Monday, October 30, 2017

Celebrating Pumpkins!

How do we celebrate those bold orange (or white) creations every autumn?   In preparation for Halloween, we carve our pumpkins, or paint them, and embellish  with bling to create cute or scary faces.   We use mini pumpkins in fall décor, both indoors and out.  Pumpkins are the theme for autumn hay rides as children and adults trudge through fields to find that perfect pumpkin treasure.

Pie pumpkins (or canned pumpkin puree) can be used to create culinary delights, like pecan-pumpkin bars or traditional pumpkin pie.   Pumpkin flavors are used extensively in a variety of beverages, and even have invaded the realm of doggie treats!  Another way to celebrate our fascination for pumpkins is to roast the seeds—low and slow in the oven— and eat them plain or toss on salads.  Simply rinse seeds thoroughly, place in a bowl and stir in some canola or olive oil to lightly coat. Spread in single layer on cookie sheets.  Sprinkle with sea salt; roast in oven at 250º for about an hour, or until seeds are dry and starting to brown.

Celebrating pumpkins (genus Cucurbita) is a widespread tradition across the USA.  At a botanical garden in New York, an October celebration spotlights humongous, giant pumpkins with some weighing over 2,000 lbs.   (While Americans are often  obsessed with losing weight, we want our pumpkins to be plump!)

Growing pumpkins in the home garden is another way to celebrate pumpkins.  In years past, I have grown mini pumpkins and jack-o-lantern pumpkins; this summer I grew white pumpkins for the first time, and they provide interesting possibilities for autumn décor.   Pumpkins are considered heavy feeders, so frequent fertilization is needed.   When pumpkin season draws to a close (after seeds are removed for roasting) the fleshy shell can be used for composting—lots of nutrients available that will give back to the soil for next year’s garden!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Friday, September 1, 2017

"Guests in the Garden!"

“Guests in the Garden” might conjure up images of inviting close friends over for a summer evening— then dining al fresco in an intimate backyard garden.  This is NOT the image I’m writing of today… instead, I’m paying homage to hundreds of “guests” who visited our backyard garden during recent months.   
These guests either flew (or crawled) into our garden to partake in a feast of pollen and nectar, fruit and foliage. 
Some were welcome guests - some were not!
Finding a large dragonfly sunning itself on a young corn plant was a pleasure; I never before saw a dragonfly with a mauve-pink abdomen!  (The dragonfly allowed me to get quite close for a photograph, so I can share this pic with you.)
A variety of bees are often guests in our garden— sometimes more than one bee will occupy a single zucchini blossom, collecting nectar and escaping the heat of the day.  Often large bumblebees are visiting our Monarda blossoms, and I simply stay back and let them work.    Apparently bees tolerate my presence in the garden; after four decades of working this land, I have never been stung while working in my garden space.

We truly enjoy a host of other guests in our garden… swallowtails, monarchs and an occasional sphinx moth… all are welcome!  Sadly, there are many UN-wanted guests who also frequent our space!  Japanese beetles loved our raspberry foliage and fruit, even though I battled them daily during July and August.  Of course, those darling chipmunks aren’t so darling when they devour several green tomatoes, leaving unwanted portions on the ground.   Numerous baby bunnies seem to appear throughout the growing season, eating whatever they choose. 

Since we utilize organic gardening practices in our veggie and herb garden, I often say the UN-wanted garden guests likely spread the word to one another, “Lunch at Lynn’s today!”    

With due diligence, we can still harvest sufficient produce from our garden each summer to make this effort worthwhile.  I can only hope someday the UN-wanted garden guests will dine al fresco somewhere else!

M. Lynn Schmid,  Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Friday, July 7, 2017

Funky and Fun Foliage

Fall foliage (in early July) is only a distant promise on the horizon… but summer foliage is dazzling as it adorns container gardens in our landscape!  Foliage plants, when used in containers, might be considered “filler.”  But some foliage leaves are so intricately shaped and brightly colored, they can become the focal point of a container garden.  An assortment of delicate foliage plants might stand alone in a container without the inclusion of flowering plants.

