1. Published
  2. Published

    It’s hard to believe that the first frost may be just around the corner, which means fall jungle cleanup is in operation.  I usually prioritize what needs to be done first by what would be most affected by freezing temperatures.  In my case, that’s plants.  For my “tender” potted plants, I begin by gathering them up from around the jungle and getting them closer to their winter storage area…the garage.  Just in case I get caught off guard, I like them close so they can be moved inside quickly.  But until that point, I’ll use the time to trim, fertilize and hopefully spray a few times with i

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    Early signs of the coming fall had me screaming, literally!  Nocturnal orb-weaver spiders (commonly Neoscona crucifera and Aranus cavaticus) start showing up in late-summer to early-fall and have the habit of building their huge webs in the dark of night, then consuming them and their victims before daylight the next day.

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    Just when my garden is fully deserving of its “jungle” moniker, I attend the 2019 Perennial Plant Association (PPA) National Symposium in Chicago.  Don’t get me wrong, I gained very valuable information throughout the program but the opportunities to bid on or just outright buy herbaceous perennials may not have been a good environment for a plant geek like me.  Let’s just say my car was completely full and the suitcases were an afterthought.

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    The jungle is popping with early summer-blooming flowers, making cut flowers a quick and easy visual treat. I certainly understand some gardener's preference to just enjoy them on the plant, but for me, there is just a little added enjoyment creating a mixed vase of flowers from my own jungle.

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    "Difficult to establish" can be an understatement for some plants. Over the years, I have out of necessity made a "three strikes, you're out" rule for how many times I allow myself to fail with a plant before accepting defeat. Globeflower (Trollius sp.) for example has a reputation for being difficult, but it is still one of my most regretful three strikes addition to "the dead list" because it has such a beautiful flower. Every time I see it in the nursery I still want it; but "the dead list" stays my hand. I just don't have the preferred sunny bog or pond edge to be successful.

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    Bearded irises are blooming in the jungle and the arilbreds are leading the way. Arilbred iris hybrids are produced from crossing the finicky-to-grow aril irises with the more common and easy-to-grow bearded irises. They tend to have a touch of the exotic from their aril iris parentage, but the ease of cultivation from their tall bearded iris parentage. As previously implied, arilbreds bloom earlier than the tall bearded irises, more in time with the standard dwarf bearded irises and the intermediate bearded irises.

  8. Published

    The lawn art (with early flowering bulbs) project was a success. Last fall I planted a number of very early blooming bulbs in a sunny turf area, specifically dwarf iris (Iris reticulata), squill (Scilla sp.) and crocus (Crocus sp.). The iris were first to bloom in late February, followed closely by the other two species. And though the iris and crocus were readily visible even from a distance, the squill were too small and delicate to be easily detected…meaning they were easily stepped on.

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    Over the years I have collected a number of planting media recipes, and each has its own characteristics and usefulness in the garden. Eliot Coleman, author of New Organic Grower, developed a blocking mix a number of years ago that is basically 3 parts peat for structure, 1 part perlite for aeration, 3 parts compost/garden soil, lime for pH correction and a base fertilizer for nutrient needs, which is made up of blood meal, rock phosphate and greensand. This mix works better than standard potting mix when making soil blocks (growing transplants without a pot).
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    My jungle still has the look of winter sleep, but a few plants are starting to stir. As expected, the buds are swelling on Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) and fragrant dawn viburnum (Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'). Daffodils (Narcissus) and Italian arum (Arum italicum) are pushing, but unfortunately, so is the purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum). After looking closely, I noticed the hellebore (Helleborus spp.) blooms developing close to the ground but looking a bit rough around the edges.

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    Does unseasonably warm weather in the middle of winter cause woody perennials (trees and shrubs) to "wake up" too early? As with all things in nature, it all depends. Most trees from temperate climates require the accumulation of winter chill (500 and 1,500 chill hours) and subsequent heat during their dormant phase to resume growth and initiate flowering in the following spring. Chilling hours are the number of hours of exposure to about 45°F, and are measured from leaf drop in autumn until mid-February to early March.

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    Many gardeners are trying to attract more native insects, both in number and diversity into their landscapes in an effort to collectively patchwork a healthier ecosystem. There is an increased number of research projects focused on plant-insect interactions, trying to determine whether natives have a home field advantage over non-natives or cultivars of native plants. Several studies suggest that wild bees prefer to forage on the nectar and pollen from native plants...though not exclusively, while some studies have shown no preference one way or the other.

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    Fall-blooming plants like Chrysanthemum dendranthema 'Cambodian Queen' are a very important source of nectar and pollen late in the season, and on a pleasant sunny fall day can be like Grand Central Station in the insect world. Because there is not much in bloom this time of the year, flower-visiting insects tend to congregate on the few plants that are in bloom. Just casually glancing recently at this pretty pink perennial mum stopped me in my tracks for what turned out a very rewarding flower watch.

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    The Missouri Botanical Garden has transformed an area of turf adjacent to the Lehmann Building into a space of wonder. Hundreds of thousands of flowering bulbs carpet the lawn in a succession of bloom from late winter well into fall, starting with dwarf iris and spring crocus, and ending with fall crocus (Colchicum spp.). Turf has never been that interesting to me but this technique was so transformative, I was encouraged to try it in my jungle this fall…though to a much smaller scale.

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    Late summer flowering perennials may be less common but they are still an important addition to any garden, both for adding color in an otherwise drab time of year, and possibly as valuable pollen/nectar sources for visiting insects and birds.

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    It is amazing how just putting the emphasis on a different syllable can almost turn a normal common word to you into a foreign language…just try saying "em-PHAS-is on a different sill-LAB-ill" to see what I mean. Case in point, I just attended a fruit and nut conference that had attendees from across North America. In a setting like this, you quickly realize that some fun can be had just learning all the different common names and how they are pronounced. Take the tasty pecan (Carya illinoinensis).

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    What a difference the heat of late spring and early summer has on my jungle. I like a changing garden. Gone are all remnants of spring flowering plants; replaced with summer blooms, the likes of shasta daisy, bottlebrush buckeye, monarda, skullcap, oakleaf hydrangea and daylily. Everything has filled in and the entire garden has taken on the feel of secret, enclosed spaces.

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    Portugal is a beautiful country and I wish everyone the opportunity to visit as I did just recently. Portugal is famous for many products but probably port wine come to mind first. Port wine is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is hard to grasp the human effort over the eons that have gone into building rock walled terraces that follow the contour of every inch of the Douro Valley.

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    With some plants gardeners are quite happy to see spread around in the garden, while others not so much. Maybe the "not so much" plants aren't as coveted, not as showy or maybe they spread a bit more than considered polite. But are the negatives overshadowing the potential benefits for some of these plants? Take our native violets for example. Many gardeners view our state flower as an aggressive weed, both in the lawn and the planting bed, and never really see their full beauty that can be attained under "preserved" cultivation.

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    Wattle is not only beautiful but also a great use of repurposed pruning materials. Even if you are unfamiliar with the term "wattle," you most likely have seen examples of fences and other structures made by weaving thin branches ("weavers") between upright stakes ("sales") to form a woven lattice. Check out the Kemper Center vegetable garden at Missouri Botanical Garden where staff are building a short wattle around the central bed using brightly colored weavers and spiral shoots of contorted filbert for additional flair (top image).