Be Careful

“Be Careful”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 

 

Peach Hibiscus (redu)

 

Being able to be outside and enjoy our flowers and plants is one of the reasons we are willing to work so hard in our gardens.  We often forget that there are several precautions that we need to take when gardening to stay healthy.  Sunscreen and tetanus shots are two that quickly come to mind.  Skin cancer seems to be so prevalent now, and using sun screen is especially important now.  Lyme disease is another problem in many areas.  One recent disease that is concerning our area right now is West Nile.  It has been around here for a few years, but with the recent rains, it has flared up again.  Two people in our town has been diagnosed with the bad form of West Nile disease, and the authorities have said that one third of the mosquitoes tested in the last two weeks have been positive for the disease.

The mosquitoes had not been bad at all this summer until the rains started about three weeks ago, then the population exploded.  Because of the New Orleans area’s history with mosquito borne diseases, mosquito control has been an ongoing battle for years.  Spraying for mosquitoes either by truck or aerial has been a summer time reality for decades.   We heard the mosquito plane late last week, and the next day saw a tremendous reduction in the population of the  annoying, biting critters.  But, with the rain the last few days, I noticed that yesterday they were back, but not as bad.

Most people who get West Nile have a very mild case, some not even aware they have had it.  But, it can also be life-altering or fatal if you get the form that causes encephalitis.  The first year it showed up around here many people were infected, and our bird population was hit hard, too.  This is nothing to fool around with.   It was 1999 when it first showed up in the United States, and West Nile is now in every part of the country.

So, enjoy summer outside activities, but please remember to use insect repellant when working outside in your garden especially if this disease has been reported in your area.

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Sultry Summer

“Sultry Summer”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 

 

We have had rain the last few days which is a wonderful thing after so many weeks of little to none.  However, the humidity has been a killer.  Monday morning, when I went out to get the newspaper, I thought I would not make it to the end of the driveway and back.  The air was so thick it felt as if a hot, damp blanket had been thrown over you.  Of course, this meant no leaving the air conditioning and no work outside.  It is just too miserable.  We usually have many days like this here along the Gulf Coast, but I do have to admit this is the first time this summer it has been this bad.

I am not the only one staying inside looking for cooler, drier temperatures.  You don’t see anybody outside.  You don’t see dogs outside walking around.  Or kids playing.  Or walkers.  Even the squirrels are taking it easy.  The only creatures that seem unaffected are the bumble bees.  They are happily going from flower to flower sipping nectar and gathering pollen.

 

Bee on Cashmere Bouquet (redu)

 

Bee on Pk Vitex (redu)

 

The bumble bees are the only ones I see working.  The honey bees are all hanging out at the bird baths drinking water, and I don’t blame them.

It is on days like this that I have to give thanks to Willis Haviland Carrier, the father of air conditioning.

Finding a Solution

“Finding a Solution”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 

 

When Hurricane Katrina came through in August of 2005, we were spared any real damage.  We were so fortunate that our house did not sustain any damage beyond a little bent guttering and a few cracked roofing shingles along the roof’s edge.  The garden and the trees were a different matter.  We lost about seven big trees which made many areas of the garden go from mostly shady to mostly sunny.  We were very upset to lose our wonderful, large trees, but I have had the attitude that this loss has just allowed me to plant something different.

One area that has now become a problem is the garden around the back patio.  Pre-Katrina this was filled with mostly holly ferns and hostas.  For the last three summers, these shade loving plants have done okay with a lot of watering.  At the end of last summer, I decided that a few holly ferns that were in the sunniest area had to come out.  They were turning brown from too much sun.  I moved them to the side garden under some live oak trees, and they are thriving.  Now, I have come to realize that more plants are just going to have to be moved, too.  More holly ferns and hostas are just not happy.  They are getting way too much afternoon sun.  Their foliage is turning a pale green, in the case of the hostas, or is turning yellow and brown, in the case of the holly ferns.  When it gets a little cooler in the fall, I will be moving them to shadier quarters.  Now, my problem is what do I replace them with?

