Monday, April 30, 2012

Gardening A to Z: Z is for Zinnia

For some reason, when I was a kid, I often got zinnias and marigolds confused. I guess that isn't too abnormal, as some varieties of zinnias do resemble marigolds.

I just didn't really care for them, though. My father adored them and planted them in front of the store every year. Perhaps if I caught more glimpses of butterflies on them like in the picture, I wouldn't mind as much.

A few years ago, I was shopping for seeds when I realized that zinnias had even more shapes. I am particularly drawn to the pinwheel ones. 

Now that I know there are more varieties and colors, I tend to include them every year. I put them in a bed that has small peonies growing. I plant a mix of seeds of zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos and portulaca, for a variety of height and texture in color. And then I hope the birds don't eat all of the seeds before they get a chance to grow.

I have already purchased my seeds for this year. Now for the weather to get warm enough to start planting them....

Gardening A to Z: Y is for Yard

My yard is my happy place. When I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of time wandering our fenced-in side yard. My dad would talk about how I would wander around his gardens, delicately touching every plant and closely examining them. I loved getting lost among the ferns, trees and bushes. As an adult, I love to sit in my backyard and feel the sun beating down on my face. I love the feeling of release when my fingers dig into the dirt. I love the pride that I feel when I get everything weeded and cut back. I still love to run my fingers through the leaves and to smell each individual bloom. Now I take pictures of what grows, to share them with everyone.

I could sit outside in that small outdoor space all day. The disadvantage of living in a city is that there are always people around. The advantage of my yard, though, is that it is a larger one than most of the people in my neighborhood. I am a single family dwelling on a corner, which leaves me a lot of extra yard space.

Some day I will have to leave this yard behind. And then I will make the next one my happy place.

Gardening A to Z: W is for Wonder

When I was a child, the garden always filled me with a sense of wonder. I was amazed at how beautiful the plants were. I enjoyed following their cycles through the seasons and was almost able to base time on them. I was amazed at how they seemed to change through the year. I loved the feel of the plants and to smell each one of their scents. I loved to draw pictures of them and used the entire rainbow of that 64-crayon box when coloring in my coloring books. After all, I had a rainbow of flowers available to me every year and they came in more than 8 colors.

As I learned more about plants, I as fascinated with how one little seed could become a big majestic plant. There was a harmony in nature that couldn't be replicated anywhere else. I remember writing my own story about how a seed grows into a flower, and the balance and harmony involved in it. Naturally, I proceeded to lose that story, which is a shame. I remember my teacher telling me to save it and to publish it some day.

I love to share the wonder of plants with my students every year. This year, one of them brought in a starter kit for a sunflower, which accompanies Eric Carle's book The Tiny Seed. We just planted it last week. I also set up my lima bean planting activity. The kids have been busy preparing their seeds in the baggies, so that they can watch how they grow. Every day, they check their plants and are ecstatic when they see signs of growth. I am passing that wonder on to a new generation.

Gardening A to Z: X is for Xanthospermous

I was looking for words that begin with the letter "x" to fill in this post. Thanks to the Internet, it isn't as difficult as you would think. I found a word on The Phrontistery: "xanthospermous." It means "having yellow seeds." And then it occurred to me that I couldn't think of any plants that have yellow seeds. I had to do more research. I found a lot of information about plants with yellow seeds being dominant. And then there was a bunch of stuff form biology that I vaguely remember from 20 years ago.

Mustard seeds are often yellow or white.

Some varieties of ferns will drop yellow seeds.

A heterozygous pea plants will drop yellow seeds.

Do you know of any other xanthospermous plants?

Gardening A to Z: V is for Vinca

Vinca is one of the only groundcovers that I think I would willingly use in one of my gardens. I like the deep green of the leaves. And of course, it has a purple flower. Purple is my favorite color and is automatically used in my garden as any flower that blooms in that color.

Photo copyright Andrea Coventry

Spring time is the best time to see these flowers in bloom. I wish they would last all season. Then again, they are a promise of warmer weather to come, because they arrive in the spring. 

Gardening A to Z: U is for Umbel

When doing research for the more difficult letters for this challenge, I came across a great site called Phrontistery. It has a bunch of random words that start with every letter of the alphabet. For the letter "u," I chose "umbel." It means "mass of flowers springing from a single center."

Oh, how I am inspired to go out and spend a wad of money on plants for pots, just from that definition! I have visions of wild color combinations all tightly packed in a burst of petals and foliage and strategically placed all around the garden. One of my favorite places to put a random spray of flowers in a pot is on my old bench in the middle of my side bed. I have an old coal container that someone had in her barn. It is slowly falling apart, so it is useless, except as a gardening ornament. It allows for a burst of color to spring up in the middle of the perennials all season long.

