planter successes, and failures.

Good morning from the garden!

This morning I thought I would share my successes, and my failures, in this year’s planters.

In my garden I pretty much plant annuals in pots, and perennials in the ground.  There are a few exceptions to this rule here and there, but for the most part this is how I roll.  I’m working on changing that up a bit and maybe I’ll do more of that in the future, we’ll see.  But really, here in my zone 4b garden, asking perennials to survive the winter in a pot can be dicey.  The rule of thumb is that a plant must be hardy to 2 zones lower than your actual zone to survive the winter in a pot.  So as much as I loved all of those window boxes in Charleston with heuchera growing in them …

as a zone 4 – 9 plant, heuchera won’t survive the winter in a planter here.

And for those of you non-gardeners out there, I don’t mean that zone 2 plants will stay green and growing in a pot throughout the winter here.  They will still die back to the ‘ground’, but they have a better chance of coming back in the spring.

As for annuals in the ground, of course they will grow just as well in the ground here as in a pot.  Annuals only live for one growing season either way.  I just don’t have a lot of space in my garden beds to add in annuals, although this year I did make a couple of exceptions.

But back to the planters, let’s start out with the failures beginning with the planters on either side of the steps to our deck with the Eugenia topiary balls in the center.

It’s time for me to wake up and smell the coffee on this one.  We just don’t have enough sun in this spot for full sun annuals.  I had decided to give them one more try, this time making sure to feed them with a bloom boosting water soluble fertilizer (I used Miracle Grow Bloom Booster) on a regular basis.  However, I still got very few blooms on both the Snowstorm Giant Snowflake bacopa and the Superbena Violet Ice (both from Proven Winners).  They were lush and green and grew like weeds, but got very few flowers.  I did shear them both back a couple of weeks ago, but they still haven’t flushed back with flowers.

The Supertunia Mini Vista Indigo on the other hand gave me lots of blooms in these pots, but didn’t actually fill in at all.  I wasn’t expecting that.  Now granted, this petunia is meant to stay on the smaller side (hence the ‘mini’ part of its name).

I also planted the Mini Vista Indigo in my chicken feeder planter (on left in photo below), and it was the perfect plant for that planter because of its compact size.

There is only room for about 3″ of soil in that thing, so it’s impressive that these did as well as they did.

Now that I understand how the Mini Vista grows, I will plant it more strategically next year in spots where it won’t get crowded out by more vigorous growers.

Another failure for me this year was the lobelia that I planted at the end of May.  I purchased four of the Laguna Sky Blue lobelia (also Proven Winners) because it’s just so pretty.  I had given up on planting lobelia in the past because it has always died on me around mid-summer.  But theoretically this newer variety of lobelia is supposed to be “much more heat tolerant than past plants” (taken straight from the Proven Winners website).  But mine was all dead or nearly dead by the end of June.  Definitely no more lobelia for me.

As it died off I replaced it with other things, one of which I ended up really loving, and that was the gomphrena (the bright pink balls).

I’ve never grown this one before because I always thought it was kind of small and boring.  But now I’m realizing that it looks great mixed with other things.

I also think it could look kind of fab mixed in a garden bed around perennials to provide summer long color.

Another plant that replaced some of the lobelia was the Supertunia Vista Jazzberry.

It’s a gorgeous, bright, cool pink.  You’ll notice that it doesn’t have the name ‘mini’ in it, this plant grew much faster and larger than the mini vista.

I also used the Jazzberry to replace some failures in our mailbox planter.  We share a mailbox post with our neighbor, nnK, and she added planters to either side of the mailboxes a while back.  I replaced the one on my side with … what else? … a rusty old toolbox, although you can barely see it right now.

We started out the season with the lemon coral sedum (left), a bright pink new guinea impatien, a small dahlia, and the purple scaevola on the end.  As you can see, the impatien and the dahlia didn’t make it.  Well, actually, I pulled out the dahlia to put in the Jazzberry.  The impatien is still in there but it has been totally overtaken by the Jazzberry.

Aside from the mailbox, in general all of my pots with flowering annuals in them look kind of scraggly at this point.  I probably should have been shearing them all back on a more regular basis.

I’m not going to feel at all bad about pulling all of these out and replacing them with some fall flowers in September.

But this brings me to the real successes of 2022, the non-flowering annuals that I grow for their colorful foliage like coleus, caladium, oxalis, and sweet potato vine.

I shared my guest bed planter with you guys recently, and that was only planted up back at the end of July so maybe it’s not a great example of how these plants look great all season.

