Friday, August 31, 2012

A Morning Treat

Day 200
The Daily DuBrule 

I have a giant asparagus patch. Every year I allow 'Grandpa Ott' morning glories to ramble over the six foot tall ferny foliage at this time of year. Of course, I don't plant the morning glories- they come up from seed. 'Grandpa Ott' is a notorious self-seeding heirloom variety that was given to Diane (Ott) Whealy (founder of Seed Saver's Exchange) by her grandfather, Baptist John Ott. It is one of the classic examples of how heirloom seeds that mean so much to the original owners and their descendents can become a garden staple.

Now if you go on line and read about this morning glory, you will find that many people refuse to grow it because it self seeds. My original plants were given to me by my friend Hutch. My courtyard was just completed and it was an empty rectangle of mulch. He had just finished power washing my cedar fence. He gave me a couple of seedlings to crawl on the fence that year. Ever since it has taken residence in my vegetable garden. One year it rambled through the 'Lemon Queen' sunflowers at the edge of the seating wall. Last year it climbed through the magnificent burgundy plumes of amaranth, itself a self sown plant.
I guess I will say, once again, that I am a brave woman allowing all these wonderful wild things into my patch of paradise. But a bright purple morning glory with a ruby red star in the middle that greets me every single morning when I first wander outside? How could I not embrace this plant! I know how to recognize plants I don't need. I am a "take no prisoners" kind of power weeder when I have to be. That's what it takes to have an exuberant, crazy, mixed up garden like mine. I am lovin' it. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Man Bertram

Day 199
The Daily DuBrule

My courtyard is really hot, especially this summer. Temperatures in the high nineties for days on end in an enclosed area filled with stone makes for an intense environment for plants. One of the most successful plants that I have chosen for this space is Sedum 'Bertram Anderson'. 

The smoky purple foliage of this ground cover sedum was what first attracted me to it. I was looking for a plant that could edge a bed next to a purple smokebush. Bertram fit the bill nicely. Later I added native Allium cernum behind it which I think is a marriage made in heaven.

Bertram is, in my opinion, an improved form of another old favorite 'Vera Jameson'. It starts to flower in late August with rosy pink flowers that last for a month. It is undemanding. I NEVER water it. I mean never, even if we have high temperatures and no rain for weeks on end. It doesn't mind. In fact, I see many sedums killed by too much watering all the time. That's what they are best at, growing in dry situations. 

A few years ago, before I planted the Allium cernum, a friend of mine had given me a double purple Datura. I plunked it behind Bertram. That was a very special summer as I was able to sit on the steps of my deck leading to my courtyard and observe this dramatic tropical plant dangle its flowers over the beautiful purple foliage of Sedum 'Bertram Anderson'. Every time I look at the pictures of this combination, I smile.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Tall One

Day 198
The Daily DuBrule 

I have a daylily border along the side of my street. It features daylilies in shades of red, glowing gold, pale yellow, deep coral, and everything in between. I love to stand at my front door and watch people who walk by stop and admire the amazing flowers. In between the daylilies I have dropped seed pods of Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and queen Anne's lace. In the spring, there are daffodills across the slope. It is such an easy care, low maintenance border that I rarely work on it, which was my plan. I like to focus my energies in the back yard.

By early August, most of the color from the daylilies has passed. 'August Flame' lives up to its name and blooms all during the month of August. I need more of this plant, and others like it. But the star of the show in late August and early September is 'Autumn Minarette'. 

This stately daylily has sandy yellow flowers blushed with peach. The stems soar upward 5-6 feet! It is quite impressive to see just how unique and different this variety is from all the rest. I only have one clump but soon I will split it into 4 and distribute it across the border. 