It's too bad that it is still only about 40 degrees outside and that I have no extra cash. Ah, but I can dream....

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Gardening A to Z: T is for Tickseed

Tickseed is another name for what I have always called coreopsis. I actually prefer the name coreopsis. Tickseed just sounds like it is crawling with bugs. Also, the golden retriever that was the school pet when I was a kid was named Coreopsis and we called her Corey for short. She was my first dog.

The kind that I have that does the best is of the larger yellow variety. It seems to be the hardiest of the ones available around here. Here is mine from last summer, poking up through my Japanese maple.

Photo copyright Andrea Coventry

There is a more delicate variety in a softer yellow, known as moonbeam. The leaves are also more threadlike. My father had a lot of it in his yard. I have also seen it in pink and ruby red. The ruby red is supposed to be the most delicate, I think. It needs more protection than I have been able to give it in our harsh Upstate winters.

Gardening A to Z: S is for Sunflower

Every year I try to grow sunflowers in my yard. The location is sunny enough. My problem is just that the stupid birds usually feed on the seeds before they have much of a chance to grow. When I first started planting sunflowers in this corner of the yard, I actually would get a few to grow. The birds got smart.

Nevertheless, every year I buy a variety of seeds and plant them in vain, hoping that a few will take. I like to try different varieties in different colors. I am all for tradition, but like to step outside of the box in my yard. 

Until mine actually grow, I will continue to drive outside of the city limits to look at the fields of sunflowers in the suburbs. This photo isn't an actual photo of the field to which I am referring, but it gives you the gist. Perhaps this year I will remember to take a picture of it.

Gardening A to Z: R is for Rhododendron

I mentioned azaleas in the first post during the challenge, so I thought it necessary to bring up their cousins, the rhododendrons. I am not sure how I feel about these bushes. The flowers are beautiful and I love the leaves.

What I do not like is that these bushes get so darned big. The azaleas I have in my yard are easy to maintain and to keep small. I have never seen an obnoxiously large azalea bush. One yard in which I do some basic weeding and mulching every year, though, has these ginormous rhododendrons that are as big as the garage. Yes, they provide some great shade and can block the windows. Yes, they are spectacular when they are in bloom. But the rest of the time, they just seem like big blobs of green leaves. I prefer a bit more color and in smaller sizes, I guess.

Gardening A to Z: Q is for Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace is also known as Wild Carrot. Sure enough, if you pull it completely out of the ground, the roots resemble a carrot. You cannot, however, consume them as a human.

Most people consider these plants to be weeds and pull them out as soon as they are spotted in the garden. I happen to find them quite beautiful. Perhaps it is because as a child, they randomly grew throughout the wild areas in our big backyard. They are also fun because you can cut them and place them in a glass of colored water. After a few hours or a day, the white flower on the top will change to whatever color you have dyed the water. It's a great trick to use with young children to demonstrate how water travels from the roots, up the stem, to the flower.

These white weeds resemble the perennial plant yarrow. My father loved to have yarrow in his yard. It made my mom crazy because she always thought it was Queen Anne's Lace and wanted to pull them out. She grew up on a farm and spent many hours having to weed along the tomato plants. I have a tendency to allow them to stay - within reason.

Gardening A to Z: P is for Peony

Oh, how I love my peonies. These flowers bloom every spring and fill my yard with a wonderful fragrance. They smell the way that I always imagine roses are supposed to smell. Only I have the varieties of roses that rarely give off a fragrance.

I have two colors of peony in my yard. My white one resides in the big side bed and always seems to grow well in advance of the others. This year, it was somewhat damaged by that freak Nor'easter we had last weekend. The heavy snow and ice caused it to bend and some of the stalks broke. There are still several left, but it won't be as big and beautiful as last year.

My other one is a pink variety that grows in the corner that connects my two rosebush rows. It always is slower to come up. I don't know if it is getting too much sun there or is too exposed to the elements, but at least it is finally coming up. I was worried this year that something strange had happened to it. I have it growing on the right side of a mini bed, but there was a peony starting to grow in the middle of the bed. Nothing was happening in the original location. I finally remembered that I planted some new peony roots last year, so the new growth should be those. The original one just started to come up.

I purchased a few other varieties in root form last year and at the beginning of the season this year. I would love to have a bed of peonies that lies behind my lilac bush. They just make me so happy.

[Both photographs in this post are copyright Andrea Coventry.]

