Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blooming Blades

I've added quite a few grasses to my garden of three years – though I've removed much of the lawn. I can't imagine a garden without at least a couple varieties of (no-mow) grass. Grass is structure, filler and foliage. More than that – those blades bloom! And this time of year, they are the stars of the Northern garden. In the Bird & Butterfly Garden, the first area I planted, Maiden Grass Miscanthus 'Morning Light' and Switch Grass Panicum 'Dallas Blues' have matured into sweeping drifts. The Maiden Grass bloomed last year for the first time, is blooming its little blades off right now, and the Switch Grass will turn a beautiful gold color come winter.

Maiden Grass blooms.
Switch Grass blooms heavy with rain.

Grass is also movement and sound. It is meditational to watch and hear grass rustle on the waves of the wind. Out front, Feather Reed Grass Calamagrostis 'Karl Forester' does just that. It is tall enough now to watch when sitting on the front porch and its sound does remind me of waves along a shoreline.

Blue Fescue Festuca glauca weaves texture into my front garden, catching light and leaves. I will be planting more tufts of this wonderful blue shade along with some native grasses when I finally focus my attention on a real front garden design – hopefully in the Summer of 2012.

I moved clumps of this variegated grass from the back deck area this past spring to the back of our garage / workshop before our porch redo. I love that it is extremely low maintenance – grows in sun or shade – and that we no longer have to "edge" along the garage foundation. I acquired it from a plant exchange and do not know the exact name of it. It is now one big drift. I love how it sets off the changing color of the leaves. Its new growth is more green and gradually becomes more variegated over time. It also has nice blooms.

I acquired another mystery grass when I purchased a clump of Switch Grass Panicum 'Ruby Ribbons' for the Nice Driveway. You can see a couple of the ruby blades of the Switch Grass just beginning to turn, but those blooms do not belong to Ruby Ribbons! I really love the mystery blooms, but I should probably try to separate the two.

Also along the drive, native Indian Grass Sorghastrum Sioux Blue is nearing its mature height of 5'-6'. Truly a screen of green, er blue, er yellow ...

Tall they can grow, but grasses can make a wonderful see through veil. I love peering through the blooms of this native Big Bluestem Andropogon gerardii, but I'm not so sure I'll be able to next year. This was just planted in spring and will eventually mature to 7' tall.

Also added this spring, native mound-forming Northern Dropseed Sporobolus heterolepis. Native grasses are even more than blooming blades – they are shelter and seed. Many birds will eat the seeds of Switch, Fescue, Bluestem and Dropseed Grasses throughout the winter. Indian Grass provides nesting material for birds. Game birds, Finches, Sparrows, and even small mammals will eat its seeds. It is the host plant for the Pepper-and-Salt Skipper Butterfly. Bluestem is the host plant for the Delaware and Dusted Skipper Butterflies. Sparrows, Sedge Wrens and the Western Meadowlark eat its seeds. Hopefully I will be able to add some of these Skipper Butterflies to my list of insect sightings in the garden.

Sources: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Butterflies and Moths of North America

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Project: Saving Heirloom Tomato Seeds

On a return trip from Rochester, I fell in love with this beautiful, large tomato at an organic farm stand. It was huge – at least 5" inches in diameter and felt like a baseball in my hand. I had to have it. The woman who owns the farm said I could save the seed. Yes, I had to save the seed and grow these in my garden next year! When we arrived home, I put it on this cute little plate and admired it for days – maybe a few too many days.

It is a German Striped Tomato, heirloom. Because it was love and meant to be, I then came across an article in Dave's Garden newsletter on how to save heirloom tomato seeds. The author made it sound so easy that I said, "Hey, I can do this!" And you can, too. The best part about saving the seed is that you can still eat the tomato – and delicious it was. (I sliced it up and ate it on some sprouted bread with homemade cream cheese and a dash of salt and pepper.)

The first thing to do is to scoop out the seeds, along with the gel, into a jar.

Then add some water, about 1/2 cup. Store somewhere where the smell does not offend you, because it will smell. In about a week, a whitish/gray mold will form over the top. This is what you want. You are fermenting the seeds to weed out the bad and discourage disease. (According to the article I read, if you are trading tomato seed it is proper etiquette to ferment your seeds.) If you have a weak stomach, don't look below. Eeeewwww!