'Autumn Minarette' is an example of a good plant that is not readily available in the trade anymore. Perhaps its because it looks so ridiculously leggy in a pot. That seems to be an important criteria for breeders and garden center buyers these days. For me, I don't care what it looks like on the benches. I just care that the plant is labeled true to name. I know once I put it in the garden that it will give me color and drama in a season when most daylilies are just growing leaves. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

My Babies

Day 197
The Daily DuBrule 

For the past three days I have been closely watching my Asclepias tuberosa (orange butterfly weed). I happened to notice late in the evening on Friday that there were two monarch butterfly caterpillars on the unripe seedpods. Unless I went in the house and put on a headlamp it was really too late to truly check them out, but I filed the information in the back of my mind for the next day. Imagine my delight on Saturday afternoon when I went back to find three caterpillars, two on one plant, one hiding beneath the leaf on the other. 

Do you see it?
Saturday night two houseguests arrived. My sister is an avid gardener. Her friend loves gardens but is pretty new at this habitat creation stuff. I couldn't wait to show her my babies!

Sunday morning arrived and out to the garden we went. These voracious eaters had just about devoured the seed pods and were working their way through the leaves. That's fine with me. There were not three but SIX and a tiny newborn caterpillar as well. As we hung out on the deck throughout the morning the monarch butterfly flitted about, nectaring on the many butterfly bushes, Verbenas, perennial ageratum, globe amaranth, and other tempting goodies I had purposely planted everywhere. We would say "Hi Mommy" everytime we saw her and laugh.

My friend Jane learned about the life cycle of butterflies this weekend. I taught her how the monarchs have to have milkweed or it's relatives, Asclepias, in order to lay eggs. We talked about larval food plants and nectar plants and it was so much fun having a living classroom to teach in!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Ladies in My Garden

Day 196
The Daily DuBrule 

My garden is alive with creatures. Every time I walk outside I just stop and watch in amazement. Butterflies of every kind are flitting about as well as hummingbirds, bees galore, hummingbird moths, and birds. It is paradise. Lately I have been observing a butterfly that I didn't recognize. I looked it up and it turns out I have a lot of painted lady butterflies in my garden this August! 

This butterfly is quite a bit smaller than a monarch. When it closes it's wings, half of it looks camouflaged. When the wings open, it is a bright orange with very distinctive spots. Her scientific name is Vanessa cardui. 

The larval plant food for this pretty lady includes thistles (which grow wild in one of my borders, despite my weeding), hollyhocks and malvas, and all sorts of legumes. Check. I've got all of those. The nectar food for Vanessa cardui includes all daisies, Vernonia (ironweed) which I have been encouraging for many years, Joe pye weed and other Eupatoriums, buttonbush (Cephalanthus), and milkweeds. Check, check, and check. Got them all. I guess when the painted ladies flew over this yard they saw heaven on earth and decided to take a summer vacation right here. 

This business of habitat creation really does work!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Oh So Pretty

Echinacea 'Sunrise'
Day 195
The Daily DuBrule

The other day we got in a new shipment of perennials. One plant was just so pretty that it melted my heart. In this world of insane plant breeding, Echinaceas are the current rock stars. There are double ones, frilly ones, and Echinaceas of a gazillion colors. It's hard to keep up. Some are amazing, others a flash in the pan. Echinacea 'Sunrise' has been around for a long time, which in this fast moving world of Echinaceas means a few years. Yet, it has proven itself to be hardy and reliable.

The other cool thing about 'Sunrise' is that very often the flower petals come out all frilly and tubular. This was the case with the latest shipment. 
This color is soft and easy to use in any garden design. It is the same shade of yellow as the classic Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'. The foliage is very full and vigorous which is key to Echinacea hardiness, especially when you plant them at this time of year. 

If you think 'Sunrise' is too plain Jane for you, of course you have lots of options...

'Guava Ice'

'Hot Papaya'
 Sometime, though, just plain pretty is good enough for me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

An Easy Perennial Herb

Day 194
The Daily DuBrule

I am a brave woman. I grow many plants that others shy away from because they are vigorous self seeders. An example of my bravery is the fact that I allow garlic chives into my garden. I love this herb. The flat foliage is easy to spot; it tastes like chives with a mild garlic flavor. The flowers open in the fall. Of course this year they are open three weeks early, in late August. The flowers are edible and that's what makes them fun. Have you ever eaten any form of chive blossoms? You take the rounded flower heads in your hand and pull the florets off. Then you sprinkle them in your salad. Try it in tomato salad with basil. Yum. Try sprinkling the florets on a tomato and cucumber sandwich. You get the picture.