Gardening A to Z: O is for Orchid

The orchid is a flower that has eluded me through my years of gardening. They are absolutely gorgeous. I see them all the time in the stores. I desperately want to have a purple one growing in my house or in my classroom. But they are just too tempermental for me.

I usually have somewhat of a green thumb, so I thought I would give one a try. I think it lasted maybe a week. I don't think it was attacked by my cat. She pretty much left my plants alone. I think I just didn't understand all that it really took to care for one of these delicate flowers. Some day, when I have more time, I will probably take the time to read up on them more and see if I can try it again.

Gardening A to Z: N is for Nasturtium

Nasturtium is an annual flower that has beautiful orange and yellow blooms on it. You can also use it to garnish your salads. I have never tried it, but I hear it has a somewhat peppery taste, adding a kick to your garden greens.

I usually prefer to use it in pots with other plants in similar colors. As it grows, it can start to hang down from the pot, creating a beautiful trailing feature in your design. Both of my parents really liked them, too.

Have you ever tried it? Or, have you ever eaten any other kinds of flowers? I have only ever had violet jelly.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gardening A to Z: M is for Mums

Back in the day when I tried to have color as long as possible during the season, I used to love mums. I like their intense color blending the garden with the leaves changing colors on the trees. I like how they look in clumps. But they don't stay that way!

I quickly found after a couple of years that they spread quite quickly. What started out as a couple of clumps became a dominant row. It was interesting to see how they started to blend their colors. However, they also prevent bulbs from coming up and are not easy to cut back in the late fall or early spring. Sometimes when I cut out the dead stalks, it leaves an empty hole. Perhaps I am not always doing that part right. 

I do keep my mums in my garden. They were in place before I moved in and I have a lot of other plants around them. I am trying to get more to grow up in between them and am trying to contain them. I just don't feel like adding anymore.

Gardening A to Z: L is for Lilies

[All photographs in this post are copyright Andrea Coventry]

I think my lilies are my most prized possession in my yard. I have so many different varieties. I love the way they smell. I love the way they look. There are so many different colors available. They always make me think of summer.

When I was a kid, my dad had tiger lilies growing in the yard, around the plot where our annual wading pool would go. I love the way they fold back and are so speckled.

We also had a lot of daylilies in the yard. I have noticed that most people like to have the traditional yellow ones. I prefer coming up with as many colors and petals as I can.

Asiatic lilies were also an early staple in my gardens. I like the shape of them and am fascinated by their stalks and leaves. Unfortunately, this one kind that those stupid beetles like to eat.

Oriental lilies are similar in appearance to the asiatic lilies, except they are much taller and often have multiple blooms on one stalk. I have Stargazers, which are white and pink, but my white ones are my favorite. They grow as tall as me.

A couple of years ago, I discovered the joys of trumpet lilies. They grow even higher than my Orientals, have a greater blend of color in the blooms, and are the most fragrant that I have found. Again, those stupid beetles are killing them off and it makes me sad. These are not inexpensive plants.

Other kinds of lilies do exist. I have tried Calla lilies, but they require a great deal of care and didn't do well. I hope I can bring all of these back and then add some more later.

Gardening A to Z: K is for Killing Everything

I don't know if it is this wacky spring, or if I really messed things up by not working out in the yard much last year. I just couldn't do it. My heart wasn't in it. And now this spring we have had extremely sunny days followed by snowstorms. It's not good for anything.

Before the Nor'easter hit this past weekend, I spent some time on that sunny Friday (80 degrees) wandering around the yard. I was finally cleaning out a lot of the dead leftovers from last summer, so that you could see the new spring growth. I have noticed that many of my bulbs have not come back. Now, I realize that they do not continue on indefinitely and that the squirrels have a thing for moving them all around the yard. But they are really pathetic and almost nonexistent after a few years of spectacular showings. I also wonder if this hot weather alternating with snow is starting to affect them. They have looked even sadder since.

I also noticed that those damn beetles are already devouring my lilies. I feel sick. They haven't even had a chance to grow and those creatures are just killing them. I have spent so much time and money on growing those lilies and they are just shredded. I am trying to get out at least once a day to pinch them and trying to scrape off the eggs. The one advantage of the snow was they seemed to bury themselves back into the ground.

What is really hurting me right now is it looks like my original Japanese maple is gone. My father bought that for me when I put in my big garden. He loved them and wanted to give me that. It would be ironic for that to go after him, but obviously I am not okay with that. My maples always take a little longer to finally grow their leaves. But when I look at where my other one is in growth and how it has leaves starting to appear, I am not so sure that this one is even budding.