One of my horticulture teachers taught us to view a container garden as a landscape design in miniature.  Similar design techniques are utilized when creating a container garden or a backyard garden.    A plant with height… a plant that spills over… dainty floral or foliage plants as filler… a focal point… dramatic colors… subdued colors…  all play nicely together in a rustic or classic container.

Who can resist the funky and fun foliage produced by sweet potato vines?  Coloration is varied for Ipomoea batatas: some lime green, some deep purple, some with nearly black foliage.  A favorite of mine is ‘Sweet Georgia® Light Green’ which offers a bold pop of color, and it also spills over the edge.   Sweet potato vines pair nicely with plants in Coleus genus; this genus covers a huge variety of intricately shaped leaves in dramatic colors.  Although Coleus plants will produce a tiny flower cluster at the tip of each branch of leaves, the flower is considered insignificant and is often pinched off.  With Coleus, it’s all about the leaves!

Funky and fun foliage also makes an appearance in the genus Pelargonium (commonly known as an annual geranium.)  A favorite of mine is shown here with lime green leaves, accented with brownish-red center on each leaf.   Although the blooms are cherry red, I enjoy this plant mainly for its foliage.  This year I’m also growing a Pelargonium with a tri-color (cream-purple-green) leaf; even without flowers, it makes a statement.  

When you’re considering a selection of plants to containerize, include some funky foliage and YOU will make a statement!

M. Lynn Schmid,  Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dancing in the Garden ... Iris sibirica

June breezes waft through our Wisconsin gardens, and our eyes are drawn to spiky foliage dancing gracefully.  Near the top of this plant is an array of blue-violet blooms, each blossom supported on its own sturdy stem.  Although there are numerous varieties within the Iris genus, this particular species (sibirica) consistently stands tall in the garden… and it dances!   Movement in the garden is an essential design element that is sometimes overlooked.   Fit, form and function are necessary in any creative landscape design, but movement makes a beautiful landscape come alive.

While German bearded iris will flounder in strong winds (and often their stems will crimp or bend), Iris sibirica stands tall and continues dancing.   A windy day?  No problem for Iris sibirica!    Rabbits or excessive rain?  Again, no problem.
Originally from Europe and Asia, Iris sibirica thrives here in Wisconsin.  Often called Siberian iris or Siberian flag, this is an adaptable plant which handles clay-based soils, and even soggy soils found in rain gardens.  It has resistance to the insect, iris borer, and is rabbit resistant.  Sun to part shade works well, and it thrives in USDA Zones 3 to 8.  Foliage and flowers generally exceed three feet in height, and this plant spreads in a tidy manner.

My personal preference is to remove most blooms that have faded, but leave a few on the plant to form those amazing green seed pods.    Last year I allowed some pods to remain on the plant until they turned brown and dry; recently I planted seeds harvested from those pods.  These seedlings are now one inch tall and resemble tiny blades of grass.    It will likely be a few years before they are mature enough to produce blooms, but this blue-violet beauty is worth the wait!
Bonus:  Iris sibirica can be included in a butterfly garden or rain garden.

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener

A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Saturday, April 29, 2017

An April Awakening!

Pops of color in April, following the frequent gray-sky days of winter, are a welcome sight for Wisconsin residents.  While walking through my hometown in April, colorful spring blooms are prominent—trees, shrubs, some perennials, and a plethora of spring flowering bulbs!

Magnolia trees with pink-to-purple blooms are always a show stopper.  Even Norway maples (Acer platanoides) provide lime green pompon-style blooms for us to enjoy in April; large, leathery leaves will follow soon.   Shrubs like Forsythia, with vivid yellow blooms, are another welcome sign of spring.  Other flowering shrubs, like lilacs, generally do not flower in April; although lilac flower buds are forming, they will open and release their fragrance in May.

My personal favorite April-blooming perennial is Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) with its lime green textured foliage and periwinkle blue blossoms.  This plant is usually considered a shade lover, but I have had success with it in part sun (and full sun, providing the root zone is mulched with wood shavings.) 