All Alliums attract butterflies and garlic chives are no exception. I grow them in the border that surrounds my vegetable garden. This border is filled with herbs and aromatics to encourage pollinators, enhance the habitat, and fool the noses of the deer. Yes, occasionally the garlic chives self seed into places I don't want them. Because the leaves are flat they are easy to spot. I can either rip them out or transplant them to another place where I want a deer proof, edible, white flowering, front of the border perennial in early fall.

My friend Mary, who cared for my father for the last five years of his life, preferred garlic chives over common chives. We kept a large pot of them by the kitchen door. It lived above ground in this big plastic clay-like pot for years. This is one truly hardy perennial.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Night Noise

Day 193
The Daily DuBrule

Yesterday was a stressful day. I had way too many projects to juggle, so much so that I felt like my brain was going to explode. I came home from work in need of serious stress relief. After dinner I went outside to chill out. What a gorgeous evening! I sat in my favorite lounge chair, lit some candles, took a deep breathe, and inhaled the sweet scents of all of my flowers. The crickets and cicadias were buzzing, my waterfall gently trickled over the rocks, and all was right with the world. It was cool and comfortable, no humidity. Then my neighbor's air conditioner turned on.

The sudden noise startled me and broke my reverie. Damn! Open the windows my friend, and take some gulps of this wonderful air. I hate noise. I grew up next to Rt. 84 in West Hartford and lived with the sound of the highway all my young life. Even when I had 37 acres in Vermont, the neighbor mowed his gigantic lawn all day long when I was camping there. It's hard to find silence. 

I live in a flyway for airplanes. My late, great neighbor Bill studied the flight patterns and when he was hanging out on our deck having a beer on summer evenings and a plane would go by he would look up and name the flight and where it was headed. Sigh. Just my luck. If you do sit outside and pay attention, you will probably notice the sound of airplanes on a regular basis, no matter where you live.

Many years ago I was in Arizona visiting an ancient native American site. I was surprised to find this sacred place right next to a highway in the middle of a busy business district. I asked our guide if it bothered him. He looked at me very seriously and said that the site existed long before the city grew up around it. He told me he accepted the surrounding noise. He was centered, focused, and totally inhabiting the space he was in. It was a lesson I have never forgotten.

With that in mind, last night I decided to try and hear the waterfall and the crickets and smell the phlox and night scented jasmine and fragrant hostas and try and tune out the noise. I wandered out to the courtyard where I slowly walked the labyrinth and did yoga when I got to the center. It took total concentration to do this and pretty soon, the noise faded away. An hour later I was totally relaxed and ready to retire to bed, refreshed and soothed by my precious backyard sanctuary.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


An amazing giant wasp on my boneset
Day 193
The Daily DuBrule

I remember the first time that boneset first entered my consciousness. I was in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, walking through a field. This wonderful, tall and stately wildflower was everywhere. It looked vaguely familiar but not really. The way the foliage clasped the stem was very distinctive. The flowers were soft and fuzzy and looked like white ageratum. When I got home to Connecticut, I looked it up. Eupatorium perfoliatum. Native to eastern North America. Cool. Butterflies love it and so do bees and lots of crazy looking, giant wasps that I can't stop watching whenever I need a break from gardening. I just stand there and stare in wonder. I buried my nose in the flowers and they are scented, a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy. It was a very important medicinal plant for the native Americans and early settlers. Makes sense to me.
Boneset with leaves that clasp the stem
I love all Eupatoriums. They are just so easy to grow, especially in my heavy, wet clay soil here in Middletown. I didn't plant these bonesets. They appeared on their own. Doubly cool. I did plant Eupatorium purpureum 'Joe White', a white form of giant Joe Pye weed. But that's very different. Big rounded heads that are creamy white, not that fuzzy, and open in the middle. Much taller and more stately. If you are looking to fill up some serious real estate in your garden and want to attract a wide range of pollinators, try boneset. Try Eupatorium 'Joe White'. What the heck, try all the Eupatoriums. You can't go wrong.

