Category Archives: cut flowers

Rose Tips and Tricks

The_Mystery_RoseSurrounded by roses of nearly every color in the rainbow I smelled vanilla, spice and honey. The sun peaked in and out of the clouds allowing the vivid hues of the petals to change with the light. I was enjoying the garden of rose aficionados Mark and Lane Maloney of Scotts Valley. Among their 40 rose bushes I was to learn how an expert cares for these beauties.

The oldest roses in the garden are 60 years of age. Mark dug them from his mother’s collection when she died in Atherton 5 years ago. He starting collecting most of his other roses 20-30 years ago when he and Lane moved to the Scotts Valley property. Because he seldom has a rose die the only new rose in the garden is a double blooming red variety called Legend and named after Oprah. It was just starting to open on the day I visited this amazing rose garden.

I asked Mark which rose is his favorite. It was hard to pin him down to just one. The Distant_Drum_rosegarden is divided into two separate beds. One bed is devoted entirely to roses while another blends roses with other perennials. I admired a large shrub covered with pinkish flowers and he replied “this is one my most beautiful roses. It starts out a deep dusty rose then fades to lighter shades as it ages”.  Most of the roses in the garden have large ornamental name tags that he purchased online. The sign at the base read Distant Drums.

I was drawn to the Double Delight as I know it’s one of the most fragrant. Another rose with an incredible scent is Dolly Parton but on this day it hadn’t opened yet. Mark described it as “big and pink”, which seems appropriate.

Strike_It_Rich_roseDouble Delight, like many roses, blooms in cycles. They set buds and bloom for a month, rest for a month, then set another round of blooms. Mark said he usually gets about 3 cycles per season. One of his favorite roses will bloom all summer non-stop. Strike it Rich lives up to the name with lovely sherbet-orange flowers.

Mark also likes Black Magic with deep, reddish-black blooms that last 2 weeks in the garden as does another of his favorites, Fame, with pink flowers so bright they are nearly iridescent .  With deep yellow blooms Gold Medal caught my attention. But then I saw St. Patrick with those cool greenish-white blooms. Mark told me that in the white rose department he thinks White Lightnin’ is a beautiful rose as is the classic, JFK.

The roses in the Maloney’s garden are lush and healthy. What’s your secret I asked? Mark Perfect_Moment_rosesmiled and handed me a Rose Garden Calendar he had prepared on his computer for me. In a nutshell this is how he does it.
Late December- prune heavily down to about 24″ tall.

Early January- spray roses with dormant spray and again in early February.

March 1- fertilize and repeat each month through September.

Mark uses a systemic fertilizer which keeps insects at bay. He also uses an acid fertilizer once or twice a year as well as putting banana peels on the surface of the soil for potassium. I laughed when he told me his banana peel tip. I was nearly standing on a blackened peel with sticker still intact when he shared this info.

His other “secrets” include picking off diseased leaves regularly, pruning lightly throughout the year, mulching with several inches of chipped wood and watering with 1″ of water per rose each week applied in a trough  surrounding the shrub.

Mark is a member of ARS (American Rose Society) with he suggests as a good source of information and also rose recommendations for different areas and climates. He also maintains the roses at the Scott House at Civic Center. So when Mark talks roses, I listen.

How to Design a Perennial Border

rhododendron_occidentale2.1600When I visit my best friend’s house I park next to the perennial border that lines her driveway. At any given time of year there is something blooming, flowers filling the air with fragrance and juicy apples hanging on the tree for picking later in the summertime. She has some California natives as well as traditional cottage garden plants all mixed in together. Originally from Illinois, she loves a garden filled with lush green and color but has designed the space with plants that can use less water than you would expect and still look spectacular.

What makes for a successful border? You see DIY articles in the gardening magazines showing lovely combinations with rules to follow but they always seem to be for a different climate or location. We often have borrowed scenery from the mixed woods and some of their ideas just don’t work well here. Here are some tips for planting a terrific perennial border in our neck of the woods.

Some of the key players in my friends perennial border are natives like Western azalea, kerria_japonica2hazelnut and flowering currant. These are large, woody shrubs that add height, texture and year round interest. They provide the backbone or structure to the border throughout the seasons and even in the winter. She also has a weeping bottlebrush which is evergreen and provides nectar for the hummingbirds as does the flowering currant. An apple tree and a persimmon tower over all the other plants creating a canopy for the shrubs, herbaceous perennials and groundcovers. You could also plant spirea, weigela, cornus and viburnums to provide structure to your border.