I hope the weather balances itself out soon and that I can keep getting out there to work on it. I want to revive some of this poor yard.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Not leaving A to Z!

I feel like I need to put a post on all of my blogs. Yes, I am WAY behind on the challenge. Life keeps getting in my way. I should have listened to that gut instinct of mine that said, "Write them early!" Lol

Anyway, I have a ton of writing time coming up again soon and will be cranking them out and I WILL finish this month! On all of them! Promise!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gardening A to Z: J is for Johnny Jump-Ups

You know that spring is coming when the Johnny Jump-Ups start to pop up in the garden! These perennial violas are related to pansies. Their bright colors always make me smile. And once I see them, I am always inspired to start shopping for their annual cousins.

It's still too cold to start playing with the annuals right now. I had hoped that over my spring break, I could at least get started. I thought we were going to have an early spring, as temperatures hit the 70s in March. I guess I was wrong. The nurseries aren't even open, yet. You can tell they will be soon, though. And then I can stock up on more of these and their relatives.

Gardening A to Z: I is for Ivy

My father always had dreams of an English cottage garden, which I assume includes ivy growing up the sides of the house. While I agree it can be stunning on old brick houses, for my house it just wouldn't work. Ivy actually doesn't work anywhere at my house. I have no large area that seeks groundcover like ivy.

My personal growing of ivy always was as a houseplant. My previous home was great for growing houseplants. The ivy hung nicely in the window on a hook. It would get big and trail nicely. I did better with the more variegated leaf, though.

I remember doing a gardening job for someone. He had a small bed between his house and his neighbor's driveway that was a tangled mess of ivy, poison ivy, random weeds and a rosebush. He wanted it cleaned out, so as to not offend his neighbors anymore. Someone had once told me that I could cut ivy and it would grow back again.

I still go to his neighbor's house on occasion. I'm sad that the ivy didn't really grow back after all of these years. But none of the other junk that is in there grew back. I think I will leave groundcovers to other people.

Gardening A to Z: H is for Hostas

I love the look of large hostas in a shaded bed. They just fit so well under trees. I had always hoped that I could achieve a similarly beautiful look by placing a bunch of them in my north-facing front bed. But somehow, it just isn't quite the same. (Part of the problem is a sagging gutter above that can overflow and dump too much water.)

I think I also need to work on the beds a bit. I neglected them last year, because after Dad died, I just didn't feel like working out in the yard as much. Hostas are hardy, though, and came back anyway. If I really look closely through the beds, I can see signs of them warming up to make this year's appearance. 

This is one of the hostas I have in my front bed. This is one of my favorite color combinations. It looks especially nice when my purple daylily blooms next to it. The colors offset nicely. My other favorite color is that blue color. I am hoping to get some of those for the side part of the front bed. 

I am grateful that I live in the city as I look at my hostas. Every once in a while, we get a rogue deer that has somehow gotten away from the various nearby parks. Hostas are like salads for deer. (My tulips are a fun sweet snack.) So, if I lived elsewhere, there is no way that they would grow at all.

This one is in my giant side bed of perennials. It looks nicer in the early summer, before the daisies and coneflowers take over the bed. 

Where do you like to put your hostas? What is your favorite color?

Gardening A to Z: G is for Gardenia

Gardenias are beautiful flowers with an amazing scent. I remember going through a serious gardenia phase in college, where I doused myself in the Bath & Body Works version before going out. Its scent worked better with my chemistry than rose, which is one of my favorite flowers.

But trying to grow gardenia was a different story. I remember finding one at Home Depot or something, in the houseplant section. The home I had at the time was a prime one for growing houseplants, thanks to the positioning of several windows. I figured I had it made.

Alas, either the house was too cold or I couldn't get enough light or too much light or something. After its first round of blooming, the gardenia plant slowly started to die off. Some day I would like to try one again. But I think I had better research it first.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Gardening A to Z: F is for Forsythia

I never really was a big fan of forsythia bushes. I don't know why. I remember having them while I was growing up. They just never did anything for me. But this year is different. I think I am noticing them a bit more this year because they remind me of my dad. He was always so happy to see them bloom and always had a bush in his yard. With the unseasonably warm temperatures, the forsythia bushes burst into bloom earlier than usual. It was a taunt that spring was just around the corner. Of course, last night there was a bit of snow and it is really cold. It doesn't feel like spring at all. But those forsythia bushes seem to hold a promise that warmer weather and sunny days will soon be here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gardening A to Z: E is for Echinacea

The echinacea plant is one of my favorites in my perennial garden. You may know it better as coneflower. When they are in full bloom, the purple petals bend backwards, resembling a cone. I always think they look like shuttlecocks from badminton.

These gorgeous flowers come in both purple and white. I believe I have seen a yellow variety on occasion. Unfortunately, the white and the yellow do not seem to do well in my yard. I only get the purple, which is my favorite color, anyway. I like how it contrasts with the white Shasta daisies that are always blooming around the same time.

Coneflowers are also good for attracting bees to your yard. Bees help with pollination, which allows for your perennials to grow. I also have small vegetable gardens both in the ground and in containers. I need the bees to help with those, as well. And they sure make for some beautiful pictures when you can catch them. :-)

Some people also use echinacea for medicinal purposes. I have no idea how to do this from the plants in my garden. I have purchased it in capsule and tea form in health food stores, though.

All photos in this blog post are copyright Andrea Coventry. Please do not use them without written permission.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Gardening A to Z: D is for Dogwood

My father had a terraced garden in our side yard. It had steps leading up to a path on the top level. It wasn't very large, but to a young child, it was a great hiding place. For whatever reason, I dubbed it my "basement." (We didn't have a real basement at our house. I have no idea where I got the idea.) At the end of my "basement" was a dogwood tree. Dad kept it small. To me it was beautiful.

I love this picture. It comes from SXC and was taken by Nathan Bailey. It reminds me of being a kid, looking up at the dogwood tree from my own small perspective in my "basement." 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Gardening A to Z: C is for Coleus

Coleus is that beautiful plant that is colorful leaves. If you let it grow long enough, it will grow this weird purple flower on the top if it. But you want to pinch that off. The leaves are what this annual plant is used for.

Available colors make for absolutely stunning accents. I once had a shaded flower bed that ran along the side of my shed. I used a variety of coleus plants in between impatiens and New Guinea impatiens for contrast and color. It was one of my favorite beds. At this house, the coleus doesn't work as well in the beds. They are too large and get too much sun, or something. Instead, I prefer to use them in pots.

The nice thing is that with the variety of color, the possibilities are almost endless. Come up with a color theme for your pot, and accent the leaves with flowers in a corresponding color. Or, use opposite colors for a fun contrast. Sometimes I just create a pot of coleus that has similar colors, but different leaf shapes and textures. Just remember to always check the light preference of each plant. Coleus can stand some sun, but definitely not full sun. I usually have mine in the north bed or in the partial shade of my front porch steps.

Where do you like to plant your coleus? What is your favorite color combination?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Gardening A to Z: B is for Beans

While I was being taunted by the warm weather in March, I started thinking ahead to my gardens. I started to dream about all of the vegetables I am going to grow. I have the same grandiose dreams every year of actually growing enough vegetables to feed myself through the entire summer. But it never works that way. First, I have a very small garden plot in which I can try to grow my veggies. Second, life often gets in the way. Nevertheless, I dutifully try every year to grow something edible.

The one thing I manage to grow with great success every year is beans. In the spirit of my mother, who grew and canned green beans every summer of my childhood, I successfully plant a semi-decent tiny crop of green beans every year. I have enough for my own dinner for a few weeks. Sometimes I even have a chance to share. I need to remember to plant more seeds every couple of weeks so that I can spread out the harvest.

A couple of years ago, I decided to also try to grow wax beans. I have no idea why they are called wax beans. They are yellow and essentially the same as the green beans. They have a slightly different taste, but are just as good steamed or in a salad as their green counterparts. They grow just as easily, too.

I already have several seed packets purchased. I love being able to buy them so cheaply before the season truly gets underway. I found great prices at Walmart and Dollar General. They are sitting by my back door, longing to be planted in the ground. Alas, it is approximately 30 degrees outside now, so it looks like I will need to wait for a while. Until then, I will dream of healthy, yummy eating.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for Azaleas

I love my azaleas. I love the blooms and I love how they have stayed small in my large bed. I have one white one and one light pink one. Each is in a corner between the sidewalks. But the fact that they stay so small sometimes makes me wonder if I am doing something wrong.

I know that they have a different level of acidity that they prefer in the soil. I have never tested my soil, nor added anything other than fresh layers of Miracle Gro soil and mulch over the fall leaves that naturally cover the ground. But every year, they bloom. They may not always be quite as spectacular as these photographs, but they are still beautiful. They compliment the bulbs that are finishing up and put color in the corners before being overwhelmed by the daisies and coneflowers.

Their cousin is the rhododendron. Those also have beautiful flowers, but they grow way too large for my taste. What I like about the azaleas is to be able to have similar flowers on a much smaller and much more manageable scale.