'Joe White' behind Vernonia (Ironweed)
'Joe White' with 'Lemon Queen' perennial sunflowers

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fragrant and Happy

'Happy Returns'
'Fragrant Returns'
Day 192
The Daily DuBrule

Just like two of the seven dwarfs of fairy tales, Happy and Fragrant live in my yard! They are siblings and come from a long line of dwarf repeat blooming daylilies. Everyone knows 'Stella D'Oro', the golden form that I now consider "the parking lot perennial". It is a workhorse but so over-used that I am sick of it. 'Happy Returns' is much easier to design into gardens as the yellow flowers are buttery, soft, and marry with pretty much any color you can pair it with. I inherited a huge stand of this plant with my new home and promptly split it and spread it to a few key places in my borders. As long as I deadhead it and deadleaf it and give it a second feeding in July with compost and organic fertilizer, it will rebloom until late fall. 

'Happy Returns' in need of work

My daylily after deadheading and deadleafing
I heard about 'Fragrant Returns' and thought to myself "cool, but how fragrant can it really be?". I am a sucker for sweetly scented perennials and have surrounded my house and deck with them. Well, guess what. It IS fragrant. AND, it is an even softer shade of creamy yellow. I am in love. 

The other trick to success with repeat blooming daylilies is frequent division. They should be dug up and split every 3-4 years to keep them vigorous. That really isn't a problem because splitting daylilies is very easy to do and you can always use the extra plants somewhere in your world. If not, pretty much any savvy gardener will be glad to take them off your hands. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Do YOU Believe?

Day 191
The Daily DuBrule

I've been away for a day. I've been in fairyland. Yesterday we held our first ever Fairy Festival at Natureworks. My staff has been so incredibly interested in fairy gardens and miniature landscapes that I thought it would be fun thing to do in August. I bought them a copy of Betsy William's book There are Fairies at the Bottom of My Garden, a classic on this subject. They scoured the internet and read many other books and presented to me the day's agenda. We were off!

By the beginning of last week we had a couple of people signed up. Oh well, we thought, it will be fun anyway and we'll make the best of it. Then the email went out and the newspapers all decided to run articles about it. By Saturday morning, we had over 50 people registered and the phone was ringing off the hook. It is important to realize that Natureworks is on one acre and that includes the shop, the outbuildings, the nursery yard, and the parking lot where we have 9 parking spaces. We are not a big place. We started to panic a little bit.

Meanwhile, for the weeks leading up to this festival we had all been gathering materials. All four of the landscape crews were asked to bring back bark, interesting roots, pods, seedheads, any natural materials they ran across to make fairy houses. Every employee picked from their own yards. The baskets and piles of cool stuff was stacked up everywhere. But 50 people? That's a LOT!

The day dawned and a steady rain was falling at 5 a.m. My heart sank. We have a tent but not a tent big enough to hold 50 people. I started to really panic. The weather report promised the rain would be over by 10 a.m. which happened to be the time the festival started. I took a deep breathe and drove into work, put on a happy face, exuded confidence, and pitched in to get ready.

The rain did end, the sun came out, everyone arrived, and we had a blast! We made garlands for our heads. I had to pick a giant basket of flowers from the gardens beforehand and that was fun and relaxing as long as I brushed the sleeping bumblebees off the blossoms first. We made fairy wands, stringing beads through ribbons. A challenge, for sure. We learned about fairy etiquette. They like to be called "wee folk" and "good neighbor". They are oh so polite. We made fairy gardens in plastic pots that everyone could take home using miniature plants and all kinds of colorful rocks, shells, and the natural materials we had gathered. We harvested seeds of love-in-a-puff and peeled back money plant seed pods to reveal silver dollars. 

