Tangled Branches: Cultivated
happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia
Monday, July 31, 2006
Another Creature Feature
If it isn't one thing, it's another. Yesterday afternoon I was looking at my only semi-ripe tomato and thinking "this is the first one I'm going to get to eat". Wrong again. A short time later I walked past the same tomato, only now it was on the ground with about 3 bird-beak shaped holes in it. The alert will notice that it's lying on the ground next to a wilted sprig of basil. I just happend to be an eyewitness to its demise; early Saturday morning a rabbit chewed it off, sampled some leaves and spit them out. Maybe August will bring a change...
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The Carpenter, The Birds, and Me
Blogging and gardening are both suffering from an overload of house activity this week. Things should be more manageable next week. The carpenter is now working on the front of the house, replacing windows and siding. While he was at it, he removed the house sparrows' nest from the louvered gable vent over the garage. They've been occupying it for years and they rennovate every spring (unlike us). We cleaned it out once or twice and they built it again right away, so we just let them stay. But now the louvers are covered with screen from the outside as well as the inside (doesn't look as bad I thought it would). In response, the birds moved to the next gable vent, the one on top of the house. They're not going to be there long. And I think they suspect something is up - one dived at me early this morning while I was trimming back some shrubbery. Or it may have been accidental, but it grazed the top of my head as it flew past.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Assassin Bug Update
This is probably a sibling to the five wheel bugs I resettled on a Rose-of Sharon. I don't know what became of those because I didn't see them anywhere near the Rose-of-Sharon after the evening I moved them. As far as I can tell, my scheme for getting them to eat Japanese Beetles didn't work. The Japanese Beetles are more numerous than last week. The resident cardinals appear to be picking a Beetle or two off the plants as a sort of light snack. They don't seem to want to eat the whole batch at once, or maybe they don't really like them at all. I took down the sunflower seed feeders for the summer, so perhaps they just had a craving for something crunchy. I never noticed any birds eating JBs before. Anyhow, yesterday afternoon, I noticed this one Wheel Bug on the same Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' from which I removed the five last week. They appear to be rather lethargic creatures, and I've not personally seen them eat any other insects, but I assume they wouldn't grow to adulthood without eating. After I photographed it (3 pix posted), I left it alone to eat what it will.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Bob Flowerdew, Garden Celebrity
Yes, apparently that is the real name of a horticultural Big Star in England. Yesterday's WaPo featured him in a Style section front page article. He's one of the regular panelists on Gardener's Question Time on BBC Radio4. So howcome I never heard of him before? He seems an interesting guy, and exactly the kind of gardener I like - organic and curious. By curious, I mean that he's interested in investigating things for himself, not that he's an odd character (as if I would know that anyway).
I Googled the blogs before posting this because I was sure that it would be old and stale news by now, but I didn't see too many posts. A thoughtful one by Claire asks why we don't have national gardening celebrities on the same scale as England. Something to ponder, but when I read the WaPo article yesterday, I thought of Felder Rushing (mostly because the article mentioned Bob using old tires as planters). Felder does a radio show, but it's local to the Deep South. I think it's more difficult to be a national gardening celebrity here in the US because we have such a variety of climates and conditions here. And now we have such a variety of broadcast media, too. I don't watch HGTV, but I understand that People, Places, & Plants (a Northeastern US regional publication) has a show that's broadcast there, and one of the hosts is Roger Swain. You may remember him from the Victory Garden. Is anybody besides me old enough to remember the original Victory Garden show with Jim Crockett? I never watched the show much after he died. He was my first horticultural hero, I think. I still have a couple of his books and even refer to them occasionally. They were some of the first gardening books I ever owned.
Speaking of gardening books, I understand Bob Flowerdew has authored about 12 of them. I think I'll see what's available here in the US.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
New, new, new
New-to-me this year is Tigridia pavonia 'Canariensis'. It just bloomed for the first time last week, and a couple more flowers opened up today. They're way bigger than I expected - about 3" in diameter - and very tropical and exotic-looking. The foliage reminds me a lot of crocosmia - a fan of pleated linear leaves when they first emerge, then later the flowering stem elongates, taking the leaves with it. The flower starts unfolding in the morning, and I think if you were patient enough, you could actually see it happening. However...the flower begins to wilt about mid-afternoon and by evening it's just a memory (or a photo). They're not winter-hardy here, so I either have to consider it an annual or dig them up and store them over the winter. Not being familiar with its growth habit, I spaced them fairly far apart in some mixed containers. Now that I see how it behaves, I'd plant several of them closer together next time, and make sure they have a sturdy mid-height neighbor to lean on. So far, I like them, and plan to get more in different colors next year.
Another newcomer is Scabiosa atropurpurea 'Blue Cockade'. It's an annual, and I started it from seed this spring. I would quibble with calling it blue - it looks lavender to me - but it seems a nice enough plant. Butterflies are supposed to like it, but I haven't seen any proof yet. No trouble with pests or diseases that I can see, and that's always a plus.
Can't remember if I've written about Zinna 'Zowie Yellow Flame', but it's a keeper too. Once the flower is fully open, each of the ray petals looks something like candy corn - yellow at the tip, shading to orange, shading to magenta in the center. The flower isn't quite open enough in this picture to see all the colors yet. No powdery mildew yet either.
And after I complained of no butterflies, a nice one came by yesterday to make a liar out of me. A fresh spicebush swallowtail. I was so pleased that I posted 3 pictures of it (1,2,3). I don't have any spicebush in the backyard, but I understand the caterpillars feed on sassafras, and my two small clumps of sassafras look like they might be big enough now to support a population.
