse buying is rampant in garden centers.  We all know that when you go shopping for groceries you should plan your menu before you go to avoid impulse buys.  Gardeners need to have a plan before shopping too.  In many ways, interior design and landscaping have much in common.  After all, good design is good design.  In your house you picked a style or theme along with a color palette.  You should do the same in your garden.  In the front garden, you might want bold colors that contrast with you house colors.  In the back yard you might want soft and cool colors for a relaxing escape.  
Think of a theme for your garden.  Do you want a formal garden or a whimsical garden? Perhaps you would like your garden to be a tropical paradise or Asian inspired.  Then there are wildlife gardens for birds, butterflies and bees. 
Early this spring I was standing next to my front flower bed trying to come up with a plan. I looked over to my blue bottle tree surrounded by blue hydrangeas.  It was then I decided to plant blue flowers in my front bed.  Now blue is not the usual color for a garden on the street.  Highway colors like red, orange and yellow are good choices to show up from the road.  But since this garden would be viewed from a sidewalk, I thought blue would work.
Blue flowers that thrive in our area are few, but I thought I would have fun hunting for them.  For the sake of argument, I will include purple in with blue.  After all purple is a rather new color. It appears that our ancestors did not distinguish purple from blue, so it was all blue.  That may explain why so many plants that have blue in their name look purple to us.  
Salvias, or sages as they are commonly called, come in many colors and there’s plenty of blue ones that will stand up to our hot summers.  Mexican Sage Salvia leucantha, Bog Sage Salvia uliginosa, Anise-scented sage Salvia guaranitica and Blue Sage Salvia farinacea  are just a few of the perennial sages that do well in our gardens. 
The Mexican Sage blooms in late summer and fall but has attractive grey green foliage during the summer.  Be careful with the bog sage.  This South American plant will overrun a flower bed.  There are many cultivars of Salvia guaranitica available such as 'Argentine Skies' with pale blue flowers, 'Black and Blue' almost black calyx and deep blue flowers, and 'Purple Splendor' with purple flowers. ‘Mystic Spires’ is a new hybrid of Salvia longispicata x farinacea that blooms heavily all summer till frost.   All of these Salvias are perennials, need full sun and all except the bog sage need well drained soil.

Another good flower that comes in many shades of blue is the Wishbone Flower or Torenia. This low growing annual is a native of Vietnam and no stranger to heat and humidity. It will thrive in sun and part shade.  Torenia is also a good plant for baskets and window boxes and will creep nicely over the edges.

Evolvulus glomeratus whose common name is Blue Daze is a wonderful short perennial with many sky blue flowers. The flowers are about the size of a nickel and last for only one day, opening in the morning and closing by afternoon.  This neat compact plant is perfect in the front border and in formal gardens.  It rarely gets over 6 inches high and about 1 foot in diameter.  Blue Daze grows best in well-drained soil and full sun but will take a little shade in the afternoon.  I have lost this Brazilian native during cold wet winters but it is worth replanting in the spring.

Liriope or border grass is a common plant in our gardens but is often over looked as a flowering plant. In fact this plant is not a grass but a member of the lily family and some folks call it Lilytuft.  In July liriope has spikes of pale blue flowers.  I think it does best in shade and part shade with average garden soil.

I planted a blue Plumbago but I afraid it will not get enough sun to bloom well. This South African plant thrives in the heat, needs full sun and good drainage.  Dead heading the flowers and occasional fertilizing will keep it  blooming till frost.

Although it is July there is still plenty of time to add blue flowers to the garden.  After all, we usually don’t get a killing frost till after Thanksgiving. 

Other blue flowering plants that I have found: Blue Passion Flower, Stokes Aster, Althea, Hydrangea, Spiderwort, Vitex, Butterfly Bush, Blue Porterweed, Liatris, Lobelia, Iris, Blue Mistflower, Borage and Cardoon. When winter comes, I will search for blue pansies and violas to add to my blue garden. Looks like I am going to have the blues for a while.
African Basil