My friend’s border is planted so that there is something of interest every month during the growing season. The persimmon tree is the star of the late fall garden with bright orange fruit that hang like ornaments on the tree. In the spring I can’t take my eyes off the kerria japonica whose graceful shape is covered with double golden, pom pom shaped flowers. The vivid, new foliage of the Rose Glow barberry complements the stand of Pacific coast iris with similar cream and burgundy flowers blooming next to it.  Under the bottlebrush a sweep of billbergia nutans or Queen’s Tears is flowering with those exotic looking, drooping flower clusters. They make a great groundcover under the tree and also are long lasting in a vase.

ompholodes2.1600Mid-sized filler plants that thrive in this border include Hot Lips salvia, daylilies and polemonium to name just a few. Daffodils and tulips have naturalized throughout the space. Groundcovers grow thickly to shade the soil and prevent precious moisture evaporation.  Lamb’s ears like their spot under the flowering currant and the omphalodes have spread throughout the border. This little plant looks and blooms like the forget-me-not but the delicate deep blue flowers don’t produce those sticky seeds that plague both our socks and animal fur.

This border get morning sun and mid-afternoon sun until about 3pm. If you have a situation that calls for all sun lovers you could try asters, shasta daisy, grasses, coreopsis, achillea, echinacea, gaillardia, sedum, kniphofia, lavender, liatris and rudbeckia.  Perennials that work well to attract butterflies and hummingbirds include monarda and my personal favorite, cardinal flower.  Both have long, tubular flowers in bright colors such as red, orange and yellow. it’s easy to have the birds and butterflies coming all season when you plant perennials with overlapping bloom times.

Perhaps some of these plant combinations would look great in your garden, too. Just don’t worry too much about the “rules” of perennial borders. Mix it up. You don’t want the border to look like stadium seating. The idea is to have fun and create a border that makes you happy.

Kids & Gardening

Flame_Skimmer_dragonflyIn the summertime, kids have lots of time to enjoy the great outdoors. What better way to teach them how our planet works than to let them grow something in their own garden. Share your enthusiasm for gardening by getting your kids or the neighbor kids interested, too. You'll find sharing your knowledge with a child particularly rewarding and you will have helped create a fellow gardener for the rest of their life.

It may be July but it's not too late to start. Make it enjoyable for everyone by giving kids their own section of the garden or yard to do as they please. I planted pansies as a child in my special area. I also had a couple of big pots filled with potting soil to start my own seeds. Size doesn't matter as long as you let the child choose what they'd like to grow.

Teach children about beneficial insects like butterflies and lady bugs. Good bugs help plants by pollinating flowers or preying on insect pests. Make your garden a more inviting place for these helpful insects by planting lots of flowers and herbs to attract them. Flowers with umbrella shaped clusters of small flowers such as cosmos, zinnia, black-eyed susan and yarrow are favorites of butterflies.  Lady bugs like a pest free garden and will patrol your plants looking for any tiny insects and their eggs.

I remember when I was little and had my own garden patch how excited I was to see a dragonfly. My father was happy, too, as they are a great way to control mosquitoes and other pests. They're the top predators of the insect world. I was fascinated by their bright colors- some reddish orange, some blue, some purple. By  planting a variety of plants and flowers to attract them they would visit my little garden often. They seemed to find a water source to lay their eggs on their own.  I was amazed at how fast they could fly. I've read they can reach speeds of 30 mph.  They are an important part of my early gardening experience.

Edible flowers are also fun for kids to grow. Some common ones to try are tuberous begonia petals that taste like lemon.  Calendulas are spicy as are carnations and marigolds.  Dianthus are clove-flavored, nasturtiums give a hint of horseradish and violas, pansies, hollyhock, squash blossoms and johnny-jump-ups taste like mild lettuce.   You can also freeze flowers in ice cubes like violas, fuchsias, geranium, stock and thyme. The blossoms of beans and peas can be added to a salad or sandwich or use them to decorate the tops of cupcakes and cookies.

Plant a pizza garden.  Use a hose to form a round garden shape and border it with stones or another type of edging of your choice.  Divide the "pizza" into slices using stakes or one of your plant varieties such as basil.  Add stepping stones for the pepperoni slices and plant each section with one tomato plant and one green bell pepper and fill in with garlic, oregano, chives and basil.  By summers end you'll be harvesting the makings for a delicious home made pizza.
 
Kids, even older ones, like hiding places, so grow one in the garden.  You can plant tall growing sunflowers in a circle, leaving a space for a "door" that kids can crawl through once the flowers have grown.  Or build a simple teepee out of fallen branches or long gardening stakes and plant bean seeds around the outside.  Scarlet runner beans are also good and have tender, young pods like green beans in addition to bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds.  Beans grow fast and soon make a great secret hiding place.
 
Another fun project is growing birdhouse gourds.  This fast growing vine can beautify fences and trellises during the growing season.  In the fall, dry and hollow them out to make birdhouses or gorgeous crafts.  You can burn patterns into the surface and stain the gourds with shoe polish making beautiful objects of art that make great gifts.  
    