And in fact, I did have a bit of a fail with the caladium at first.  It doesn’t like the cold, and we had some cold nights in late spring.  They weren’t below freezing, but they were in the 40’s and the caladium I had already put out in pots died back to the ground.  It came back eventually, but it took a 4 to 6 weeks before it looked good.

But it looks fantastic now …

That’s one of my favorite combinations; it’s Molten Lava oxalis with a red caladium (sorry, didn’t retain a name on that one).

I also had planted this pretty pink and white caladium surrounded by pale pink impatiens.

Although that caladium initially died back, it came back strong and now this is one of my favorite combos.

I have one more caladium planter that I planted later in the season after the pansies that were in this urn started looking really pathetic.

Hopefully I have learned my lesson about waiting until warmer weather to plant caladium.  By the way, for those of you who suffer from deer problems, caladium is deer resistant.

Coleus can also be susceptible to cold weather, but not quite as bad as the caladium, and it’s also deer resistant.  I filled my front window box with several varieties of coleus this year including Colorblaze Velveteen, Colorblaze Strawberry Drop and Wasabi.

The Wasabi totally tried to take over.  I’ve pinched it back hard several times this summer.

I’ve combined the coleus with some black sweet potato vine, some more of that lemon coral sedum, some Shadow Dancers ‘Marcia’ fuchsia, and some Charmed Wine oxalis.

That oxalis is really fighting for some space (the dark one on the right end).

You know, when you can get constant, consistent color like this out of a plant that requires almost no work (except for pinching it back a few times), it’s hard to argue with it.

I also had superb results with sweet potato vines this year.

When the Japanese beetles became abundant in our area about a decade ago, they were devouring these.  I had quit planting them for a few years.  But I’ve gradually added them back and now the beetles seem to leave them alone.  I’m not sure if that’s the result of improvements made in the plant varieties, or because I seem to have fewer of the beetles lately (although they did a number on my ferns again this year).

One other planter success worth mentioning is my herb garden.

It was definitely as success as far as growing the herbs, but a little bit of a fail in that I rarely remember to actually cook with them!

I’m planning to take a stab at attempting to save some of my annuals over the winter this year including the caladium, the oxalis and the Eugenia topiary balls … and maybe even some of those herb plants.  Now that I’m retired, I should be able to find the time to care for them.  I’ll try to remember to share some ‘Sunday mornings in the garden’ posts about that process.

So, how about you?  Did you have any failures or success stories from your planters this year?  Or do you have any tips on overwintering some of these annuals?  If so, be sure to share them in a comment!

so. many. hostas.

Welcome back to Sunday morning in the garden, grab some coffee and let’s talk about hostas.

I know some gardeners turn their noses up at hostas because they are just too easy.  And while I agree that just planting a row of them spaced 5′ apart in a foundation garden with rocks around them can be pretty unimaginative, there are also plenty of amazing ways to use them in a garden.

Not only that, but there are also countless varieties to choose from.  There are very small hostas … like the baby blue eyes that I just purchased for my fairy garden …

and very big hostas, like Sum & Substance or Empress Wu which can grow 4′ tall and 6′ wide.

There are also lots of different leaf textures.  Shiny, matte, puckered, smooth, or curly like this Stiletto.

I love the ones with really puckered leaves, they remind me of the seersucker fabric that my mom used to make summer clothes for me.

The shape of hosta leaves can be more rounded, like the one above, or more pointy like the leaves on this Lakeside Dragonfly

Some hostas may have an upright growth habit with more vertical stems …

while others grow in a lower mound with their stems more horizontal to the ground.

Let’s talk about color for a minute too.  My sister always corrects me when I call a hosta ‘blue’ by telling me they are green.  Sure, all hostas are technically green but in the gardening world some shades of green have more blue in them …

and some have more yellow like this Sun Power hosta.

and some have what is considered ‘white’ in them also.

The colors of some varieties of hosta can vary depending on how much sunlight they get.  I find that this May hosta is much more yellow if it gets more sunshine (and isn’t it gorgeous next to the dark purple of that Purple Palace Heuchera?).

However, in a full shade situation the color is much more subtle.

If you’re planning to plant a vibrant, bright yellow hosta, make sure it gets a little morning sunshine to bring out that bright color.  I just planted three of these Sunset Grooves hostas and I hope they get enough sun where I put them to maintain this gorgeous color.

And on the other hand, if you plant a beautiful blue hosta make sure it is mostly in shade to avoid scorching the leaves.

There’s nothing more disappointing than buying a gorgeously colored hosta from the nursery, and then planting it in your garden only to find that the color has totally faded.  So pay attention to the light requirements when deciding what hosta is right for you.

Hostas can have solid colored leaves or beautifully variegated leaves like those on this variety called June.