Of course, the obvious April Awakening is an explosion of spring flowering bulbs!  Creamy white and vivid yellow daffodils bloomed throughout the month and are still performing well as we proceed into May. (Reminder: daffodils contain a natural toxin, so rabbits won’t destroy.)  Some tulips have begun blooming in April, and others will open in May.  The genus Tulipa has many varieties and colors—choose a few favorites and plant in autumn. 
(If cottontail rabbits frequent your yard, tulips are at risk.  May I suggest surrounding bulbs with wire mesh hardware cloth as soon as leaves emerge until blossoms open; then remove wire mesh and enjoy the sight!)

M. Lynn Schmid,  Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tenacity... a Great Trait!

While walking on a woodland trail (or possibly a desert trail), have you ever encountered a solitary plant or flower that commands your attention?  The plant appears to be thriving— possibly blooming— despite its harsh surroundings.  So many plants require pampering (loose soil, rich in organic matter and nutrients, frequent watering) while other plants seem to thrive with little care in parched, gravely, compacted alkaline soil.  Plants that tolerate infrequent rain and harsh conditions could easily die if they were planted in rich organic soil and pampered!  Instead, they thrive on meager provisions… little moisture, few nutrients, intense heat and compacted soil.  
These plants have tenacity

Desert Chicory  (Rafinesquia neomexicana) 

While in the sunflower family (Asteraceae) desert chicory doesn’t remind me of a sunflower at all.  With layers of delicate white petals, fringed at each square tip, this delightful desert annual can grow to 20” tall. 

(The specimen I encountered was only a few inches tall, but its bloom was fresh and white against the rocky terrain.)

Mexican Goldpoppy  (Eschscholtzia mexicana) 

From the poppy family (Papaveraceae) a delicate 3” tall annual, this golden poppy carpets the desert floor for a few days in early spring.  Hot sun may dry its blooms quickly, but soon seed pods form; seeds spread easily when rains arrive.  

NOTE:  the California poppy shares the same genus and is named Eschscholtzia californica.  Both plants have similar grey-green foliage, but the California poppy stands 6”-8” tall, with petals of apricot/orange—not yellow/gold.  I have often grown California poppies in my home garden in Southeastern Wisconsin; they thrive in gravely soil, full sun.

Often a plant will adapt to its harsh environment by developing “protective apparel” for survival.  Some plants develop a thick, waxy layer on their leaves which seals against moisture loss and can be difficult for insects to penetrate.  Even cacti have spines rather than leaves to reduce the amount of plant surface exposed to the sun’s intense rays; those spines actually are a form of modified leaf tissue.

Each tenacious plant I encounter on life’s journey makes me pause.  If plants can endure an extremely harsh environment and still be tenacious enough to bloom, then maybe we humans can take a lesson from them.  Throughout our lives we might be touched by someone fighting cancer, arthritis, diabetes, depression or a host of other diseases.   Doctors’ care, hospitals and medications can only resolve some of the issues associated with these diseases; the patient also must develop tenacity to accomplish a state of wellness.   
Tenacity might be learned from our plant friends in the natural world— they don’t give up easily, despite a harsh environment!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Yucca… funky name, fabulous flower!

Yucca is a distinctive drought-tolerant plant with a dramatic whitish bloom that towers above its sword-like foliage.  Yucca filamentosa  (common names:  yucca or Adam’s Needle) can be included in your garden in Southeastern Wisconsin; choose a special place for it… a space where nothing else grows… a place that gets intense heat in full sun… a space with gravelly, sandy soil.   Your yucca will thrive there and should bloom in July/August. 

Yucca belongs to the family Asparagaceae and is native to the southeastern USA.  Yet it is often found in the southwestern USA as well, since some species have adapted to coastal sandy areas, grasslands and prairies.  In the southwest, you may encounter blooms from late January through March, depending on conditions in each locale. 

When traveling in the southwest, I encountered a yucca bloom emerging in a coastal, sandy wildlife area— just one plant in the vicinity, just one bloom.  In the southwest yucca also is utilized as a landscape planting, and provides a dramatic panicle bloom on a stem which can exceed height of seven feet!

Yucca plants require little pruning; simply cut back the tall stem after bloom has faded; once again, the “prune after bloom” recommendation applies.   Plants need little water once established.   These plants often store water within their root systems, which can be several feet below soil level.   

* TIP:  be sure to choose wisely when selecting a site to plant yucca. Some gardeners try to move/remove yucca but the root system is tenacious!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
 A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture