Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I grow a lot of Penstemons east of the house; they are so lovely and charming when they bloom in late spring, and there are several different species that like conditions spanning wet to dry.

Gulf Coast Penstemon is one of those penstemons that tolerates wet conditions, although in my garden it doesn't live very long. Usually once it's flowered and the seed is ripe it's gone. Well worth keeping going from seed for its magical colors, pink in bright daylight and electric lavender at twilight.

I wanted to add Smooth beardtongue to my garden after seeing it at the Mason Farm Biological Reserve, which is in the floodplain of the Haw River. (Disclaimer: I am never sure whether I'm looking at P. laevigatus or P. digitalis, or how much of a difference there is between the two.) These white-flowered penstemons have lasted in my garden up to 5 years.

These pink flushed ones may be hybrids, or just a color variant.

The penstemon below is like Gulf Coast Penstemon ~ beautiful, changeable in the light, tolerant of periodically wet feet, and short-lived. It looks like Eastern Gray Beardtongue may be one its parents.

I've posted about 'Midnight' many times. According to Annie's Annuals it is P. x gloxinoides, which is a European hybrid. Unlike my other penstemons this one actually forms a small shrub and doesn't set seed. All it asks for is good garden soil. It even reblooms some in summer and fall.

Eventually I'd like to back off so much seed starting, but I always plan on starting beardtongue from seed every year, as well as foxglove and whatever natives I've chosen from the NC Botanical Garden.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

East of the house

As I wrote in an earlier post, the east side of my house is my experimental laboratory for plants that need some shade and/or sharp drainage all year. Peonies dislike wet feet so my collection of 2 resides beside the house.

Peony 'Festiva Maxima'

Peony 'Raspberry Sundae'

Foxglove doesn't like being soggy in winter either.

Phlox pilosa doesn't need part shade or dryish winters, but I wanted another spring phlox next to the house to go along with Woodland Phlox and I figured it'd be happier than Marsh Phlox.

I know people grow Siberian Iris in ponds in some parts of the country, but here they seem to do best on the dry side. For a while I planted them in damp places (the edges of ditches and other low places) and they either stayed small or just died. Then I got a bluish-purple iris in a trade and on a whim stuck a piece of it next to the house, where it grew into a big clump. Here it is with Phlox 'Minnie Pearl' and Japanese Roof Iris.

I was on a quest to find a mid-size white phlox after seeing one that lined the driveway of a house that I drive by on the way to the feed store. May have just been a short 'David' but everything about it was smaller and it bloomed a good month earlier. I think I found the closest thing to it that I could find (if it isn't an exact match) at Plant Delights with 'Minnie Pearl'. It's thought to be a naturally occurring hybrid between Phlox maculata and possibly Phlox glaberrima. The mystery phlox could also be Phlox carolina 'Miss Lingard'.

Japanese Roof Iris likes living next to the house too, in this spot where it gets some sun until 3pm in summer. I am very fond of this iris with its rich lavender color and interesting purple spots and stripes.

The one damp place beside the house is under the faucet. I transplanted this Lyreleaf sage from the "road" between the floodway fields here. I actually prefer it to the cultivars with lots of burgundy on the leaves. These just have a tracing, but enough to be interesting and beautiful.

A Celandine Poppy has seeded itself under the faucet too, along with a columbine. Woodland Phlox and Gulf Coast Penstemon are on the left. I plug phlox divisions and penstemon seedlings in every available spot, since recent hot summers have made the bed beside the house very dry. Woodland phlox has struggled instead of spreading. In addition, Eastern Gray and Gulf Coast Penstemons seem to die off once they go to seed.

I've always liked the fairybell sort of quality of columbines and many seedlings reside next to the house.

The side side of the house is a place for my woodland treasures like Virginia Bluebells and native azaleas.

Coast Azalea

Coast azalea, left; Alabama azalea, right

I picked up this purple geranium from a lady in Selma who sells a lot of iris and peonies. It's very robust and I love the flowers.

The genus of Penstemons ranges in moisture preferences all over the spectrum, but many garden varieties prefer good drainage. I've had Penstemon 'Midnight' for 5 years now so it must like where it is.

I like the combination of P. 'Midnight' with the vanilla and strawberry blooms of Oakleaf Hydrangea 'Dayspring'. I have four oakleaf 'Pee Wee's in front of the house but this one tends to bloom and color earlier in the year and the blooms have a lot more pink in them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Prissy, Fine Gardening, and flowers

I'd tentatively planned on working in the garden this past weekend, but that didn't happen. Instead there was a trip to the emergency clinic at NC State overnight Friday night/ Saturday morning with Prissy, a snowstorm on Saturday, and a blustery frigid day on Sunday meant staying inside as much as possible. Prissy came home on Saturday and then went back on Monday for an abdominal ultrasound. She's feeling much better but we're still waiting on another test result. Currently she's sitting on my lap with a shaved belly from the ultrasound.

NC State is fond of its brick and mortar (some might say overly) but is home to the JC Raulston Arboretum and many interesting plant specimens on campus. While waiting in the lobby for the intern at the vet school to talk to me I picked up a copy of Fine Gardening and was quite impressed. Over 10 years ago I thinned my magazine subscriptions all the way down to one horse-related weekly but now I wonder what I've been missing.

Onto more of the archives... microclimates in the garden between the house and the drive cover the range from sunny and wet to half-shady and dry. The edges of the beds catch much of the run-off from the house and are perfect for moisture-lovers like Virginia Spiderwort and Blue Flags.

Buds of spiderwort 'Zwanenburg Blue'

Blue Flags (Iris virginica)

Amsonia hubrichtii and Amsonia tabernaemontana are usually described as liking a well-drained medium (this one is a hybrid) but mine have done very well in places that periodically get a lot of moisture. The Amsonia that grows wild here does so in sloughs and down in the floodway fields.

The rest of the garden is filled with plants that prefer the usual but ever-elusive moist but well-drained soil, like Summer Phlox. I cut down all of the dead stalks of the phlox and put them in the trash after reading Gail's post about the Garden Phlox Bug. I'm not sure they are actually here but they sounded skeevy enough that I didn't want to take any chances. Summer Phlox is a staple here.

Verbena bonariensis

Bearded iris do well until they get crowded out.

The garden at the side of the house is its own little ecosystem. Rather than being filled with roses like the rest of the garden,

it's planted with a whole variety of things. It's my playground for plants that need some shade and good drainage. In fact that part of the garden needs its own post!

More from the side garden:

Marsh phlox and blue flags

Woodland phlox, columbine, and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum).

'Sir Thomas Lipton' and 'Hansa'

Mockorange, Penstemon 'Midnight', and oakleaf hydrangea

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