My 3 Favorite Self-Seeding Perennials

Balloon Flower

Balloon Flowers – Mature Flower and Bud

I love perennials in a flower garden. There are so many to choose from and they come back year after year. Some are as tough as old boots and live a very long time. In the southern part of America, you can walk through forested areas and come across a stand of beautiful flowers. The house may be gone but the perennials are still flourishing where they were planted 100 years ago or longer.

One type of perennial that I especially like are self-seeding perennials. The name says it all. They love to seed themselves around the garden. Sounds like trouble, but not really. The original clump of plant that you planted comes back the next year and brings some friends along. Sometimes the plant just keeps getting bigger and wider. And sometimes you find that the flower has seeded itself on the other side of the garden entirely. Because of this I try to be careful when I weed and let some seedlings grow-up if I recognize what perennial they are. Sometimes I don’t want them there and I just easily pull them out.

My 3 favorite self-seeding, flowering perennials are Balloon Flowers, Lamb’s Ears, and Sweet William. These 3 have given me so much joy in the garden. Every year that they come back, it’s like seeing an old friend drop by to pay a visit.

Balloon Flower PatchBalloon Flowers (Platycodon Grandiflorus) are some of the most unusual perennials. I just love how they look as they prepare to bloom. A large stalk reaches skyward and then tiny pea-like flower buds form. The upper most “pea” on the stalk will start to swell and resemble a tiny expanding balloon. When the balloon pops, you have a beautiful, open, star-shaped flower. When this flower fades the next “pea” in line starts to swell. Balloon flowers come in shades of pink, white, purple and blue. This wonderful plant has one down side, it can be top-heavy. To combat this problem, I either stake them or most often shear them shorter early in spring and this creates a shorter plant that tends to not fall over.

Lamb's EarsLamb's Ears StalkLamb’s Ears (Stachys Byzantina) are a soft, fuzzy, gray flowering perennial. This plant also has a look that cannot be compared to anything else. It is unique. The base of the plant looks exactly like ears on a lamb. It is incredibly soft to the touch and its color doesn’t clash with anything else in the garden. The blooms are also unique looking in that they are tall, fuzzy spikes of tiny pink flowers. This plant is considered to be a perennial and a herb. I love this plant in bloom and without blooms. When the flower spikes have faded, I’m just as happy clipping them off and just having the “ears” left.

Sweet WilliamSweet WilliamSweet William (Dianthus Barbatus) is a member of that wonderful, sweet-smelling family that includes delicious, sweet-smelling Pinks. It ranges in colors from white to pink to lavender to red. This is a classic, cottage garden flower. Mixed together in various hues, and planted under rose bushes, you’ve planted a dynamite, cottage combination. This is described as a short-lived perennial, but I disagree. It should be described as a prolific self-seeder. It spreads its sweet-smelling self into large patches in the garden. And I’m so happy it does. I picked up a package of Sweet William seed at Jefferson’s Monticello because it was named after my lovable hubby. Over the years, it has turned into one of my favorite flowers.

Even though these prolific seeders do a great job, I help them out. I love to cut down the spent flower stalks that have gone to seed, dump the seed in my hand, and then sprinkle the seed in a bare spot that needs flowers. One year, as I “dead-headed” a large patch of Sweet William, I whacked the seed laden flower heads around inside a paper bag. At the end of my gardening session, I ended up with quite a lot of seed to scoop out into a new flower bed.

I love pictures in gardening magazines that show a large swathe of flowers all the same kind and color. This is the way to achieve those results. And on a budget, too. Happy gardening to all!

Mosquito Defense Update

A mosquitoI’m happy to update my previous post due to new information about the war on mosquitoes.

I hate mosquitoes. I think the little creatures came from the pits of hell to annoy us. I believe I have tried every possible solution to rid my garden from mosquitoes. I’m unlucky enough to have a chemical makeup that is allergically sensitive to their hateful bites, so when I am bitten the area around the bite swells to the size of a baseball.