Vitex
Iris Versicolor
Blue Daze

Spiderwort
blue salvia

cardoon

Borage

lemon balm






Jun 11, 2015

Sumertime and the Basil is Easy


While watering my tomato plants. I daydream about food. My mouth waters for that first BLT sandwich of the summer.  What could be better than a home grown tomato slices on top of hickory smoked bacon, iceberg lettuce and, of course, Dukes mayonnaise.  I always think it is important to sprinkle the salt and pepper on top of the tomato slices and the Dukes needs to be on both slices of the toasted bread. 
But crispy bacon is not the only food that pairs well with home grown tomatoes.  I also look forward to a little snack I call Italian toast.  I slice up fresh basil and mix it in olive oil in a shallow dish. Then I slice up a baguette and dip the bread in the oil and basil. I top these with fresh made mozzarella cheese and a slice of tomato.  The bread is placed on a baking sheet.  I pour the remaining oil mix over the tomatoes.  Pop this in a hot oven until the cheese melts and serve.  Good summer eats.
Basil is a very versatile and easy to grow herb if done right. I think the biggest mistake gardeners make is planting too early. Basil, like its ornamental cousin the Coleus, hates the cold. Basil will suffer if the soil is cold and wet. Planting in early spring can lead to root rot especially if we get amply rain.  Basil will languish in the cool spring nights we all enjoy and thrive in the heat.  Tomatoes, on the other hand, do better with cool night temperatures and languish in the heat.  I usually plant my tomatoes about a month before the basil. This spring, I waited till May to plant the Basil because of the unusually cool temperatures.  It is not too late to plant basil, because we have 3 to 4 months of hot weatherstill ahead of us.
Basil was originally thought to come from India and spread east and west.  Southeast Asia is known for several types of basil each with its unique favor. Siam Queen and Thai Basil are popular varieties that can easily be found here.  To the west, Italians developed Basil with a slight licorice flavor.  Basil can be found in pizzas and pasta dishes and is the main ingredient for pesto.   If you love Italian cuisine, then you should grow Italian Large Leaf Basil or Genovese.  The most common Basil found in stores around here is Sweet Basil. It is good all-purpose basil but the flavor is mild and the plants have a lower yield than Italian Large Leaf Basil and Genovese.  All three basils make a good pesto. If you like milder flavors in your pesto, try Lemon Basil.  To keep your basil productive, pinch off any flower heads.  Once basil starts to bloom it will stop growing.
There are ornamental basils that are worth trying too.  Dark Opal, Purple Ruffles, Red Rubin and African Blue are just a few.  I like to grow African Blue as a pollinator plant for bees and butterflies.  It is a sterile hybrid that will bloom all summer with spikes of lavender flowers. These plants have purple stems and veins. The leaves have a camphor scent which I do not think would be a good flavor in any dish.  
Local Herbalist Vivian Whorley (Graham’s mom) sends her pesto recipe which can be easily made in a food processor.  Add each ingredient one at the time and pulse the machine a few times between each ingredient.  Serve on pasta hot or cold.
Vivian’s Southern Pesto
2 cups of Big Leaf Basil or Genovese.
½ cup pecans
½ freshly grated parmesan
2 cloves of garlic
2/3 cup olive oil
A little salt and pepper.
thanks for reading -Kathy
#Basil, #Tomatoes, #pesto 


May 29, 2015

Black Swallowtail Butterflies


The Garden Rambler
There is a love it or hate it attitude with this butterfly among gardeners. Most folks love the butterfly, but herb gardeners hate the caterpillar. The Black Swallowtail caterpillar feeds on plants that are members of the Apiaceae or Carrot Family which includes parsley, dill, fennel, celery, cilantro, anise, caraway and Queen Ann’s lace. The hungry caterpillars can devour a patch of parsley in no time.
The Black Swallowtail will over winter in our area as a pupa and is one of the first butterflies to show up in the spring. These are large butterflies that are mostly black with a double row of yellow spots along the wing margins. The underside of the lower wing has orange spots. If you look closely you can tell a male from a female. The yellow spots on the male are larger and sometimes run together to look like a band of yellow.  Both males and females have an iridescent blue patch on the lower wing but on the female the patch is larger.  So if it has small yellow spots and a big blue patch it is a female. If it has big yellow spots and a small blue patch it is a male. Both will also have an orange eye spot with a black center on the lower wing near the tail. Eye spots on butterflies and moths are common and are believed to confuse or scare predators. 
Butterflies are cold blooded and rely on the sun warm them up so they can fly and feed. You may have noticed butterflies are rarely seen on cloudy days. In the morning they sit in a sunny place and warm up so they can fly. By the way, the best time to photograph butterflies is in the morning while they are sunning.
The black color allows the Black Swallowtail to warm up quickly. Black is a popular color for many of our local butterflies. The Palamedes Swallowtail, the Giant Swallowtail and the Morning Cloak are all predominately black.
The caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail starts out mostly black but when it gets big enough for you to see, it will be green with black stripes. Look closer and you will see yellow spots down the sides of the caterpillar. Of course, this caterpillar will be easy to identify because it is eating your favorite herbs.
If you want to have some fun, take along skinny stick and gently poke the caterpillar. If it feels threatened, a horn like gland called an osmeteria will pop out of its head and release a chemical with a stinky odor.  Do not try this with your finger or you will be washing your hands for days trying to wash the stink off.
Ever wonder what they ate before Europeans brought culinary herbs for the caterpillars to dine on? There are some native “weeds” in the Apiaceae family which can be found in our gardens and along waysides. Roughfruit scaleseed or Spermolepis divaricate is a small dill-like plant (24”) with a very small umbrel of   tiny light green flowers. It was first described in 1788 by local botanist Thomas Walter.  When I first saw this plant in my garden, I thought my dill had re-seeded itself. The foliage has a carrot like scent. Roughfruit scaleseed is a common name that is more than a mouthful. I find it hard to remember, I think I will rename this plant Carolina Dill Weed.

Mock Bishopweed or Ptilimnium capillaceum looks like a shorter dill plant (12”) with white flowers that are showier than Carolina Dill Weed. Mock Bishopweed is often found in wet and brackish coastal areas. French botanist Andre Michaux first described this plant in our area in 1803.  When these weeds pop up in my garden, I usually leave them alone and let the Black Swallowtail butterfly lay their eggs on them instead of my parsley.   Maybe it will work someday.

May 13, 2015

Plant Sale May 16

May 16th is the free Saturday for Berkeley County Residents. Just bring your photo ID and get in free between 9am and 12:00 noon and stay until closing at 5:00pm. Regular admission prices apply after noon. $10.00 for adults, $9.00 for seniors, $5.00 for children 6-12 and 5 and under are Free. $1 off Adult and senior admission with a military ID or AAA card.

This free Saturday there will also be a plant sale in the parking lot, hosted by the Friends of Cypress Gardens from 9am-2pm Daylily plant sale 300 hybrids many colors #daylily