Around this patio area, I want something that will be low growing and evergreen – about the size of the holly ferns.  With our mild winter temperatures, we are often outside year round, and I want this area to look good all the time.  I guess I am looking for some “bones” for this patio garden.  I started looking through my garden books, but nothing struck me as right.  So, this meant I needed more garden books.  Using gift cards, I found two books that have helped me start to make some decisions.

Southern Shade (redu)

 

Southern Sun (redu)

 

I bought Southern Sun and Southern Shade by Jo Kellam.  These two books have great ideas for plants.  For just about all of my gardening years, I have had to deal with too much shade, so the sun book gave me some good ideas for plants, and since there still are areas around the patio that are shady, the shade book helps too.

So far, I am thinking about using agapanthus as the evergreen plants to replace the holly ferns.  They are evergreen in this area, and will also not grow so high.  I have some in other areas of the garden, and they are getting a little crowded, so using them should work out well both in design and in the pocket book.  I am still trying to decide on the smaller filler plants to take the place of the hostas.  It seems more research is needed.

Cat’s Whiskers

“Cat’s Whiskers”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 

 

This is the first year I have planted Cat’s Whiskers  (Orthosiphon aristatus), and it is known to be loved by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  You can now add me to that list.  This plant has turned out to be so great in the garden.  The three plants I put in the garden in early spring have  grown to about three feet high and almost as wide, but it is still a fairly open plant.  There are flowers on all the tips, and the more you dead head the faded flowers the more you get since it blooms on new growth.   Two stalks show up at every trimmed back area giving you so many new flowers.  My plant has white flowers, but it also comes in a  purple variety.  I chose the white because I wanted it in the “white” garden where they look great along side the white Iceberg roses.  Next year, I am going to try the purple in other areas of the garden.

 

Cat's Whiskers (redu)

 

You can see from the photo how the flower’s long stamens look like a cat’s whiskers.  The flowers are very unusual looking, aren’t they?

This is only hardy to zone 9, but it is supposed to be easy to propagate, which I may do to overwinter a few plants for next year.  I am also hoping that it will reseed, too.  I’ll have to be careful next spring so that I don’t inadvertently destroy any seedlings that might pop up.

I had seen this plant in nurseries before, but never wanted to grow it.  I am so glad that this year I took a chance on Cat’s Whiskers.  It has turned out to be one great blooming plant.

Pinecone Ginger

“Pinecone Ginger”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana

 

In 2007,  when I attended a garden show at the New Orleans Botanical Gardens, I purchased several plants, one of which was a pinecone ginger plant.  I believe I bought it at the fall garden show because the first winter I kept it in its container and just protected it.  In spring of 2008, I planted it in the garden where it did well, but no pinecones.  You see, this ginger, which is also called shampoo ginger, produces a pinecone shaped inflorescence  that will turn red during the fall.  I saw it planted in the Gardens and was so happy to be able to purchase one at the show.

Last year I looked forward to seeing the “pinecones” and was so disappointed that my plant was too young to produce any.  Well, this year is a slightly different story.  Just the other day, I noticed two “pinecones” emerging from the ground.  Don’t let the hydrangea leaf in the foreground throw you.

 

Pinecone Ginger (redu)

 

They are about four inches high now and should grow a little more before starting to turn red.  Little white flowers will show up under the bracts.

This ginger, Zingiber zerumbet, can grow to be seven feet tall, but mine is only about four feet right now.  It has long narrow leaves growing on opposite sides of the stems.  The bracts emerge from the ground on separate stems.  This ginger is hardy to zone 8 and is supposed to be root hardy to zone 7.  It certainly gives a wonderful tropical feel to the garden especially with our recent hot temperatures.