That’s one of my all time favorites, FYI.

Here in my shady, zone 4b garden I find hostas are exceptionally easy to grow.  They don’t require much maintenance during the growing season other than cutting off the flower stalks.  I cut off the spindly, less attractive flowers right away, but I leave the bigger, prettier flowers until they are spent.  I have noticed that the bees really love the hosta flowers, so if you like to attract pollinators hostas are a good choice for the shade.

As I was reminded this spring, one downside to hostas is that they can be very susceptible to hail damage.


Coincidentally, two of my favorite garden vloggers, Garden Answer and Linda Vater both recently mentioned that they struggle to grow hostas.  Both live in hot, dry climates and find that their hostas burn out in the heat.  Garden Answer is planning to replace hostas with plants more suitable to her climate, like Brunnera.  Linda Vater mentioned that she’ll only grow hostas in containers now.

All I can say is, finally, something I can grow in zone 4b that gardeners in warmer climates find difficult!  I must say that usually it is the other way around.  There are all kinds of plants that simply won’t survive our harsh winters.

How about you?  Can you grow hostas successfully in your garden?  Leave a comment and let me know.

an onion by any other name.

Since quite a few of you liked the idea of Sunday mornings in the garden, I’m going to give regular Sunday garden posts a go.  So grab a cup of coffee and let’s talk onions.  I bet you didn’t think I’d start out with onions!

True, the Allium genus includes onions, leeks, garlic and chives …

I’m sure most of you are familiar with your basic chives.  I love cutting them fresh to sprinkle on baked potatoes, and recently Mr. Q added them to an omelet he made for our dinner.  But they aren’t a particularly pretty plant, are they?

Instead, I want to share ornamental Alliums with you today, and they are a pretty plant … and more importantly a really cool flower.

I had been gardening for quite some time before I discovered ornamental Alliums.  But now that I have, I absolutely love them.

I grow two types of ornamental Alliums, those that are planted as bulbs in the fall and those that are herbaceous and have a large root ball (and you can plant them any time in the growing season).

The bulb Alliums have foliage that comes up in early spring, produces the flowers, and then dies back to the ground after flowering.  Sort of like a tulip or daffodil.  In my zone 4b garden, these Alliums bloom in late May to early June and by now there is no trace of the plant left in the garden … unless I have left the flower stalks in place to dry.

Just in case that photo is confusing to some, none of the green plants around those dried flower stalks are the Allium, those are other plants.

Once dried, which usually just takes a few weeks, I pull the Allium flowers out and store them until late fall when I use them in my winter floral arrangements (much like the Astilbe that I mentioned last week).

The bulb Alliums are fantastic for intermixing with other perennials that will bush out after the Alliums are done and fill in the space around them.  I have mine planted with peonies, hostas and iris.

I have had great success with my bulb Alliums, the only maintenance they really require is removing the foliage once it dies back which is pretty effortless.  Most of mine are planted in partial sun, which seems to be working fine, but they can handle full sun.  And actually, I have some success with the bulb form in spots under deciduous trees where they get more sun until the trees leaf out.  Mine have been multiplying over the years, but I wouldn’t consider them invasive in any way.  In addition, much like my sister, deer don’t particularly care for onions, so that’s a plus for me as well.

I didn’t keep track of what variety of Allium bulbs I planted years ago, but I suspect they are Purple Sensation, which is fairly common.

In addition to that fabulous purple, bulb Alliums can also be found in white, yellow, pink, burgundy, and blue.  They also come in a variety of heights from 8″ tall all the way up to a whopping 50″ tall, and with bloom times from late spring to early summer.

So if you plan right, you can have bulb Alliums blooming for a month or more.

You can find Allium bulbs for sale in late summer to early autumn along with the tulips and daffodils, but in my experience there isn’t a great variety to choose from at most DIY stores (like Home Depot or Menards).  There are usually a few more options at nurseries, but even they don’t seem to have a great selection.

For that reason, I went online and ordered some more unique varieties to plant this fall.  I’ll try to keep you posted on that process, whether or not I like the place I ordered from (Longfield Gardens, and FYI I borrowed that graphic above from them as well), how well they grow over the next year, etc.

That brings me to the herbaceous Alliums, and these are blooming this week in my garden.

I have three varieties of the herbaceous form.  The one above is one that I purchased at a garage sale, and therefore I have no idea what it is.  I suspect it may be Millennium.  It has a lovely pale purple flower, and a nice compact form.

I recently planted two more varieties, Windy City

and Serendipity from Proven Winners …

This type of Allium plant grows more like chives, in a clump with foliage that stays green all season.  They tend to be shorter and with much smaller flowers than the more showy bulb Alliums.  Serendipity will get 15 – 20″ tall, Windy City will get 15 – 17″ tall.