In my previous blog post, I talked about many different ways of dealing with them. Sprays and lotions that contain DEET are reported to work well, but recently DEET has been reported to be a neurotoxin (damaging to the central nervous system). We need to stay away from products that are dangerous to our health. Citronella candles, tiki torches, and lanterns work well, but I have found you need quite a lot of them in a large area. Next, let’s talk about those huge, propane guzzling monsters. You know the ones – costing a fortune and promising to rid your entire yard of the little blood sucking beasts. Well, they do exactly as promised. They act as a “magnet” for mosquitoes.

Now that I have pointed out dangerous and ineffective products, let me tell you about really successful things I have tried.

Catnip! Hooray for catnip! Yes, once again we find an incredible use for a herb! What an incredible group of plants. Herbs! Hooray for herbs! An article on Science Daily reported a scientific finding by researchers at Iowa State University. It turns out that catnip repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET. Why are we not hearing this shouted from the rooftops?! No animal or human tests are yet scheduled for catnip, although researchers are hopeful that will take place in the future. If subsequent testing shows the essential oil in catnip is safe for people, it should not be difficult to commercialize for an insect repellent.

I would like to offer up my own findings as a human guinea pig for the good of mankind and all mosquito haters worldwide. I have rubbed catnip all over myself in an attempt to try an experiment of my own. As you know, I love herbs, so I do have a pot of catnip growing beside our back deck. Does it work? Does it repel mosquitoes? Yes, yes it does! Once again our exceptional Creator has given us a plant to solve a problem. I have tried this experiment probably 12 times so far this summer. It really does work! And from experience it seems to last quite a long time, maybe even a couple of hours.

I have even felt safe putting it on my children. Many naturopaths suggest catnip tea for children with an upset tummy. My family and I have experienced no skin irritation or problems of any kind. I do recommend caution in trying this as everyone is different in their own chemical makeup, but I am really encouraged in how well this worked.

Herbs have microscopic oil glands all over their leaves and stems. These oil glands contain the natural chemicals which give the plant its particular scent. Simply rub the catnip leaves on your skin to release the oil from the plant. The oil will stick to your skin. It does not feel sticky or greasy like lotions and sprays.

I hope to see insect repellent made from catnip on our store shelves sooner rather than later. My plea to the scientific community: please, don’t take years to research this compound.

While we are on the subject of herbs, let’s talk about lemon balm. It is wonderful for mosquito bites. Rub lemon balm on a mosquito bite and it will reduce the itching and in my case some of the skin swelling associated with the bite. I suspect the oil in the lemon balm, the same one that makes it such a relaxing tea, helps as a sort of anesthetic on the bite. Another wonderful herb to solve a problem!

I’d like to comment on the ThermaCELL that hunters love to use. It is powered by a butane cartridge and dispenses a small amount of repellent into the air over a long period of time. It claims to create a 15 x 15 feet mosquito free zone. Our family bought this last year and tried it. It does work, and works well. I would recommend not sitting where you may breath in the repellent being dispensed into the air. As with any chemical repellent, it is a trade-off. I don’t like using chemicals, but I also hate being bit. Our family uses this about 6-8 times a year when we are having a barbecue or working on a large outdoor project, such as when my husband and I built our fruit cage. I recommend caution when using this, as it is a chemical.

How about a safe, effective, and organic substance to spread on your grass that repels mosquitoes and other biting insects? It’s called Mosquito Beater Granules by Bonide and it seems to work very well. We spread it over the entire lawn area and flower beds, too. It’s effect lasts for 4-6 weeks. The only down side is your yard will smell like an ethnic restaurant for a few hours, but then the smell dissipates. The odor is due to the ingredients: citronella oil, garlic, cedar oil, and lemon grass oil, among others, which mosquitoes seem to hate. The effectiveness lasts even after the smell is gone. The only down side to this product is scheduling. You must reapply after heavy rains, so schedule your application when you have at least 3-4 days of upcoming dry weather.

Things are looking up for mosquito sufferers everywhere! My sympathy to all the red, itchy bitten people out there. I know how rotten it feels. Try catnip and tell me what you think. Happy gardening!

Mosquito picture was taken by Alvesgaspar and is available on Wikimedia Commons.