 

Pinecone Ginger Foliage (redu)

 

Pinecone Ginger Top Foliage (redu)

 

It is known as shampoo ginger because of a creamy substance that comes from the cones, and is supposed to be used as a shampoo in the tropics.  I don’t know if I would want to try it though.  The pinecones are supposed to last a long time and work well in flower arrangements.

I only have two pinecones this year, and they haven’t turned red yet, but I am looking forward to more next year.  I’ll be sure to do another post when these turn red so everyone can see how they look when mature.

A Garden Visitor

“A Garden Visitor”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 

 

When we first moved to our home we used to see brown rabbits all the time.  At that time there were several undeveloped lots around us, but gradually homes were built on them as well as on nearby wooded areas, and the rabbits stopped showing up.  It has been years since we have had any of these little brown visitors, but the other day while looking out the kitchen window, my hubby called to me, “Come here!  Quick!”

There, at the base of one of our bird feeders was a small brown rabbit.  He stayed around for a time and then hopped away.  We don’t know where he came from or where he went.  The next door neighbors have let an area grow up with a lot of vegetation, but that is an island in the middle of well-kept lawns and gardens, but maybe it is enough for a rabbit to find sanctuary.

 

Rabbit in Bkyrd, p.02, ed.

 

I haven’t seen any evidence of rabbit destruction of my plants, though I never saw any before when we had two or three rabbits around.  Maybe I don’t grow plants rabbits find tasty.  It is nice to see some wildlife returning to this area.  We have a ton of birds visiting our feeders and bird baths.  Occasionally, we see a raccoon or possum, and earlier this spring a deer came through, which was a first for the neighborhood.  I sure hope this doesn’t mean that development has forced these animals to move from the woods to our subdivisions.  While I do enjoy seeing these creatures, and dear hubby loves taking their pictures, I also want them to have a natural habitat to live in, the way nature intended.

 

Rabbit in Bkyrd, p.03, ed.

Squeezing in Garden Chores

“Squeezing in Garden Chores”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 

 

Another weak cool front seems to have moved through our area.  While it does not bring cooler temps, it does bring in drier air which makes the air feel so much nicer.  This is very unusual for the Gulf South to have any fronts like this to move through at this time of the year.  What makes this so nice is that I was able to work in the garden today.  I continued planting several container plants that should have already been planted in the garden.  Down here, you have to do just about all your garden work before the middle of June before the real heat sets in. It was nice to get several chores done that had been aggravating me every time I went out and saw so much that still needed to be done.

 

Misty Mayhaw (redu)

 

Still not much blooming right now.  The daylilies, Misty Mayhaw, have started blooming again, which is nice.  I can’t wait for cooler temps which will bring more blooms out in the garden.  So many plants seem to be taking a blooming holiday until late September. 

One thing that is not taking a holiday are the pests.   I have already had to battle a horde of azalea caterpillars and grass hoppers, and now something has been chomping on my Mutablis rose bush.  I was so happy when earlier this summer the June bugs didn’t attack it like last year, but it seems I was a little too early in thinking it had escaped.  I noticed this morning that just about every leaf  except the newest growth was eaten.  I heard the plane that sprays for mosquitoes pass over two nights ago, and I hope it also got whatever has been eating one of my favorite rose bushes as well as the mosquitoes.

I am hoping that tomorrow’s weather is like today’s.  I sure would like to get out in the garden to try and finish up some more garden jobs.

 

Rain Lilies

“Rain Lilies”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 

 

We still are not having a lot of rain, but the rain lilies are starting to bloom better than ever.  These sweet little flowers seem to need at least one good rain shower to start blooming, and they certainly did get that almost two weeks ago.  I still have to water the garden, and I am sure that is contributing to the blooms, but I have done that in previous years and still did not get many flowers.

 

Rain Lily (redu)

 

These small bulbs are adapted to containers where I had mine for years, but I eventually planted them in the garden in the very front of the border.  The leaves are about twelve inches long and remind me of teeny, tiny amaryllis foliage.  The flowers are about three inches across and are held up by stems about nine inches high.  So, you can see this must be placed where they can be seen and not hidden behind taller plants. 