I just planted the Serendipity Allium this week (I found it at Home Depot), and it doesn’t look too spectacular just yet.

Eventually it should look like this …

Of course, time will tell if these two newer Alliums will do well in my garden, but I’m optimistic about them.

How about you?  Do you grow Alliums?  And if so, do you have any specific recommendations for the rest of us?  Or maybe a favorite variety?  And if you don’t grow Alliums, have I convinced you to throw a few bulbs in the ground this fall and give them a try?  Leave a comment and let us know.

sunday mornings in the garden.

Welcome to my new series to be posted here on Sunday mornings; a short (or maybe not so short) post about what’s happening in my garden each week.  This likely won’t continue year round, for obvious reasons.  I live in Minnesota and although snow can be pretty too, there isn’t a lot going on in the garden in January.  So we’ll just see how that goes.  Many of you seemed to enjoy my garden tour post last week, so why not make it a regular thing?

And on the plus side, for those of you with absolutely no interest in gardening, you’ll know to just skip the Sunday posts 😉

I do wish I’d thought of this in the spring instead of halfway through the growing season … but, here we are.  Better late than never.

The bee balm was blooming profusely in my garden last week.

This plant goes by a lot of names, the most popular being bee balm or bergamot, but its official name is Monarda.

I always think the flower looks like exploding fireworks.

Bee balm is in the mint family (the flowers and leaves are edible), and if you’ve ever grown it, you’d know that by the scent of its leaves.  And also by the way it spreads in the garden, much like mint, it can take over.

I have pretty much let mine run rampant in my back garden.  I have to confess that this is the garden in my yard that gets the least amount of love.  I think because it’s also the one that gets the most sun.  In my garden tour post last week I mentioned that I really don’t like gardening in the sun and it shows in this particular bed.  But at this point in summer, the bee balm is practically the only thing blooming in this spot so I’m OK with having lots of it.

I also have a rogue trumpet vine in this garden that so far I have been unable to eradicate.  It came with the house, so I’ve been battling it for over 30 years.  Oh, and P.S., this garden is on the border of our property, the white and black pots and the red gazing ball you see in the background are in my neighbor’s garden.  Obviously if those were my pots, I’d have turned them all rusty by now using Dixie Belle’s patina paint.

Bee balm comes in a variety of shades of red, pink, and purple-ish.  It also comes in a variety of heights.  My neighbor has one that is only about a foot tall, but the variety I have is 3′ tall.

Monarda is definitely a pollinator.  It attracts bees (hence the common name of bee balm), butterflies and other beneficial insects, and it also attracts hummingbirds.  I can attest to that because we often get hummingbirds visiting ours.  I’d love to be able to add a fabulous photo of a hummingbird in my garden here, but I’m never quick enough to get one.

Another pollinator plant that looked fantastic this week was my Astilbe.

I have three different colors of Astilbe in my garden; white, purple and one that started out as a peach color when I purchased it but has since reverted to a sort of sickly lavender.  The white has already gone over, and the lavender is just getting started, but the purple was at the peak of perfection this week.

I originally planted this Astilbe in a much shadier spot in my garden and it performed very poorly there.  The plant tag said it was a good choice for shade gardens, but I can tell you from experience that it does need some sun if you want it to get full and bloom profusely.

I moved it to our front northwest facing garden quite a few years ago and it does so much better now that it gets a lot of evening sunshine.  I’ve since divided it a couple of times, and I think I need to divide it again.  I was watching Gardener’s World recently and they said that Astilbe needs to be divided regularly to keep blooming.

Hmmmm.  Mine seems to still be blooming pretty good.

I have some ideas brewing in my head for expanding my gardens next year, so I may hold off and start dividing things next year to supply a new garden.

I mentioned that Astilbe is a good pollinator plant, and although I do see butterflies and bees on mine, the blooms are always loaded with tons of these little flies.

See them there?  I can see five of them in that photo.  I’m not super fond of those flies, whenever I water that spot they all fly up and swarm around which is kind of gross.  But they aren’t hurting anything so I try to leave them alone.

The Astilbe is planted right under my front window box, and I’ve discovered that the blooms combine beautifully with the purple and pink fuchsia and the dark purple sweet potato vine in the box.

One last note about the Astilbe, I often leave the flower heads on the plants to dry out.  Then I use them in my planters for winter.

So this plant does double duty for me.

Do you grow bee balm or Astilbe in your garden?  Or do you have another favorite flower that blooms in mid-July?  Leave a comment and let me know.  Also, be sure to let me know how you like the idea of my new gardening series!