Now, carefully scrape off the moldy film. I used a little spoon. Add a little water to the jar and stir. Good seeds sink. Bad seeds and any remaining pulpy gel will float. Keep stirring and carefully pouring off the water until all you have left is clean seed. Then strain the seed through a coffee filter or other material, and spread them out to let dry for a full day or two.

The seeds are now ready to store. I store my seeds in a little box.

I cannot wait to plant these in my garden. Hopefully, I've done this right and I will be slicing up baseball-sized German Striped Tomatoes next summer! I should also be able to save more seed and share. 

If you cannot get your hands on a German Striped Tomato, but would like to grow them in your garden next season, Johnny's offers the seed.

Source: Dave's Garden Saving Heirloom Tomato Seeds by Paul Rodman

Friday, October 14, 2011

What's Blooming

Blooms are fading fast. In the upcoming months it will be challenging to find any blooms outside in the garden, but we have had a true Indian Summer here in the North Country.

Out front Sweet Autumn Clematis is blooming. This plant can be invasive and I cannot recommend it. Of course, I didn't know that when I planted it. I imagine that here in zone 4 it is not so problematic as it may be further south. To make myself feel better I just planted two native Clematis Virginiana in other areas of the garden – this spot on the front porch receives too much sun. I do have to say the Sweet Autumn smells divine.

This Woods Aster (pink blooms) always punctuates fall. The sedums are just about ready to burst into bloom. Catmint Walker's Low is still faithfully blooming.

Along the drive California Poppies are bright as orange pumpkins. In the background Helenium and Verbascum bloom. Along the trellis the Purple Hyacinth Bean vine is still blooming strong and Scarlet O'Hara is now finally gloriously greeting the mornings.

In the woodland edge geranium Sylvia's Surprise is surprising me with more blooms.

Persicaria Firetail is the work horse this summer ... still a stunning show.

Chocolate Joe Pye was moved this year to this spot due to the porch renovation. Though not as big and bold in previous years, at least there are blooms to let me know that this spot will do. Hopefully next year will be big and bold once again. (Spied several flower flies on Joe Pye's blooms though I am not sure of the specific species. Will have to revisit with guide in hand.)

Tradescantia Osprey says BOO! These were given to me through the mail by Jean at Jean's Garden and were just planted this spring. Thank you Jean! They seem to be happy and they are oh so beautiful.

The potager is putting on a fall display of its own, no pumpkins, but comparable are the bright orange of marigolds and nasturtium.

And at last the Exotic Love Vine is dripping with blooms! If we didn't have an Indian Summer, I'm not so sure if I would have been lucky at love.

Garden bloggers' bloom day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens the 15th of each month. Join in the fun with your blog blooms!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Solidago Fireworks Attracts Fall Pollinators

I would like to add more goldenrods to my garden for fall pollinators and late season blooms. I planted a Little Lemon goldenrod last year but it did not make it so I will try it again (perhaps in a dryer location) because I really liked it. Common goldenrod volunteered in my garden this year and I am very pleased, but I will try seeding it in the places where I would rather have it be for next year. Prairie Moon Nursery offers a variety of native goldenrods for different conditions that I will also have to give a try.

Appreciatively, Solidago Fireworks has just bloomed in my garden – later than common godlenrod. I am not the only one who appreciates it. I captured this short video of the pollinators it has attracted. Many flies, wasps, bumble bees and what I believe to be a Yellow-collared Scape Moth. It is nice to see the fall garden so active.

Though I am not fond of the way its lower stems tend to brown and bare, I love the firework-like display of the blooms. It is very appropriately named! I am hoping the Liatris planted in front of it fills in to hide the lower stems a little more next year. I would still recommend this plant for the garden in spite of its bare ankles. It stays upright and does not flop. The blooms burst into golden rays and are beautiful in the way they "spray" in arcs – a very welcome sight this time of year, and it's obviously a popular gathering spot for pollinators. I purchased my Solidago Fireworks plants from Bluestone Perennials in case you would like to add this pollinator-friendly-fall-bloomer to your garden as well.


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