The last few years, I have not had many blooms from my rain lilies which was very disappointing.  This year, however, for whatever reasons, they are starting to bloom so much more.  I wish I knew why, so that I could repeat the conditions every year.  I guess Mother Nature can be unpredictable.

All Ears

“All Ears”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 

 

Saturday through Monday, we had some very unusual weather.  A cool front made it to the Gulf Coast, and while the temperatures were still in the high 80’s, the air was very dry.  Dew points were much lower than normal which made being outside pleasant, and I was able to work in the garden for a change.  Usually the middle of summer means just running out of the air conditioning long enough to water a few thing, but this weekend I was able to cut back shrubs and vines and plant others that have been in containers too long.  With the lower dew points, it was warm outside but not the sweat drenching atmosphere that is so common. 

Another thing that occupied my time was my daughter’s minor surgery on Monday.  Everything went fine, but it sure is tiring just sitting around a hospital.

But to get back to the garden.  One of the plants that is doing very well this summer is one of my alocasias, Metallica.  I have this growing in a large container with chartruese-colored hostas at its base.  Even though it does die back every winter, it is a wonderful plant to have.  In the large container, it is a focal point for a section of the back garden.

 

Metallica Elephant Ears (redu)

 

The shiny leaves gives rise to the “metallica” name.  Its botanical name is Alocasia plumbea “metallica”.  This plant, like all elephant ears, does best in moist soil.  The leaves have a quilted texture and can get quite large.  My plant does not get as large because it is in a container, and I don’t think my garden has enough room for a full sized plant anyway.  While these can get to be almost five feet tall in optimum conditions, mine is only about three feet tall, but with it being in a container, the whole thing stands about five feet.  Besides the shiny or reflective leaves, the color, too, is striking.  The back sides of the leaves are a darker olive-purple and when the wind blows, the under side of the leaves make a nice contrast with the top sides.

 

Metallica Opening Leaf (redu)

 

Another nice quality of this plant is the colored stems they have.  The stems are a red-purple color, and because mine is in a large pot and the plant is therefore elevated, you can really see these stems with the reflective leaves on top. 

 

Metallica Red Stems (redu)

 

Elephant ears really lend a tropical feel to a garden and look good with the cannas and gingers.  I have mine nestled in among holly ferns, pinecone ginger and hidden ginger.  That area of the garden reminds me of a tropical jungle which with our normal summer temperatures seems so appropriate.

Non-Flower Color

“Non-Flower Color”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 

 

To continue yesterday’s topic about having color in the garden that is not flower related, here are a few more plants that I planned to take the place of colorful flowering annuals this year.  The first one is Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus).  The first time people see this plant, they do not believe it is real.  It is such a vibrant metallic purple.  This does well in partial shade and grows to about three feet tall.  This really adds a pop of color to the garden without any flowers.

 

Persian Shield (Redu)

 

Another colorful plant for the front of the border is the variegated Oyster Plant (Tradescantia spathacea).  This is the first year I have them in the garden and am hoping that they will spread out.  This too does well in partial shade where color is often lacking.

 

Oyster Plant (redu)

 

Another plant I am using this year instead of flowering annuals for color is the polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya).  I have had White Splash in the entry garden for about five years now, and have just planted Pink Splash in other areas.  Both of these plants are giving consistent color ever since I put them in.

 

Wh Splash (redu)

 

Pk Splash (redu)

 

Last is a plant that will take full shade that I keep in a container on the front porch.  Its variegated foliage brings color to an otherwise all green plant grouping.  This is Tricolor (Stromanthe sanguinea) a tropical plant that has become popular in recent years.  This plant does not like sun and will bring white, red and green color to a shady spot.  Too much sun and the leaves will scorch.

 

Tristar (redu)

 

So, once again, here are some plants that are helping me get through this hot summer with a little color for the garden that is not dependent on flowers.

 

 

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