Devils Workshop

has been moved to new address

Sorry for inconvenience...

E-Garden Almanac: November 2007

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
Learn more here!

My Photo
Location: Iowa

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hail to Helianthus

I love sunflowers. But the best thing about sunflowers is that they aren't just annuals. In fact many members of the genus Helianthus are perennial natives to the Great Plains and thereabouts. One favorite of mine from this throng of prairie stars is Helianthus maximiliani or the Maximilian sunflower.

Maximilian sunflower owes its name to German Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied who traversed the American West in the 1830s. No doubt the German prince-explorer, or his botanist-in-tow, found this stout perennial growing throughout the Upper Midwest. The species' range covers much of the central and eastern United States and thrives in a variety of conditions from dry prairies to mesic uplands and wet lowlands. Its durability is a point of paramount significance. Rhizomatous as well, the plants are long-lived and will happily form small colonies warranting envy from all your gardening friends.

In my garden Maximilian sunflower takes advantage of a porous, evenly moist soil on the east side of the house. In fact it grows only three feet from the hydrant, ensuring a steady supply of moisture. But it certainly doesn't need this pampering and were I to reinstall it, I'd recommend against it. It's plush lifestyle leads to exuberance nearly cumbersome to its situation. Helianthus maximiliani can easily attain 10' in height and this year probably came darn close. In drier climes, or more in more strenuous settings, it might also come in at 6'. I imagine many gardeners are keen on staking it but I've been known to let it flop about (see photo above).

This hulking mammoth makes a handsome structural plant in the border throughout the summer often towering over much of the garden as it grows to blooming height. Then the fun starts. In early to mid-September a graceful bevy of gold begins to shower over the bed making the plant a fitting companion to other late blooming perennials like lespedeza, vernonia, and aster. The flowers offer a choice nectar banquet for migrating butterflies and other insects. Almost as fun are the green remnants of the flowers, actually leaf-like structures called phyllaries. The starry, fibrous structures precede the flowers as well, unassuming co-stars in this autumnal garden performance.
Maximilian sunflower is quite hardy, Zones 4-10. I only know of two cultivars available both of which were released for conservation use. 'Aztec' and 'Prairie Gold' are reportedly available from commercial seed sources, though I've never seen them offered ornamentally. Seed and nursery liners of the species, however, can be found from native plant nurseries.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fleeting visages of fall: part 2

From Bedford:
Today was a lesson in yellow. Here's part two of fleeting visages with a decided emphasis on the bounty of a protracted fall season.

A cultivar of Weigela florida (possibly 'Courtalor') showing remarkable fall color for a weigela. In 9 years I have never seen the color this clear or intense.

Though often avoided because of its roving tendencies, Lysimachia clethroides is a favorite plant of mine, especially for its fall color. Ours is planted in a drier location and thus usually doesn't develop phenomenal fall color like it would if it were planted on a wetter site. While I'd love to have the rich red, amber, and orange mix, I'll settle for this rusty yellow blend instead.

In a garden I found serendipity! Who'd of thought that the fading foliage of this Lilium cultivar would produce such an alarming display of gold?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fleeting visages of fall

From Bedford:

Miniature dwarf iris 'Trimmed Velvet' pops through the fading blossoms of Gaillardia 'Goblin'.

Ornamental kale with riveting color thanks to the cooler nights.

A early (yes, early) surprise this afternoon was this Helleborus argutifolius. I was out checking on floral bud development on the hellebores and it's going to be an exciting winter garden in a few months! Lots of little buds ready to flower up a storm!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Lust: In the form of hardy pampas grass

If I were to write a horticultural series on the seven deadly sins, I'd start it with an entry on lust: in the form of hardy pampas grass. So, as Monty Python would quip, "then we'll begin"...

I helped move my best friend to Denison, IA this weekend. As we familiarized ourselves with his new home, our travels took us through a quiet and aesthetically charming suburb at the north edge of town. Poking along at 25 mph gives a person ample time to evaluate and remark on the fine points of each landscape (though your friend may not relish in this undertaking). As we rambled around another loop in the road my eyes fell upon something which I shouldn't have seen. At first I took it to be an apparition, a mere participle to my fantasizing. But it wasn't. It was a living, thriving clump of hardy pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana.

This plant is the fuel for my wanderlust to travel to Argentina. Can you imagine the pampas of Argentina and its pampas grass? But this far-fetched mental voyage has been quickly voided by cautious naysayers who've decried the plant's ineptitude in our harsh winters. But here in Denison, IA (a colder Zone 4/5 than my garden) a handsome tussock was found growing in an alcove of conifers, unfettered by a night of bitter, frost-warranting temperatures. I once again have inspiration to try.

Cortaderia selloana is frequently listed as cold hardy to only Zones 6 or 7. In the south the plant thrives in abundance often verging on weedy. The raucous agglomeration of finely textured foliage is quite satisfying until the frothy plumes pinnacle its achievement in late summer and early fall. It's also a grass that is choreless. Don't bother mowing it down or chopping it back in the spring; time and band-aids conserved. Who is chopping it back on the Argentinian pampas? But if you must, you may though if you're going to do it you should only manage so with a long handled scythe. Allan Armitage offers it praise when he says "The ugliest, trash-strewn, treeless yard can be made almost inviting when the magnificent plumes proudly rise above the light green foliage." Indeed!

Many cultivars are available to the gardener who needs more than one (me!). 'Pumila' is a dwarf selection only attaining a height of 3-4', perfect for the urban landscape that is simply to small for an otherwise skyscraping proportion. 'Carnea' is a pink-flowered selection. Can you say cotton candy? 'Silver Stripe' sports a silver stripe (as horticulturists we tend to get really creative with names sometimes) along the margins of the needle-like leaf blades. Taller selections tend to work well for creating formidable barriers and property lines. Smaller ones can replace trifle hedges at the foundation of the house or other building.