Building A Fruit Cage For My Blueberries

I decided that if I’m going to grow blueberries, I’d like to eat a few, too. Last year I stood next to my blueberries, with fist raised to the sky, and shouted at the birds in the trees, “This means WAR!” I will never again water, fertilize, and mulch berry bushes to harvest only three berries. With this declaration of war, the wildlife around my garden looked a little scared, but I knew somewhere in the trees they had a war room in place and were strategically planning their attack.

I announced to my husband, “This year I will win!”

He looked nervous but pronounced, “Of course you will dear. Now what are we referring to?”

“Blueberries! We are going to build a fruit cage!” I declared.

“Why do blueberries need to be caged?”

And thus it started. After exchanging many ideas, arguing a little and a lot of hand gestures, we started building a fruit cage for my blueberry bushes. I’m very proud. We used PVC pipe and glued only certain sections together, so that it can be taken apart and stored each year. It is 5 feet high and around 10 feet long. We attached wildlife netting to the piping with long twist ties and we pegged it down to the ground by taking a wire cutter and cutting long wire pegs out of coat hangers. This keeps it pegged to the ground and a little more stable. I’m very happy with it, but I think next year I will paint it a dark brown or black to make it less noticeable.

My children believe that any day now I will go out into the garden and find Chip and Dale, giving me a little innocent wave from inside the fruit cage.

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Edibles In Containers (Dedicated To My Father)

I was walking amongst my veggies as I was thinking about my post for this week. It occurred to me that it had been about 15 years since I had planted vegetables in the open ground. I grow almost all of my edibles in containers.

My container garden

My container garden

I started raising edibles in containers kinda by accident. We had moved to our new house and I was pregnant with our first child. As large and pregnant as I was, it would have been difficult to start raised beds or clear a space of open ground – so there came the pots. Pots and Pots. Large pots. Small pots. New pots. Old pots. And guess what? Everything grew wonderfully! For some reason I was surprised – I shouldn’t have been. Plants are wired to live and survive. And sometimes thrive!

I think so many of us have gotten the idea that vegetables will only grow in the ground and that pots are for flowers. My dear, sweet father, the one that introduced me to gardening, would clear a “patch” in the backyard and put in a vegetable garden. Every year it was always a big family project. A tiller would be rented and plant starts would be bought from Green Brothers Nursery in Decatur. I would go with him to the nursery and try to talk him into buying every flower I saw. He would mostly shake his head and say something like “We’ve got to get tomatoes, remember?”

My wonderful father is gone and I miss him terribly. I sometimes wonder what my dad would say about my container garden. In regards to my fig tree, I think he would agree that figs should be in pots. He had a tall fig tree at our family home and the birds always got most of the figs. My fig produces quite a lot of fruit, and I prune it to grow no larger than 7 feet tall. I get about 3-4 dozen figs every year and they taste like ambrosia from heaven. The neat thing about this tree is that it was bought at Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello. Jefferson loved figs and had many fig trees around his house. This was a cutting, rooted by the workers at the Monticello nursery and it rode home to Georgia on my lap in the car. Gardening dedication at its best.

Thomas Jefferson's Brown Turkey Fig

Thomas Jefferson’s Brown Turkey Fig

Here are some tips for growing edibles in containers:

Always check that they are moist – keep them well watered. Plants in pots tend to dry out quicker than those planted in the ground.

Use potting soil designed for containers. Don’t use soil out of the garden, it won’t drain as well.

Don’t over feed the plants. Many veggies will put out a lot of foliage and not a lot of fruit if over fed. I put compost and manure mixed with the potting soil at planting time and maybe one more liquid feed during the season.

Many fruit trees like apples, figs and blueberries do wonderfully in containers. You can also keep them pruned smaller for easier harvesting.

A young tomato

A young tomato

A tip on tomatoes – plant them in the largest pot you can find. You will see at the end of the season that the root system of the tomato has completely filled the pot. I know a gardener that plants her tomatoes in huge garbage cans by drilling drainage holes in the bottom and then filling them with potting soil!

My list of this year’s edibles:

Figs, Beans, Peppers, Tomatoes, Lemons, Strawberries, Blueberries, Herbs

My Top 3 Lemon Scented And Lemon Flavored Herbs

My container herb garden

My container herb garden

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m passionate about herbs, especially lemon scented ones. I try every spring to stay on a “plant budget” at the nursery. That means I am careful what plants I buy, know where I’m going to put them, and try to not make impulse buys. Part of my money goes for flowers, then shrubs I have studied about, then herbs that I can’t live without. Three of my favorite herbs are lemon scented and lemon flavored. They make the most wonderful tea and also flavor everything from chicken to cookies.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balmLemon balm has medium green heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are slightly serrated and a little wrinkly. It is a hardy perennial growing anywhere from 1 to 3 feet tall. It grows in partial shade, but it will also grow in full sun if it has enough water. Like all herbs, it prefers soil with good drainage. The small, white flowers it has later in the year are insignificant but because of these it can reseed itself abundantly. I would try to contain it in a bed of its own or maybe a very large decorative pot. This herb needs some restraint or it might try to take over your garden when your back is turned. As a medicinal herb, lemon balm is excellent for soothing the nerves and helping with stress-related digestive disorders. In cooking, it has a wonderful lemon scent and subtle lemon flavor. Many people like lemon balm tea made with dried or fresh leaves. Its subtle flavor is great in cakes and cookies, too. Below I have included a few recipes with lemon balm.

Lemon balm

Lemon Thyme

Thyme is a twiggy little plant with tiny oval-shaped leaves. Lemon thyme is a little lighter shade of green than the normal, regular thyme plant. Small flower spikes appear later in the year and encourage every bee in your neighborhood to it. Thyme is a perennial that grows from 6 inches to 1 foot in height. It loves to grow in full sun and dry, sandy soil. I Pot of lemon thymehave cooked chicken with lemon thyme, but surprisingly the tiny leaves taste great in salads, too. I’m contemplating covering a dry, sunny hill with this plant. In the least, I would love laying on it and rolling down it. It is a problem area for me and maybe this would be the solution. I certainly wouldn’t mind it if the plant were to spread around. As a medicinal herb, thyme has a soothing affect on nerves and removes mucus from head, lungs, and the respiratory system. I love to add fresh thyme leaves to green tea. It is lemony, soothing, and wonderful. Below are recipes with this lemon wonder.

Lemon thyme

Lemon Grass

This heavenly scented plant has long, strappy leaves like the ornamental grasses. As you can see in the picture, I just bought my lemon grass. I put a pencil next to the pot to show it is about 8 inches high but will reach 3 to 6 feet in heighth if I plant it in the garden. The nursery worker reminded me that even though it is small it will end up the Lemon grasssize of a compact car. I will plant mine in a large pot to keep it confined. It loves to grow in full sun and it originates from tropical climates. Unless you garden in zone 9 in the US it will not act as a periennial for you. As a medicinal herb, lemon grass helps with insominia, stress and sore throats. Lemon grass is used in a lot of Asian cooking and due to its stringy and tough tecture should be removed before eating any dish. It is wonderful dried in teas.

Lemon grass

Recipe Ideas

Lemon balm makes a great tea all by itself. I have a teapot that makes tea for about 3 people. I add 2-3 tablespoons of dried or fresh lemon balm leaves and let it steep for about 15 minutes. Strain through a tea strainer and serve with a few drops of stevia or your favorite sweetener.

Lemon thyme makes a super tea also. I love to steep 1-2 tablespoons of fresh leaves in my 3 person pot for about 10 minutes then add green tea for the last 3-5 minutes of steeping. It makes a wonderful lemony, green tea that I love so much.

Lemon grass, lemon thyme, and lemon balm mixed together make a wonderful tea especially soothing for bedtime. All three herbs dried and then mixed together in the tea pot give a very different taste than any one of these herbs alone. (around 3 tablespoons of dried material all together – steep for 10-15 minutes).

Lemon grass and chicken make a super combo. A friend of mine told me he takes long straps of lemon grass and wraps them around the chicken pieces. He then puts the chicken in a bag with Italian salad dressing and lets it marinade in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. He and his wife tell me it gives the chicken a yummy flavor. I look forward to trying it.

I have also found a super recipe for lemon balm butter cookies over at A Busy Nest. Take a look at it here. They have a lot of incredible recipes and are an invaluable resource. I would encourage you to give them a look.

Hedges – Let’s Try Something Different

Sometimes we need privacy in our garden. To hide away from the world. I have found it is important to my soul to have privacy in my garden. I call it “marinating in serenity.” I love to walk around the garden and look at what is currently blooming or have a pep-talk with a rose bush that is looking sickly. Another prominent gardener that I admire calls it “getting lost to oneself.” This can not be done with a neighbor strolling over to gossip. Or the cable man gawking from his truck across the street. Therefore, hedges are what we need!

The English love to make “garden rooms” with tall privacy hedges of holly or hornbeams. In my part of the country, people love to make hedges with Leyland cypress. They sometimes end up looking like a row of green soldiers standing next to each other. Variety is the spice of life. Why can’t we all think outside of the box and come up with something different?

Viburnum shrubs with Jamie

These are three viburnums I have along my fence. My youngest son Jamie is in the picture for size reference, he is six years old.

My neighborhood rules state that our fences cannot be over 6 feet tall. I wanted something taller, due to the unusual height differences in the ground around our garden. I decided to plant a hedge that was unusual and something not often seen. I chose the Viburnum ‘Summer Snowflake’ for its beautiful blooms in spring. This is a hedge I have never seen before and it reaches a height of almost 12 feet tall. Even though the Viburnum loses its leaves in the winter, the twiggy branches that are left make a nice screening.  The tags that came on the plants said they would reach 5 feet. I knew this was not true due to the research I had done. The nice thing about this shrub/tree is that you can limb it up. In other words, you can remove the bottom branching up to 4 or 5 feet from the ground. This turns it into more of a tree that you can plant flowers underneath. I always try to put the right plant, in the right place. By placing them in front of my fence, I didn’t mind how big they got. I had hope they would grow large. And of course, they did.

Viburnum flowersThe following is a short list of other ideas for hedging material. I tried to think outside of the box.

Camellias, Tea Olives, Roses (Rugosa), Hydrangea (Annabelle), Bottlebrush Buckeye, New Dawn Roses (attached to supports), Magnolia (Little Gem)

Is My Gingko Tree a He or a She?

I think my Gingko tree is having an identity crisis. You see, Gingkos can be male or female. I bought the tree from a reliable plant nursery with the guarantee that it was a male Gingko. Female Gingko trees produce a weird looking fruit. When this fruit falls to the ground and rots it smells like the nastiest thing you can think of. On a rare occasion, a male Gingko can be hit with a late spring freeze which changes it from a male tree into a female tree. The tree coming close to death causes it to try to produce fruit in order to reproduce. It is an amazing thing and apparently from all the information I’ve gotten does not happen very often. Of course this would happen to my tree – nothing in my life is ever normal.

Gingko leaves in the fallSo, you might ask me why would I buy a Gingko tree to start with. Well, it is one of the most beautiful trees in the fall. The yellow coloring is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Then the tree drops its leaves almost all at once, leaving you with a circle of bright yellow fallen leaves under the tree. With a large Gingko tree, it is an amazing sight. I have heard there are many old Gingko trees at the University of Georgia campus and one day I’m going to go see them in the autumn. There is a beautiful example of a large old Gingko in our little town and every autumn I always plan my daily route around that particular house. But, unfortunately, my little guy turned girl is only seven feet tall and doesn’t seem to want to grow faster or taller.

Gingko leavesWhy am I talking about a problem that happens in the fall? Because for the past few springs I have stood next to the tree, begging it to not make fruit. However, my pleas of “Please don’t make fruit!” have failed, and once again I see the beginning of tiny fruit on its branches. I have come to the conclusion that I will have to cut it down and replace it with a different tree. For now, however, there is very little fruit for me to pick up in the fall but I worry that when it grows large I will not be able to keep up with it’s stinky fruit production. I think it has to go. I’m sad. Does anyone have an opinion? Should I keep it or cut “Stinky” down?