Our all-stars

Time to take stock of what has worked this year — or not. Here are some favorites:
Cardinal lobelia. Love the red, love the long blooms, love how it stands out. Need to get more.
Sneezeweed (Helenium). We have red/yellow/orange blooms that pick up so many other colors in the garden. It bloomed a long time too. Only quibble is we don’t have enough to make it stand out. Hopefully it will need dividing soon. In the meantime, it’s on next year’s list for the Master Gardeners plant sale.
Red-hot poker.

Red-hot pokers and the rest of the garden in June
Red-hot pokers and the rest of the garden in June

The blooms (more red/orange/yellow) only last for a couple of weeks, but the effect was spectacular. These seem to need frequent dividing, in case someone wants to put a hand up.
Blanket flower. I was ready to give up on them last year, but this year they have done fantastically. More long blooms (or new blooms), red and yellow, so eye-catching too. it apparently is easily established from seed, which is good since I recently found a packet.
Black-eyed Susans. Our drift of them is gorgeous, just needs to be repeated at the other end of the front bed. Maybe we should try the ones that have some red/burgundy in them.
Nicotiana.

Nicotinia, with sneezeweed behind
Nicotiana, with sneezeweed behind

For the same amount of effort of growing from seed, flowering tobacco has outdone zinnias (which admittedly now look really good, aided I presume by that spurt of hot weather.) Would like some that are deeply scented next time. I may have finally learned to spell this properly.
Rose campion. These magenta flowers are among my favorites in June. Can’t get enough of them.
Daffodils

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All mixed up!
All mixed up!

We have so many, and the varieties are fairly well mixed. The front bed is full of them in April. What more could you want as you come out of winter?
Coleus. This annual was slow to start (and did best in pots), but adds some nice zing now. Hoping to overwinter some so we get a jump on 2010.
Yucca. I wasn’t a fan when we were given a bunch a few years back, but they’ve really grown on me. Love the strong leaves and how it looks in winter. And was surprised at how they bloomed this year.

Disappointments
— what the deer discovered: asters and clematis. Too heavily munched. The light blue asters that covered the porch railing last year barely make it to the bottom of the porch.
David phlox didn’t do much this year.

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Fruitcake

We’re ready to try our hand at growing fruit, not just vegetables and flowers.
Influenced by “Landscaping With Fruit,” a new book by Lee Reich that we heard about on “You Bet Your Garden,” we snapped up a couple of blueberry bushes and a red currant plant at a local nursury’s half-price sale. Who knew that blueberry bushes turn red in the fall, offering more interest than just fruit? And both are deer-resistant.
The blueberries will go in the front yard, one near a burning bush planted a couple of years ago on one side of the driveway and the other on the other side of the drive as an extension of the flower bed near the Black-Eyed Susans. Both should get plenty of sun. We’ll have enough time this winter to plot how we will keep the birds from eating all the berries.
The red currant will go in the bed along the back deck, letting it use the railing as a trellis. This one apparently likes some shade, so this is a good location to tone down the sun. If we can keep the birds away long enough, think of the jam I can make…
We’re also thinking about pears, if we can find some and make sure we have enough room to space out a couple between two other trees. Friends had some in zone 5 and had more than enough for themselves and the animals. But maybe that’s next year’s project.

How’s the fruit and veg, you ask?

Six days ago, we picked just about every ripe or almost-ripe tomato in the beds and brought them along on a visit to friends in Maine (where she has lots of healthy tomato plants in Earth Boxes and lots of green tomatoes, but nothing ripe yet).
This is what we came back to–in just one bed:

Tomatoes in August
Tomatoes in August
From the other side
From the other side

And this is what we picked:

How long will it take to eat the Aug. 14 crop?
The Aug. 14 crop

Plus zucchini:

A few baseball bats? Definitely lots of zucchini bread
Headed toward zucchini bread

Basil (three kinds) looks great too. Brought some to Maine too. Time for pesto here.

What next?

Even though it’s only August, we have started thinking about what to add to the garden, possibly as we do our annual expansion in the fall. One book we like is 150 Perennial All-Stars by Jeff Cox. Another book we’ve discovered, out this year, is 50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. How can you resist a title like that? One of her 12 low-care criteria is that the plant is deer-resistant. Definitely a big criteria for us! On the other hand, I could do with a few fewer evergreens than what she lists.
We’ve spent a few weeks flipping through the book. Here’s what we like:
1. Spiny bear’s breeches, or acanthus spinosus, “a bold architectural plant” with mauve and white snapdragon-like flowers and thistle-like leaves, blooms in June-July.
2. ‘Blue Fortune’ anise hyssop, or agastache ‘blue fortune.’ This has lavender-blue bottle-brush flowers. Butterflies, hummingbirds and bees love it. Blooms for a long time.
3. Blue false indigo, or Baptisia australis. We have been given some seeds and definitely need to try to grow it! Love the idea of indigo blue!
4. ‘Jack Frost’ Siberian bugloss, or Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost.’ With its green veins on bug white leaves, this reminds me of our New Orleans souvenir, only it’s a perennial.
5. ‘Henry’s Garnet’ Virginia sweet spire, or Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet.’ This shrub (yes, a shrub!) has white bottle-brush flowers in May-June, so perhaps a bit similar to our spirea, and has reddish-purple foliage come autumn.
6. ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’ ligularia, or Ligularia dentata ‘Britt Marie Crawford.’ The dark chocolate-maroon leaves are enough! Think of the contrast you can have. Tracy calls it a theatrical drama queen. But then there’s yellow-orange daisylike flowers in the summer. That must be how it gets to be three to four feet tall.
7. Oriental poppy, or Papaver orientale. This is the Brit’s choice. I think I tried a few seedlings last year and they did nothing. A sister spent more money on bigger plants and got nothing. But if they work, they’d be nice too.

Homegrown containers

Overflowing with petunias
Overflowing with petunias

The Brit gets all the credit for these jam-packed containers of petunias (I can only claim the yellow calendulas), begun under the grow lights and now dazzling our deck (and a bit of the front bed).
We opted for containers after the rabbit nibbled off the flowers of all the red petunias within days of planting them last year. Our only quibble this time is that all the nearly white ones ended up in one pot.
Unfortunately we haven’t had as much success with the night phlox. Or the knautia, which has disappeared after being planted in beds. We now intend to use the rhubarb bed to get perennials big and healthy before moving them to more permanent sites.

Figs

Our Chicago Hardy fig tree
Our Chicago Hardy fig tree

We bought a small fig tree this weekend. Chicago Hardy is supposed to be hardy to zone 6, so this could be the beginning of our fruit orchard. After consulting a fruit and vegetable vendor at the Trenton Farmers’ Market, we have decided to leave it in the pot until spring and let it overwinter in the basement. Come spring, we’ll put it in the ground. When winter comes around again, we may mulch it, then wrap it in some blue tarp to shelter it from the wind. Anyone have any tips for us?