Flowers that kids can cut
will be interesting for them, too, especially when planted in their own garden.  Cosmos, planted from six packs, provide instant color as well as attracting butterflies.  Zinnias come in a rainbow of colors and are a favorite of swallow-tail butterflies.  Other easy to grow flowers for cutting are snapdragons and who hasn't pinched these to make faces ?

Besides flowers, fragrant plants like lemon basil, lime thyme, orange mint, chives, sage and other herbs engage the senses and can be included in a kid's garden. Lamb's ears are soft and furry.  Get a kid interested in gardening and they'll be happy for a lifetime.
 

Fragrant Plants for the Garden

Stargazer_lilyRecently I received a bouquet of Stargazer lilies. The spectacular flowers on each stem open in succession and the display will last for nearly two weeks if I take care of them changing the water regularly and re-cutting the stems.

Wish the lilies in my own garden would hurry up and open. Mine are always a little behind those in warmer spots.  When they do open later in the month they will scent the garden with an unforgettable fragrance. Some flowers are memorable for their beautiful color, some for the hummingbirds they attract and some have it all-vibrant hues, nectar and fragrance. I love them all. Perhaps you want to add a few new ones to your own garden. Try one of these.

Lilies are one of the easiest of bulbs to grow. Stargazers are the most stunning and perhaps the most celebrated of lily varieties. Curious about their origin I discovered a little intrigue among horticultural historians. Seems they don't like seeing history revised. The bottom line is this lily was not first bred in 1974 by Mr. Leslie Woodruff of California but rather by Robert Griesbach of Washington and named in his friends honor. When you have an established clump of Stargazer lilies it doesn't matter who first bred them.

The stems of the Stargazer can reach 3- 6 ft tall and have in excess of 40 flowers each when planted in full sun in loamy or sandy soil and the blooms will last for a month or so. You can still grow beautiful lilies in as little as 6 hours of sun per day so don't be discouraged if you don't have a spot that receives full sun all day long. The sunlight can even be accrued over the course of the day so if your garden get some morning sun then again later in the day it all adds up.

If you are looking for a fragrant vine other than pink jasmine I have two suggestions. The first is Evergreen clematis_armandii3Clematis ( clematis armandii ) Earlier this spring you couldn't miss their fragrance if you were anywhere near a blooming one. Covered with an abundance of highly-scented, star-like flowers in brilliant white clusters, this showy evergreen vine grows fast in partial sun. This vine is perfect as a patio, trellis or arbor cover and makes a great privacy screen. Give this vine support as it grows to 25 feet long and can become quite heavy. If you live among deer, it's a great choice for a fragrant vine.

Fragrant climbing roses trained on an arbor or fence are classic landscape design choices. One of my favorites for gardens I design is Climbing Iceberg because they are disease resistant and have few thorns. It's hard to find a better behaved rose that gives so much in return with no Iceberg_roseeffort on your part. They start blooming early with a lovely sweet rose fragrance and continue until frost. Two climbers planted on each side of a window make a stunning display. It's one of my favorite white roses of all time and grows in sun or partial shade.

If you think violas are only for the winter garden, think again. Viola Etain is a reliable perennial that blooms heavily spring through fall . Soft primrose yellow petals edged in lavender are sweetly scented and bloom easily in sun or bright shade and in containers. If you cut the plants back to 3" tall once in awhile to rejuvenate and top dress with compost they will reward you with 9 months of fragrance and become one of your favorite violas, too.

There are so many fragrant flowers that make great additions to the garden. Freesia, hyacinth and narcissus bulbs are good bets for early fragrance. Then come the nemesia in every color imaginable. Phlox, lilacs, tuberose, star jasmine, stock, citrus blossoms, gardenia, lily-of-the-valley, daphne, carnations– the possibilities are endless. If you have a particular spot you'd like a suggestion for a fragrant plant, email me and I'd be happy to help.

Fragrance in the garden is nature's way of smiling.
 

Flowers, Edibles and Camellias

Every year the stirrings of early spring excite me. There's even a name for it – spring fever. There are lots of early season plants that can go in right now or you can spend some time planning for later additions to your garden. Both are great ways to kick-start this gardening season.

An article in this month's Sunset magazine talks about the "5- Mile Bouquet". How about a 50-foot bouquet using flowers from your own garden? There are flowers we can grow in every season around here. Who wants to put flowers doused in chemicals and shipped halfway across the world on the table? Plan to use your entire property as a cutting garden. You can have fresh little bouquets year round from your own backyard.

Winter flowering, fragrant sweet peas could be in your vase right now or bright orange and gold calendula. Stock blooms during the winter along with early narcissus. Both are very fragrant. Deer-resistant Sweet Violets are blooming now and smell wonderful in a tiny vase by the kitchen window. Anemone and snapdragons make good cut flowers and will be blooming soon. It's easy to plan ahead for a spring or summer bouquet because there are so many choices but make sure you have aster, scabiosa and gaillardia for those fall arrangements.

