Ornamental and edible gardening adventures.

Floral Friday: My Favorite Flowers in Bloom

It's an exciting time in the garden: With the official start of summer this week, the garden has burst into bloom! Everywhere I look there are pops of color! I really feel like this year will be one of the best yet for my garden.

And it's not just in my garden, either. My gardening friends on Twitter are also sharing beautiful photos (and this week, a video!) of their gardens in bloom from all over the country! (Search for the #GrowNow2015 hashtag on Twitter. ) To see this week's featured garden, head on over to Beth's blog at More Than Oregano to see Cheli Cuevas of Gild the Garden highlight plants growing in her California garden.

Back here in the Northeast, here's what's growing in my garden.

In the Main Garden

I have lots of favorite flowers, so it's always hard for me to pick just one. My solution is to categorize them by season, and this week there are many blooming! I'm happy to see a return of hydrangea blossoms this year, after the lack of blooms last year due to the below average winter temperatures. I was worried that the cold winter we had a few months ago would doom us yet again, but the hydrangeas have pulled through. (All photos can be viewed larger by clicking on them.)

Endless Summer hydrangea

Endless Summer hydrangea

Jackmanii clematis from a friend's cutting in 2009.

Becky shasta daisy - my favorite daisy!

Dayliles from my grandfather's house in Queens, N.Y. They are the
first to bloom and may be ordinary, but they remind me of his garden.

This little wren sings her heart out all day long above my garden.



The first coneflower to bloom.

Butterflies love butterfly weed!

Golden Marguerite: A herb that blooms all summer.


I couldn't resist this Gerbera daisy from the nursery.

In the Vegetable Garden

The tomatoes are beginning to set and the garlic scapes are ready to be harvested. The parsley and dill are about gone because I'm hosting a family of black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars (who have been moved indoors for protection from predatory wasps). Here are some other occurrences in the vegetable garden this week.

Here is one of the four caterpillars inside the house now
(photo from my Instagram account).

Black raspberries are coming in.

Calendula blooms in front of oregano.

Bush beans on lockdown (protection from the groundhog).

Shiro plums forming.

In the Back Garden

The back garden typically doesn't get as much attention as the front main garden, but I'm hoping to change that this year. It is mostly shade with some part sun.

A banded hairstreak butterfly resting on the greenhouse.

I love these balcony geraniums.

"Plum Perfect" daylily is petite and blooms early.

I'm not a big fan of astilbe, so this is the only one I have. (It made the cut because it
was purple and cheap.) I like how it pairs with Corydalis lutea in the background.
Clematis in the back garden
Last week I did not share a Floral Friday post, but instead wrote about a field trip I took to view showy lady's slippers in bloom in Vermont. Click here to read more about the trip and click here to see photos of the flowers on my photography website.

What's blooming in your garden this week?

Showy Ladies are Worth the Trip

HARTLAND, Vt. - I solidified my membership into the Crazy Plant Lady Club this past Saturday when I made a six-hour round trip drive to Vermont to view showy lady's slippers in bloom.

My defense: Back in March I attended a lecture by Donald Leopold, which I also covered for Frau Zinnie. At the lecture, Leopold said that the showy lady's slipper is considered one of the most beautiful North American wildflowers. The pouch on the flower can vary in color from light pink, cherry red or pure white, and is topped with white petals. He told the audience about Eshqua Bog in Hartland, Vt., where a large collection of the plant blooms in late June. "Put it on your bucket list," he advised.

The showy lady's slipper (Cypripedium reginae) is listed as endangered in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Vermont considers the plant to be "uncommon," one step below endangered.

The 40-acre sanctuary is jointly owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and the New England Wild Flower Society. The 466-foot boardwalk was just replaced and a ribbon cutting celebrating the reopening took place on June 20.

So I decided it was time to see what was so special about the showy lady's slippers myself. After exiting off I-91, the roads gradually went from paved, to loose gravel, to eventually just rocks and dirt upon entering the woods. The main road (Garvin Hill Road) was barely wide enough for two cars to pass through comfortably. There were a few white-knuckled driving moments for this city girl, but it was worth it.
The entrance to the boardwalk at Eshqua Bog.
That's because once you reach Eshqua Bog (technically a fen, which is alkaline and rich in calcium) and you head out onto the boardwalk, the showy lady's slippers are there to greet you. Large colonies of this wild orchid hug the platform, while water underneath keeps their feet wet. They flourished in the shade with ferns, dappled sunlight or in full sun. So many blooming all at once creates quite an impact.

Many photographers who attended the reopening of the boardwalk to photograph the showy lady's slippers commented that this year's flowers were paler in color. (This could be due to the stage of bloom the flower is in.) There were also some grumbles that the boardwalk was a little too high which made photographing the flowers closeup difficult. The previous walkway, which was built in 1991, had sunk into the bog and began to impede water flow and acted as a dam. Due to the bumpers installed along the path, there is less temptation for people to step off and unintentionally damage the plants. (A healthy crop of poison ivy mingling with the lady slippers underneath is also a good deterrent for such activities.)

