Sunday, July 17, 2011

Up close and personal with garden wildlife

My aunt and cousins just visited for a few days this week, and while they were here, we took pictures of my garden and some of the wildlife that call it home. My aunt is a major photo-geek, having taking photography courses and done her own photography for years. Somewhere along the line, I caught the fever and it carried over into my passion for gardening and wildlife.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A nativist’s dilemma

As a gardener who advocates the use of plants native to the United States, I find myself at a crossroads as I ponder several shrubs that I cannot help but admire, even if they are non-native (and, in some books, listed as invasive), particularly if they attract wildlife just as native plants do. The two plants that come to mind are Vitex (aka Chaste Tree) and Nandina domestica.

Vitex is a large shrub or small tree (depending on how you want to prune it) with very palmate, cut leaves that resemble that of a Japanese maple. It has a broadly rounded, airy, delicate habit and looks quite sculptural when limbed up into a small tree rather than a shrub. The flowers of Vitex are purple spikes similar to that of salvia and Russian Sage. Vitex prefers moist, well drained soil but is very tolerant of dry, chalky soils as well. Cold hardy to zone 6. In northern areas, treat as a herbaceous perennial, like butterfly bush.

Nandina domestica is a medium to large evergreen shrub that makes an excellent hedge or privacy screen, as well as an accent plant. Nandina is best down for its colorful foliage and clusters of red berries that persist all year long. Nandina grows from woody canes that spread underground to form colonies by rhizomes. There are a plethora of cultivars and varieties in different shapes and sizes, many of them dwarf or compact in size, or developed for brighter fall color. In spring, Nandina sends up delicate clusters of small white flowers that become red berries in the fall. Birds don’t’ care much for the berries, so they remain on the plant year round. Nandina is a very easy care plant, tolerating moist and dry soils including drought, and is cold hardy to zone 6. To develop a fuller plant, stagger the heights of the canes when pruning.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Veggie garden update

Decided to try something new this year and picked up an Okra plant at a local plant sale back in May. As a big fan of hibiscus, I was drawn to the large, palmate leaves and hibiscus-like yellow flowers. Brought it home, put it in a pot, and after struggling a little bit initially, it has really taken off and I’ve already harvested one pod with many more on the way.

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I’ve noticed that the leaves get powdery mildew quite easily, considering the often humid, sticky climate here in Virginia. I spray it with EcoSmart Garden Fungicide and that seems to keep it under control.

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We are having one the best harvests of tomatoes we’ve had in years! The last few seasons, tomatoes either pooped out from constant drought, or the squirrels made off with the ones that actually made it. ‘Solar Fire’ tomato is doing the best so far, as a heat resistant variety. The large tomato in the picture above is from ‘Solar Fire’. Also growing ‘Better Bush’ and ‘Early Girl’. Better Bush hasn’t needed a cage because of its compact, sturdy habit and Early Girl is putting out a TON of fruits.

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