Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hollyhocks and Lamb's Ears... Fanciful Favorites.

As time goes by, gardeners are becoming increasingly interested in establishing heirloom varieties in their flower beds. Perhaps it is the nostalgia of remembering Grandmother’s flower beds, or perhaps it is simply that one tires of keeping up with the latest trends. Whatever the reason, heirloom flowers are ‘hot’ this year.

Among the favorites is the ever faithful Hollyhock. Since its arrival from Asia several centuries ago, it has been a staple in both cottage and traditional gardens. A tall, sturdy plant, the charming Hollyhock has a place in every garden. The spires of climbing flowers come in a wide variety of colors which embrace deep purple, all of the pinks to yellow and creamy white. The large, deep green, fuzzy leaves first appear as rosettes and then open to become a pleasing heart shape.

Hollyhocks bloom from June to September providing a summer of beautiful color at the back of the bed. Most bloom the second year better than the first so it is wise to cut back the plant in the fall while keeping a few inches of the stalk. The following year, leaves will emerge robustly in the early spring allowing for flowering to commence ahead of schedule.

Last week I mentioned Lamb’s Ears as an addition to a container. It is quite an extraordinary plant with a history that places it as native to Northern Turkey and Southern Iran where it grows with wild abandon on rocky hills in inhospitable locales. With her adorable silvery-green leaves that are velvety to the touch, this interesting specimen is a truly an eye catcher. This versatile leaf was used during the Civil War as a bandage to staunch the bleeding of wounds and has been famously used by Boy Scouts who are camping in the woods… the leaves are as soft as Charmin and contain no toxins.

Often used in children’s gardens for the tenderness of the leaves which do not bruise, it will happily grow in dry and dusty locations and will thrive in full sun. Lamb's Ear flowers in late spring and early summer with the plants producing tall spike-like stems strewn with small flowers in pale pink, lavender, or white, which may be used in arrangements.

The interest generated by the spectacular leaf properties alone make both the Hollyhock and Lamb’s Ear eye candy in any garden setting. See More

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Natural Pest Control... Beneficial Birds.

Many birds we encourage to settle in the garden perform a most beneficial duty by naturally purging it unwanted pests. Among the most beneficial little birds is the delightful House Wren who has probably made a nest in some odd place close to the house since our scent does not deter them. I am convinced they watch our antics as much as we watch theirs and I imagine they think we are funny indeed. The Wrens come here in the spring and are considered a songbird even though their song is heard only during the nesting season and rarely afterwards. Their variable diet consists entirely of insects, spiders, snails, flies, ticks, plant lice, gypsy moth larvae, ants, and grasshoppers making them a valuable asset to the gardener for natural pest control.

A natural way to curb the nasty mosquito is to encourage the lovely Purple Martin to take up residence in the garden by installing an apartment for them. For several hundred years the Purple Martin has lived almost exclusively in homes provided in backyards, and Native American tribes made homes for them from stacked gourds. This little bird gets all of its food and water while in flight and skims the surface of ponds scooping up mosquito larvae in its lower bill. Watching the acrobatic skill of these darting blue/black birds one finds it amazing they never collide. Each Purple Martin can eat over 10,000 mosquitoes a day, making them first class super heroes.

The Mississippi Kite Hawks have come back and may be seen soaring high, smoothly floating on air currents. Their alternate name is the Mosquito Hawk for they are able catch and eat insects while airborne. Pairs come here to nest each year and their nest is built high in the tree tops for safety; the brood usually consists of two, who are raised by both parents. Kites not exactly friendly and are extremely protective of their young… they have a reputation for fearlessly ‘dive bombing’ people who venture too close to their nests. Regardless of their ill temper, the Kite is a truly beneficial bird for insect control. Simply remember not to intrude upon their 'personal space'.

It is indeed part of a divine plan that Nature has bequeathed us with interesting and colorful feathered friends who not only entertain us their with songs, delight us with their antics, but also protect us from predatory insects which arrive every spring to torment the gardener. Insects and mosquitoes beware… our friends are on the prowl.