The most fun for me was the last event of the day. The participants were asked to find a special spot in the Natureworks gardens and take our gathered natural materials and make fairy houses in our gardens to give our fairies welcoming homes. These little kids (and many adults, including a woman in her 80's with her adult daughter) totally got it. Below are some of my favorites.
Milkweed fluff was a big hit for soft beds for the fairies

Imagine the work involved to make this twig structure!

Variegated yucca leaves and a fence of iris pods

Paths led into the houses made of natural materials
I am so used to being SO serious about my business. My garden walks are always about pruning and deadheading and succession of bloom and organic insect controls. This was WAY outside of my normal comfort zone. Guess what. I donned fairy wings, wore a garland of stawberry runners, and had the time of my life. I slowed down to a child's pace and really looked at the wondrous world around me. Every rock, twig, shell, seed pod, and blossom took on a new meaning as I imagined the Natureworks resident fairies squealing with delight at what we had all done for them. If only I had the energy to sneak back in the middle of the night to watch them dance in fairy rings and enjoy the twinkling lights of their celebration. Alas, I was asleep by 9 p.m., deep in dreamland.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Day 190
The Daily DuBrule

When you work in a specialty garden center, lots of plants come in and out of your radar screen on a daily basis. If you notice that all of your employees who are true plant geeks are buying a certain new and unusual plant, you take notice. That was the case with Cestrum nocturnum. 

I placed the order for this tropical houseplant, intrigued by the idea that it was night scented. It turns out that Dave, our resident interior plant expert, not only already had one, but a huge one, and he was singing the praises of the strong perfume. I thought I had missed the boat and they were all sold. I was bummed as I LOVE fragrant plants, especially vespertine flowers which are the ones that emit their fragrance only at night. Imagine my delight when I found a plant of Cestrum nocturnum hiding in the greenhouse. I grabbed it.

I watched as tiny cream colored buds formed all along the three foot tall arching stems. I placed it outside my kitchen window, tucked in behind a chair where I sit and relax before bed. Then I forgot about it (except to water it).

Last week, all of the Hosta plantaginea flowers opened in my courtyard. This is the "August Lily" that I wrote about a few days ago. Large white, flaring flowers with a strong perfume. With no less than 100 stems in flower assumed that when I wandered out into the garden a couple of mornings ago at 5 a.m. that I was smelling my beautiful hostas. All of the sudden I realized what it was. My Cestrum nocturnum or night blooming jessamine. 

What an intoxicating scent! It was almost too sweet and I never thought I could say such a thing. I could smell it across the yard and, with the kitchen window open, in the living room. That night I set myself up in my lounge chair on the deck and reveled in the sweet, fragrant air. It lulled me to a place of relaxation that I really needed. I could have easily slept in that chair. The crickets were chirping and the cool night air enveloped me. This plant is coming into the house for the winter. I am going to nurture it and prune it so it gets really full. Next year, I will know what to expect and it will become a regular part of my summer evening relaxation ritual. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Standing Ovation

Day 189
The Daily DuBrule

Yesterday I went to visit a large nursery. It was so big that we went on tour in a truck, driving through acres of plants, looking at new varieties. From the front seat I spotted my next new favorite grass- Schizachryium scoparium 'Standing Ovation'. I had heard about this plant at the Perennial Plant Association conference in Boston last month. The minute I saw it, I knew what I was looking at. Steely blue foliage with burgundy highlights emerging as the buds are forming. Upright, totally upright, not flopping at all. What a vast improvement over the variety I have been using for years called 'The Blues'. 