A white showy lady's slipper
blooming against the boardwalk.
The bog is also home to other wild orchids, including yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) which blooms the third to fourth week of May into the first week of June and the white bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata) which blooms the third and fourth week of June. Wetland plants such as Labrador tea, cotton grass and pitcher plants also thrive in this location.

The showy lady's slipper peaks in bloom now and typically only last for up to 10 days. A pair of flowers on one plant does resemble a pair of dainty slippers. It is often confused with pink lady slipper (cypripedium acaule). Showy lady's slipper is one of the more difficult to grow because it prefers moist, alkaline soil and will not tolerate drought. In addition, lady slippers are often decimated by deer, who also enjoy them, not for their beauty, but for their delicious qualities. (Read more here.)

To plan a visit to Eshqua Bog in the future, read more on the Nature Conservancy's website.

Floral Friday: Beautiful Perennials From Seed

Some of the perennials that I started from seed last year are really stepping up their game. The delphiniums and foxgloves are just stunning, and the best part is that it's really easy to grow these beautiful perennials from seed. I started mine early in the growing season and the first year they did not flower. They were busy establishing leaves and roots. I planted them by the fall and they looked very tiny and not too special.

But this year, bellissimo

This is an affordable way to add perennials to your garden. All you need is a little bit of patience.

Delphiniums blooming in their second year.

A rose after the rain.

'Pretty Much Picasso' Petunia

A little mushroom growing along the garden path.
It's so tiny that you could miss it!

Knock Out yellow roses.

The beginning of the garlic scapes!

A strawberry foxglove from seed.
But just when you let your guard down ... an adorable band of visitors made their path of destruction through the back garden.

"I'll just take a little off the top here ... delish."
Lucky for me, after a few mornings of mayhem, the four babies and the mother moved along. Perhaps they were frightened off by my constant pacing about the shed trying to decide what to do about them.
Of course the baby doesn't eat the weeds.
It's hard to get mad at such an adorable face. But better not to test my patience - lucky for him that he moved along!

My friends on Twitter are busy sharing what is growing in their gardens as well. Check out the #GrowNow2015 hashtag on Twitter and to check out Angie's garden - this week's feature on Beth's blog

What's growing in your garden this week?


'Creating a Butterfly Garden' for Tonight's #gardenchat

Welcome #gardenchat friends! I'm honored to be the guest host for tonight's #gardenchat hour on Twitter. (Special thanks to admin Bren Haas!) Tonight's topic is on Creating a Butterfly Garden.

I think it's safe to say that everyone's favorite butterfly is the monarch, which has received much more attention in the last decade due to its declining numbers. But there are many other butterflies that need gardeners' help as well. I feel the most important step in creating a butterfly garden is offering a pesticide-free, organic resting stop that offers a range of host plants for butterflies to lay eggs on and nectar plants for adults to eat from.

A monarch butterfly after emerging.
Based on personal experience, interviews and past lecture coverage, here are links to stories I've written for Frau Zinnie:

    Black swallowtail butterfly.
  • Garden Puts Out the Welcome Mat for Butterflies: Katherine Kosiba, president of the Colchester Garden Club (Connecticut) and Advanced Master Gardener, explains the importance of creating an ecosystem in personal gardens to attract butterflies. Topics include plant selection, puddling stations and warming rocks as well as details about her community garden project.
    A monarch almost ready
    to meet the world.
  • Watch a Monarch Emerge: My personal experience in caring for a monarch caterpillar and then releasing it. Includes awesome photos and a video I took as a monarch emerged from the chrysalis.
  • Black Swallowtail Butterflies: Personal experience of taking care of this species and releasing them afterwards.
  1. Life Cycle 
  2. Caterpillars
  3. Releasing butterflies
I'd love to hear how you help butterflies, and I hope this information will be useful in your journey to create a butterfly haven in your garden!

A black swallowtail caterpillar feeding on dill in my kitchen.

The Gardener's June Calendar

Mrs. Groundhog - my new "tenant"
The other day I joked with my husband that each gardening year brings some kind of "plague" along with it. The first year we moved in it rained so much that all our tomatoes got blight and died. The second year there were so many grubs in the lawn that the Japanese beetles took over the garden. (Less lawn=less grubs now.) Another year spring was so early that a late frost threatened the fruit trees.

So far, this year we've experienced a very dry spring and a surge in pest activity, namely voles and groundhogs.

After thinking I was so clever and fencing off the gaps in the back fence to keep groundhogs away, I discovered that I had fenced them into my property because they had already took up residence under the shed. (Gotta love the irony in that one.) I'm learning - the hard way - what plants they like to eat.

So, as June transforms into summer, here are some things to keep in mind for the garden this month:

Pest Control
I've been trying a new product this spring after being referred by a friend earlier this year. It's called Repellex Systemic, and mine is a granulated powder that you sprinkle around the plants. The key is applying it as the plants grow so it is absorbed by the roots and causes the plants to taste like hot pepper. It's suppose to ward off animals such as deer, groundhogs and voles for up to three months. So far, I've been applying it to plants that have shown damage, such as poppies, dahlias, black-eye Susans and coneflowers. The poppies have been able to bounce back, and I'm going to apply more to my coneflowers and black-eye Susans to see if I can save them from being nibbled to death. I wish I could use it on my edible plants, since the groundhog has been trying to eat my zucchini, beans, parsley and celery by sticking her nose through the chicken wire to grab a bite.