This year plan the edible garden around what grows best for you. It's not always cost effective to devote space in your vegetable plot for something that peaks at the same time as it's plentiful at the local farmers market. What makes sense for your taste, time and garden space? Easy to grow edibles like strawberries, blueberries, herbs, lettuces, arugula and peas are delicious freshly picked and don't take up too much room in the garden.

There are ways to make your whole landscaping edible. Fruits, vegetables and herbs can be intermingled with the ornamental shrubs and flowers in the yard. Plant an apple where a crape myrtle was going to go or an artichoke instead of a New Zealand flax. A border of parsley or chives around the flower bed would look and taste great. Or maybe French pole beans to grow up a bamboo arbor you tied together yourself. Take advantage of your entire property to incorporate your favorite edibles.

Now is a good time to pick out a camellia for that morning sun or shady spot that needs a shrub with year round good looks. Looking at pictures of camellia flowers in a catalog is nice but seeing them in person is even better. What better way to choose the perfect one? If you're partial to vivid flowers, Nuccio's Bella Rossa is right up your alley. An abundance of huge formal, crimson red blooms open slowly over a long period for an especially long bloom season. This brilliant camellia is believed to bring wealth if planted at the entrance to your home as are other red flowering plants.

A great camellia to espalier on a trellis is a sasanqua variety called Fairy Blush. Deep pink buds open to apple blossom tinted blooms with a sweet fragrance. Growing to a compact 4-5 feet this plant is perfect for a small courtyard or patio.

Then there's the soft blush-pink, semi-double flowers of Magnoliaeflora that can be the prized plant of the winter garden. It's deer resistant and the showy flowers are good for cutting. It would make a great privacy screen and looks natural in the woodland garden.

 requiring a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Provide well drained soil, rich in organic matter. Feed with an acid fertilizer after bloom. Keep roots cool with a thick layer of mulch and prune them in spring after flowering.
 

Sweet Peas & Cool Season Veggies

Fall is in the air – sort of. The sun is setting earlier each day but our days are still beautiful. The autumnal equinox on September 23rd marks the beginning of fall when day and night are of approximately equal length. Gardeners living in Minnesota and Maine are thinking about "battening down the hatches" for winter already. Us, we’re just starting our fall planting season. There are so many possibilities for fall and winter edibles as well as colorful flowers, berries and foliage. For the biggest show there’s no better time to plant than early fall.  Let the fun begin.

While most of the summer annuals and perennials will bloom until at least October, there are cool season varieties that come into their own as our nights cool and last through the winter.  Try  colorful combinations of snapdragon, pansies, violas, sweet alyssum, calendula, chrysanthemum paludosum, forget-me-not, Iceland and shirley poppies, ornamental kale and cabbage, primrose, stock or sweet peas.

Who doesn’t  love old-fashioned sweet peas? A small bouquet will perfume a room with a delicious scent. They remind me of my Aunt Ruth who grew them every year and let me pick a bunch each spring whenever I went to visit. There are many new varieties and colors these days but back then her sweet pea vines were covered with the classic mixed colors of violet, blue, pink, peach and white.

Sweet peas have been around for a long time and many different countries claim that they originated there. One story is that a monk, Father Cupani, first harvested them in the wild on an island off Sicily in 1695` and sent the seeds to the Netherlands. In the 1800’s, an Scottish nurseryman named Harry Eckford began hybridizing and introducing larger varieties in a wider range of colors where they became quite a sensation. The most famous and perhaps the most important use of this flower was the extensive genetics studies performed by Gregor Mendel. Since they self-pollinate, their characteristics such as height, color and petal form could easily be tracked. But whether they came from Ceylon- the modern day Sri Lanka, China or Sicily, heirloom sweet peas are as exquisite in the garden and they are in the vase.

I like to plant early blooming types of sweet peas in October or early November. These varieties flower in the shorter days of late winter. Winter Elegance and Early Multiflora are common early flowering types. Also plant some of the more fragrant spring flowering heirlooms and Spencer’s at the same time to extend your harvest time. My very favorite sweet pea with long stems for cutting and an intense fragrance is called April in Paris. Large ruffled blossoms are a soft primrose cream, tinted at the edges in dark lilac that deepens and increases with age. You can’t go wrong no matter what color or style sweet pea you choose. They are all beautiful.

Now that the weather has cooled, plant cool season veggie starts like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts, bok choy, onions and leeks in soil enriched with 4-6" of compost as summer vegetable crops will have used up much of your soil’s nutrients. You can sow seeds of beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, arugula, mustard and peas directly in the ground.

This is also the time to start perennial flowers seeds so that they’ll  be mature enough to bloom next year. Happy Fall.