LIttle Bluestem is a fabulous native grass. In the picture above you can see 'The Blues' in the rock garden at Natureworks. Everyone admires this plant and asks about it, especially in the fall when it becomes streaked with purple/red and flowers. The problem is, when it flowers it flops. The way I deal with it is to use in in meadow or wild garden situations or on slopes intermingled with Echinaceas and Rudeckias that hold it up. In this garden, it also has Oregano 'Herrenhausen' amongst it. The grouping together looks very much like a crazy, wild meadow in the fall but it can be hard to handle in a more formal garden setting to say the least. Enter 'Standing Ovation', a variety that has been trialed all over the United States for 10 years before being introduced to the trade. Now we can use this great foliage plant and native grass in more gardens than ever before. Yes, North Creek Nurseries, who introduced this grass, certainly does deserve a standing ovation for their work. Good job!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The August Lily

Day 188
The Daily DuBrule

Sometimes it's the common, old fashioned flowers that melt my heart. It's the middle of August and Hosta plantaginea is in full, glorious bloom. There is nothing fancy about the look of this hosta. The leaves are plain-Jane green, oval, nothing that would ever turn your head during the rest of the growing season. It's when the blossoms open that you realize why this hosta continues to be popular and has stood the test of time.
Look at the size of the flowers! Then, inhale their sweet perfume. I love the squeals of delight when I pick a flower and tell the garden walkers on Saturday to check this out. They can't believe it! People rarely grow hostas for their flowers, they are known as a foliage plant. On a sultry August evening, when my deck is surrounded by these beauties, the night air is filled with their perfume and all is right with the world. 

Hosta plantaginea has been used as the parent of a new generation of fragrant hostas with large, flaring tubular white flowers. The new ones have much fancier foliage. 'Guacamole', 'Fried Green Tomatoes', and many more are all great choices if you want amazing, fragrant flowers in August. For me, there is something just right about the original August lily, green leaves and all.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Flower Tower

Notice the front of the plant is branched and in bud.
Day 187
The Daily DuBrule

One of the greatest plants in the August border at Natureworks is Coreopsis tripteris 'Flower Tower'. The name of this plant is spot on. It grows 6-7 feet tall, stands upright and tall, and offers a tower of flowers during a month when you really need it. 

I first heard of Coreopsis tripteris over a decade ago. I was told it was related to Coreopsis 'Moonbeam' and had my doubts because of the height. Yet, when you study the flowers up close, you can see it. I grew the straight species in some of my client's gardens for many years and then was unable to find it again. The leaves are very clean, deeply cut, in whorls around the stem. The only down side is that the flower clusters are a bit small for the overall size of the the plant.  It still makes a real statement in the garden.
One fun thing is that I used 'Flower Tower' to demonstrate the technique that I learned from Tracy Disabato-Aust in her book The Well Tended Perennial Garden. In June I cut the front half of this plant in half. This caused it to branch at about 18" tall. The resulting multi-stemmed front half of the plant is now about 4' tall and it is in tight bud, not in bloom yet. When the back half of 'Flower Tower' finishes flowering at the end of August I will deadhead it. At that point, the front half will bloom, offering me another whole month of color from the great garden perennial.

This is rarely offered in the trade and I don't understand why. The only reason I can think of is that in the spring it doesn't wow anybody. You would have admire the stately presence of this plant in a garden to know that you want it.

My new desire? A golden-leaved form of Coreopsis tripteris. Yeah baby, I there. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder

Do you see the flowers and colorful foliage
or the mildew on the leaves of the bee balm?
Day 186
The Daily DuBrule

The other day we were gardening at a local convalescent home where I have been helping with the gardens for almost thirty years. All of the residents, visitors and staff of this facility get to enjoy lush, colorful gardens, LOTS of them. We were on day two of trying to get the beds weeded, edged, mulched, and pruned. Although we do monthly maintenance, the intensity of the summer made the gardens get really weedy and overgrown- think "The Wisteria that Ate Branford". I was actually pretty upset at the state of the gardens and was furiously weeding and deadheading when someone walked up to me and said "The gardens are sooooo beautiful! I enjoy them every single day". Really? Are you kidding me? In my mind's eye they were a mess.