The voles are still hard at work in my garden after already destroying five (yes, you read that right) rose bushes this past winter by systematically chewing away at the roots until the plants just fell over. There was nothing that could be saved because the plant itself had already died by the time I noticed the damage. Now, when I find vole holes in the garden, I set a mouse trap at the entrance of the hole and place a large pot or bucket on top. I've had luck with catching them this way.

Keep deadheading spent blooms and leave the foliage until the leaves wither away. My neighbor grows hostas over her daffodils in her shady driveway, which do a surprisingly good job of hiding the fading leaves. Daylilies serve the same purpose in a sunny location.

Did you start all of yours? I didn't. (And when I checked back to my log last year, I found this was the case then, too!) There's still time, especially since the ground is warmer than early spring. I've sowed zinnias as late as July in my garden, but it's nicer to get them in the ground earlier so you can appreciate their blooms longer. Some seeds you may have missed the boat on. For me, any peppers or tomatillos that haven't been started will have to be stored for next year.

At the beginning of the month, it's time to fertilize fruit trees, roses and vegetables (organically). Also, as I learned in a lecture from Michael Ruggiero last year, feed containers with a liquid fertilizer at half strength every two weeks. Again, to do this organically, you can use seaweed fertilizer or the "juice" from worm bins.

A recent photo I shared from the garden on Instagram.

Pinch & Prune
Don't forget to pinch back perennials this month to maximize blossoming potential and to promote bushier growth. Learn how to do it here. Right after the lilacs, rhododendrons and azaleas bloom is the best time to prune so you won't be cutting off next year's flower buds. Natureworks has a good worksheet to explain pruning that can be found here.

Fruit Trees
It looks like my pear trees will be bearing heavily this year, along with a return of plums after a year's absence. The branches are already bending and the fruit is barely there, so this is a good time to get supports in place to balance branches.

Monarch and other Butterflies
Plant host plants of dill, fennel or carrots to attract black swallowtail butterflies. Leave milkweed or butterfly weed in the garden to attract monarch butterflies.

Succession sowing is the way to keep vegetables going all summer. Beans, carrots, and herbs such as basil and cilantro are plants that can be sown every two weeks to keep a successive harvest. If you haven't done so yet, get your tomatoes and peppers in the ground now.

I'm trying my best to not become discouraged by groundhog destruction or falling behind on weeding. (An idea I keep reminding myself that I even wrote about earlier this spring.) What are your gardening chores this month?

I live in Central Connecticut and garden in Zone 6b.

Floral Friday: Nature Makes You a Better Photographer

As a photographer, I'm often asked how I manage to get my nature shots - but often it's not the specific technical info they are seeking. Most of the time, I grow what I photograph, and the additional perks that come with that include all the birds, insects and creatures that are attracted to my garden. 

I do not use pesticides. One result is a flourishing population of dragonflies. 

Click to enlarge to see this dragonfly's smiling face.

That moment when the light hits just right ... 
When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by Claude Monet's paintings. One of his quotes has always stayed with me: "I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."

In my case, I would say flowers have made me a photographer.

Before I knew anything about taking a good photo or even growing plants successfully, I would take my 35mm film Nikon camera to the nursery and photograph flowers as my mother shopped. I'd take it into the garden in Queens and photograph the roses my father grew. Most of the photos I took then were thrown away, and I was lucky to have parents who humored my interest and continued to buy me film (until I got carried away one year and had to begin paying for the developing myself). I've held on to one or two photos from then where I even surprised myself with how well they came out.

I try to encompass the variety of colors that can be found in a landscape. My style isn't in muted hues, even though I admire the work of other photographers who do so. I enjoy the unexpected - the photographs were it looks like a crayon box spilled onto the page.

The beginning of the delphiniums with peonies in the background.
Which isn't to say the pastel flowers do not catch my eye as well. 

The last of the irises.
My wedding bouquet in this
cropped photo taken
by Steadman Photography.
One of my weaknesses is peonies - so much so that when my husband and I married, I insisted on carrying a cascading bouquet of peonies. (Originally I wanted tree peonies, but being married on Earth Day meant they were not yet in season.) The florist combined Sarah Bernhardt peonies (which I now grow) as well as a dark pink peony variety, along with stock, delphinium and red cabbage roses. (In the photo at right.)

This is by far the best year for peonies to bloom in my garden (now in its sixth year of development). I was even able to bring in several to enjoy indoors.

How can anyone manage to ignore the beauty of nature, especially when it is right outside the door?

The best year yet for cut peonies to bring indoors!
Peony by the front door.

A coral peony.

Sarah Bernhardt peony.

"My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece," said Monet. I agree - and sometimes photos just do not do it justice.

What is blooming in your garden this week? My friends on Twitter have lovely flowers blooming as well. Check out Helen's garden here as featured on Beth's website. For more floral love, be sure to follow the #GrowNow2015 hashtag on Twitter.
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