This time, since the tomato was only half-ripe, only half of it was eaten. I think this rules out the neighbors - you'd have to be awfully low to the ground to eat this tomato while it was still on the plant. Maybe the ones that are coming on now, and are higher on the plant, will be out of reach of whatever critter likes them. Likes them when they're ripe, that is. The totally green one next to the half-eaten half-ripe one had a bite out of it, but that was all.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Well I'm really glad I took a picture. I was thinking of BLT's, fresh salsa, bread salad, pizza margherita, sliced tomatoes with onions and basil, and so on and on. It was a lot to ask from one little tomato, I know. So I was waiting for it to be perfect.......waiting...waiting...(it still had those green shoulders)...waiting...(and it didn't feel quite ripe)...waiting...(and we were going out to dinner last night anyway)...waiting....... and then ...... this morning it was gone! Vanished without a trace. Is one of my neighbors a thief? Do rabbits eat tomatoes? All I know is it's gone. There will be more. I hope.
Assassin Bugs Must Die?
Any experts on Wheel Bugs or Assassin Bugs reading this? I'm overrun with them this year. So far I've learned that they eat Japanese Beetles (good) and Butterflies (bad). I've also learned they bite humans, even though humans are too big for lunch. I got bit by one yesterday and first thought it was a bee sting, except I didn't see any bees nearby. It felt like somebody heated a needle with a blow-torch and plunged it straight down into my finger. No bad after-effects, but I understand that's not always the case.
Anyhow, I thought I was seeing fewer butterflies this year, and then thought perhaps I just haven't been out looking very often, and now I suspect these bugs. So my dilemma is whether to let them live. I really hate to kill anything that kills Japanese beetles, but I really hate to have anything around that kills butterflies. What to do, what to do? My current thinking is to try to level the playing field a little. Get rid of some, move some closer to the Japanese Beetles, and let the rest stay where they are.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
We spent some time in Louisa County over the weekend, and I added a new butterfly to my list - Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia). There were at least a dozen different kinds of butterflies in this same area at the same time. Mostly skippers - the ones that drive me insane trying to ID. They seemed most interested in the spotted knapweed. Too bad it's such a nasty, invasive, non-native plant. The American Lady pictured to the right (and here) found some clover in bloom amidst the knapweed.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
We're in the thick of lily season here. I don't have many plants of the genus Lilium, but have many more called lilies, and some in the family Liliaceae that aren't called lilies. The Hemerocallis fulva (daylily) hybrids are peaking now. I think all mine need to be divided - the flowers were much sparser this year. I also noticed that the scapes seem shorter this year, but I attributed that to the drought before the deluge.
The Lilium hybrids just began flowering a few days ago. Currently, I have one Asiatic, one Orienpet, and two Oriental hybrids. 'Grand Cru' (Asiatic) is almost finished, and 'Oriana' (Orienpet) just began. The Oriental hybrids have fat buds, and I can't wait for that gorgeous fragrance.
Two Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes candida) flowered recently, from newly planted bulbs. Last year's have put up leaves, but so far no flowers.
Hostas, aka Plantain Lilies, are in various stages of bloom. 'Big Mama' (love that name) bloomed several weeks ago. 'Golden Tiara' is at peak now. The big-dark-green-leaved blue-flowered unknown is just getting underway. The rest are yet to come.
I purchased three Gloriosa lilies this year from Brent & Becky's Bulbs, but two of them have only just recently sent up shoots, so it will be a while for flowers on those. The third? I need to dig it up to see if it's rotted.
The lemon lily, or Hemerocallis flava (aka liliasphodelus), bloomed long ago in early June.
My crinum lily didn't bloom last year, and I was surprised that it overwintered outdoors in a pot - we'll see if that blooms later in the fall. Some Nerines (spider lilies, Guernsey lilies) also overwintered outdoors in pots, and they should bloom much later as well.
I'm sure I'm forgetting some.....
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Herbs and Garlic
I wasn't sure whether this should be posted on the garden blog or the food blog, and so I created a hybrid. I don't grow much in the way of edibles, other than herbs, garlic, tomatoes and chiles. Not enough suitable growing space, unfortunately. But my two rosemary plants have gotten very woody and in need of pruning. I cut them back a bit earlier in the spring, and they could still use more. Ditto for a couple of sage and thyme plants. I now believe it's a mistake to prune them much in the spring - I think they regrow better if I prune them in the summer. And besides, that coincides with grilling season. Yesterday, I planned to rotisserie some chicken wings with sprigs of rosemary between them, but was rained out by our daily thunderstorm. But even so, I ended up pruning a lot more rosemary than I planned, along with some sage and thyme. If you want to read how I cooked with it, go here.
The basil is coming along nicely now - it seems to appreciate all the rain. I have one really amazing cinnamon basil plant this year - the flavor and aroma are just outstanding. But it's the same old story - in the spring rush I didn't bother to label the plants when I put them in the ground, and so now I don't know if the one I like is Mexican Cinnamon Spice from Nichols Garden Nursery or Cinnamon Basil from Stokes. And worse, I seem to end up with a different type of plant every time I order cinnamon basil seed. From what I read at my favorite herb/spice website, I think the one I like must be the Mexican Cinnamon Spice, but if anybody knows a good authoritative source for sorting out all the various basils, I'd love to hear about it. In the meantime I think I should plant some more seeds, and LABEL them CAREFULLY this time.
I haven't planted any garlic for a couple of years, but sometimes they still sprout from forgotten cloves left in the ground. I just used up the last of one such yesterday, along with cinnamon basil and sweet Genovese basil, in a bread salad to serve with the not-grilled chicken wings.
Happy Independence Day