I get this all the time. People visit my gardens at home and are in awe. I am embarrassed by the crabgrass and the flopping plants I didn't stake and the dead Shasta daisy flowers I haven't cut off. They don't see ANY of that. They see the mimosa tree covered with pink puffy flowers and the giant sunflowers and every thing in bloom. They see the tomato plants dripping with fruit, not the spots on the leaves.

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. As gardeners in August we have to be gentle with ourselves and realize that we garden for pleasure. If we judge what we do too critically, we lose the joy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

My New Euphorbia Love

Day 185
The Daily DuBrule

I have fallen in love with an annual Euphorbia. A couple of years ago I was traveling in Vermont when I happened upon this very unusual plant. It was late August, the dog days, and any annuals left on a garden center's benches are usually showing fatigue. Not this bright and cheerful foliage plant! It looked perfect and it was still in a 4" pot from the spring. I took note of the grower and filed it away in my mind.

2012 rolls around and I am toying with the idea of finally breaking down and buying from this grower, despite the $2500 wholesale minimum order. What the heck, be daring. So I did. Turns out it was a great move. The unusual annuals I was able to use in my client's gardens have added that much needed magic I was looking for. Especially Euphorbia heterophylla 'Variegata'.

This is really a foliage plant. I have used it in full, hot blazing sun and dappled shade. The leaves have a unique triangluar shape and it grows about 18-24" tall. In one of my most succesful pairings I have planted on either side of a drop-dead gorgeous Brugmansia 'Yellow Ruffles'. The creamy yellow flowers are the perfect foil for the variegated leaves.

Bring to the party a bright pink single rose and voila! It's a summer carnival by the sea. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A True Blue Beauty

Gentiana 'True Blue'
Photo by Diane St. John
Day 183
The Daily DuBrule

I just came back from visiting a garden that contains over a dozen plants of Gentiana 'True Blue'. They were all in bloom, backed by golden hostas and Hakanochole macra 'All Gold', a beautiful dwarf ornamental grass. I planted the Gentians in a partially shaded spot and they are happy as clams. The name fits this plant perfectly. It is really a deep, cobalt blue flower. It can be used as a cut flower and blooms in August and September. In the picture above, Gentiana 'True Blue' is contrasted with the burgundy red fall foliage of Itea.

Many gentians are hard to grow. Some require alpine conditions with sharply drained, alkaline soil. Others are woodland plants and must have a rich, acidic soil with plenty of organic matter. 'True Blue' is a good garden plant, not too fussy, and reliably returns wherever I plant it. In fact, I can think of two instances where this plant came back following Hurricane Irene. I was astounded.

Bred by Darrel Probst in Massachusetts, this is a vast improvement over earlier similar plants such a Gentiana makinoi 'Marsha' and 'Royal Blue'. They had the same gorgeous rich blue, tubular flowers but they flopped over and couldn't be pinched to make them fuller without sacrificing the flowers. 'True Blue' grows 24" tall and has flowers up and down the stems in all the leaf axils. It is well branched and creates a full plant the first year if planted in the spring.

If you are looking for something very special to make your late summer garden pop, consider this particular gentian. Marry it with golden foliage plants and you are good to go.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tracy's Treasure

Day 183
The Daily DuBrule

I love summer phlox. I love the scent of the flowers, the large size of each panicle, and the fact that they add a giant punch of color in August. This year, most of my Phlox paniculata plants bloomed in July and are winding down now that August has arrived. Not 'Tracy's Treasure'. This variety is reliably late, even in a crazy year like 2012. She is just starting to bloom with soft pink flowers on 4 foot tall plants. She lives in my courtyard where she glows with her pretty pale pink color in the evening twilight when I am outside relaxing.

'Tracy's Treasure' is named for Tracy Disabato-Aust. She is the author of The Well Tended Perennial Garden, a manual of how to care for plants that I consider "the bible". She is the person who introduced to me the concept of pinching plants back to double the bloom period. If a plant is named in her honor, I assume it will be a good one. And it is.

