Zucchini pollination

How can I help you? Welcoming words to a troubled gardener. As summer marches on, I’m regularly asked about problems that crop up in the garden. Here are some tips and advice for situations you also may be encountering.

Zucchini squash, that fasted growing and most prolific of all summer squash, has many uses. Rather than bribe neighbors to take your giant zucchini, check the plants often and harvest them when small – the size of your finger . The flesh of these gourmet delicacies is soft and sweet at this stage.

Zucchini, as with all summer squashes and winter squash such as pumpkins, bear two kinds of flowers on the same plant. The female flower contains the ovary that will develop into the fruit itself. For every female flower, there are at least three male flowers which produce the pollen. Bees do the job of carrying pollen from the male to the female flowers. That’s why it’s important to plant flowers and shrubs that attract bees. Remember not to use pesticides ,even organic neem oil and spinosad , when bees are present.

After the female flower has faded and begins to form fruit, the role of the male flower is over. Your zucchini plant may end up with lots of excess male flowers that are edible and can be prepared in a variety of delicious ways. You may have heard of squash blossom soup or baked stuffed squash blossoms but if you go for simple recipes try making quesadillas.

After cutting the stem from the bottom of the blossoms, spread several in a single layer over half of a large flour tortilla. Top with mozzarella or your favorite cheese, fold the tortilla over and let it heat gradually and both sides. When the cheese is fully melted and the blossom have collapsed, your culinary delight is ready.

How to Plant a Vignette in your Garden

Most people want to do the right thing, they just don’t always know what it is- in the garden, anyway. Often when I visit a garden to help with the design, I find lots of great plants scattered about that just need to find the right spot to call home and something to tie them together.

We all do it – over the years buying plants we just have to have with no plan of where they might be used effectively. The garden becomes a collection of mismatched plants and that dramatic border you’ve envisioned just don’t come together.

Where to begin? Picture sections of the garden as separate scenes composed of small groups of plants that look good together because of their complementary and contrasting features.

Start with a strong foliage plant, then add other plants with interesting textures, forms and colors to complete the scene. Don’t simply alternate textures because that could make the garden look too controlled and predictable. Sometimes repeating a bold, course texture makes the planting restful.

Select the first plant in a vignette for its foliage. Because it serves as the main plant, it has to have leaves that look clean year round or from the time they emerge in spring until fall. Avoid plants that become discolored or tattered as the season progresses from weather, disease or pests. You can discover reliable foliage plants by observing other gardens, especially in late summer.

Examples of strong anchor foliage plants for shade include Japanese maple, hydrangeas, dogwood, pieris japonica, camellia, aucuba, rhododendron, ribes sanguineum and viburnum,. Good plants to anchor a sunny garden vignette would be butterfly bush, a tall grass like miscanthus sinensis Morning Light, ceanothus Concha, rockrose, western redbud, bush anemone Japanese barberry and lavatera.

Select supporting plants to balance the main plant in your grouping. Vary the shapes of these secondary plants to create interesting compositions. Too many plant like iris, daylilies or liriope with swordlike leaves, for instance,  would create vertical chaos. You can use one but no more than two plants to add vertical emphasis. Also using more fine-textured plants than course, large-leaved plants seems to work better. Shady medium-sized plants might include hardy geraniums, hosta, carex Evergold, ligularia, coral bells, Pacific coast iris and western sword fern. Good supporting plants for sun include salvia, penstemon, rudbeckia, yarrow, artemisia, eriogonum, blue oat grass and society garlic.

Groundcovers finish a vignette. Look for color cues from your first foliage plant and choose a low grower that complements it. Color can connect plants that differ greatly in form and color. Think of groundcovers as carpeting for your garden. Golden creeping Jenny and lamium Pink Pewter are good choices for a shady area while elfin thyme and dymondia would tie together a group in the sun.

Don’t be afraid to move a plant that is not working where its growing now. Make a note in your journal reminding yourself to transplant it sometime in the fall. Gardening is a dynamic and fluid process. Enjoy piecing  together pieces of the puzzle.