'Tracy's Treasure' is really clean, with very little mildew, none most years. It is vigorous and carefree. But what I really appreciate most of all is that is a reliable August bloomer. This variety is a keeper.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Sunflower trees in the garden this year

Sunflower trees, 2009, tied to the fence
Day 182
The Daily DuBrule

Every year my garden is filled with sunflower trees that I don't plant. The birds plant them. It is a never-ending cycle. In August the sunflowers blossom and set seed. The happy goldfinches flit from plant to plant, singing their joyous song, brightening my world and making me smile. As they eat, they drop extra seed on the ground. Next year, this seed will sprout and grow more sunflowers to feed the goldfinches. I just have to allow it to happen.

This year the sunflowers have gotten so big that they are trees in my garden. Earlier in the season I thinned many of them out and kept a select few. I removed many of the lower leaves to allow light in to the vegetables below. All was going well until we started having intense thunderstorms. The gusty winds have started to topple my sunflowers. They literally twist and fall over at the waist. I don't have a stake big enough or strong enough to stop this from happening. My only option is to cut off the flowers and put them in a vase and then saw down my sunflower tree trunks. 

The goldfinches are still here and I still have sunflowers but they must be wondering what the heck is going on. They adore the 'Lemon Queen' perennial sunflowers as well, and I have lots of them, so there is no danger of them going hungry or moving on to greener pastures. But, I hate to see these magnificent, stately beauties crash to the ground.

This happened once before, back in 2009. My courtyard was new and I had very few plants in the ground. I let the sunflowers sprout and they became massive trees. I tried staking them but eventually resorted to tying them to the fence with heavy twine in order to enjoy them for the entire season.

I expect this sunflower cycle will continue as long as I garden on this land. Despite the challenges, the goldfinches and I are enjoying the bounty. May the circle be unbroken.

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Overheated World


Day 181
The Daily DuBrule

I think I am getting too old to handle all of this heat. Actually, it's not the heat, it's the humidity that is making me so exhausted. I've been lethargic and crabby and feeling overwhelmed by the weeds and the mulching when I am too hot to move. 

Yesterday I got up and turned on my computer to write my blog. Well, actually I didn't turn on my computer because it wouldn't turn on. It flickered and the screen went on then off again. An hour of fiddling and I gave up. Experts I have consulted believe my computer has overheated. Perhaps the motherboard is fried. Or partially fried. I am writing on my laptop this morning but I don't trust it. I am bringing it in for diagnostics this evening...

Back to the heat. I came home Saturday afternoon ready to collapse. After working all morning, doing a consultation in the afternoon, and running a few errands, I was DONE. My husband (bless his heart) decided Saturday was the perfect day to bake homemade rolls. Arghh! We don't have air conditioning, nor do we have a big old shade tree on the south side of the house. We have ceiling fans and window fans but it doesn't cut it in a prolonged heat wave. Baking bread just exacerbates the problem.

I refused to go in the house. Instead, I plunked myself down at the table on the deck and started processing the peaches I had been given as a gift from my old N.O.F.A. buddy Wayne Young of High Hill Orchards in Meriden. We were finally going to make peaches and red wine in my husband's mother's official peaches and wine pitcher. This was a summer tradition in his family that I had never heard of but I bought right into it. Yum!

I lured my husband out on the deck with a cold drink and a chance to escape the hot house. Much to my surprise he told me he had already been outside watching the hummingbirds! We sat together in our matching lounge chairs and waited. It didn't take long for a hummingbird to appear. I have planted a hummingbird nectar feast around my deck. The pots contain purple Verbena, Agastache, Salvias, and a host of other plants they love. Arching over the courtyard is an enormous mimosa tree (Albizia) in full bloom. 

The butterflies were also stopping by for some afternoon nectar. I have four butterfly bushes surrounding my deck. That brings them in, along with the sphinx moths and a host of other pollinators. Butterflies and hummingbirds share some of the same nectar flowers. 

My answer to being overheated is sit down with a cool drink and STOP. Watch, observe, and enjoy the fruits of your labors. That's what this lazy days of summer are for.