30 April 2010

29 April 2010

Lawn alternative of the day

I love this hell-strip planting on street with otherwise completely uninteresting front lawns. It is simply masses of violets (why do some people call them weeds?) and a small creeping sedum (of unknown identity -- anyone care to take a stab at IDing it?).

Here is a close up:

I love it -- simple, zero maintenance, and looks terrific.

22 April 2010

Woodland white

One of my favorite things about where I currently live is my commute. Every day I get to ride my bicycle 7 miles along a bike trail through lovely woodlands. It is always a wonderful, stress-relieving ride, but right now, in the midst of one of the most incredible springs on record it is breath taking.

White trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) in full bloom:

Anemonella thalictroides:

More anemonella with spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
The woods are a sea of flowers...

20 April 2010

Of plants and red delicious apples

I learned a lot of interesting things during my visit to California's Spring Pack Trials. One thing I learned is why my sweet potato vine wasn't actually a vine last summer. I picked it up at the garden center, placed it in a container, fully expecting it to explode forth in wild trailings. Instead, it sat there, a little purple-leaved blob, steadfastly refusing to vine anywhere. Not that there is anything wrong with little round plants -- but if I had wanted a little round dark leaved plant, I would have bought a coleus.
Last year I blamed the non-vining on me (did I not fertilize enough?) or the weather (it WAS an insanely cold summer) but now I know I should be blaming it on plant breeders.
You know how tomatoes become hard and flavorless? And peaches became dry and crunchy? Because plant breeders worked their hardest developing new varieties that are easy to grow and easy to ship -- ignoring the qualities that actually make peaches and tomatoes worth eating. Well, the same thing is happening to flowers. We visited over a dozen plant breeding companies during the trip, and everywhere we went, sales people touted how great their new varieties are. They told us how their sweet potato vine is the least likely to vine (because long vines get tangled and broken during shipping). They showed us marigolds with truly remarkable shipping tolerance (big marigold flowers tend to break off on the truck). A proud salesman held up their new agastache varieties next to the old so we could see the difference. The new ones had markedly smaller, less colorful flowers, BUT: They were short and compact.
At Syngenta, they've changed lantanas from loose and spreading:

To dense and round:

And here is a mandevilla that, yep, you guessed it, never vines. You don't have to provide a trellis during production, raved our tour guide. Too bad for the gardener who buys it because they WANT it to cover a trellis.

Admittedly, gardeners carry a lot of the blame for this. We saw some gorgeous plants which everyone agreed would be hard to sell. For example, here is what the new Gomphrena 'Fireworks' looked like in the annual trials at MSU last summer:

That loose, air habit is pure gold in the garden. In a pot, as it would be sold, however, it looks sparse -- a few long stems with smaller flowers at the tips. Most people don't know enough to buy plants for what they will look like once they fill in, they just grab what looks pretty on the bench at the garden center or big box store. What looks pretty on the bench is small, compact, rounded, with lots of flowers. What looks good in the garden is something looser, more spreading, so that instead of being a series of little round balls of flowers, a bed of plants that interact, branches, flowers, colors coming together to create a unified whole.

Coming away from this, I have a couple thoughts.

As a gardener, I am saddened. The wild, trailing habit of sweet potato vines is what made them so ridiculously popular in the first place. Now their best feature is being systematically removed.

I'm also hopeful. In the food world, educated consumers are gradually turning things around. Apples like Honey Crisps, which are more difficult to grow and ship, are starting to replace the mealy, bland, Red Delicious, which is easily grown and shipped, but not worth eating. More and more heirloom, and heirloom-style, tomatoes with real flavor are turning up. Hopefully the same thing will happen with flowers. Gardening is growing in popularity every year, and thanks to the internet, gardeners are becoming better and better educated. I think the trend will begin to turn back to varieties which have been bred for how they perform in the garden, not on the truck to a big box store.

I also have another perspective. I'm studying plant breeding, and plan to make my career in it. In order to make varieties which people will buy, will I be forced to breed plants which I don't think are worth growing? I hope not -- and I think not. When we were visiting Syngenta Flowers, the head buyer for Wal-Mart walked in. A cloud of sales people buzzed around him, showing him proudly how their breeders had managed to take every plant imaginable and give them all exactly the same, highly shippable, growth habit. Petunias, lantana, mandevilla that all look identical! Hurray! At Takii, however, we were showed around a lovely display garden, with plants actually growing in the ground. No Wal-Mart representative was in sight, but a sales person talked with authentic passion to a groups of independent garden center owners about designing with their varieties, and how to educated consumers about new varieties that might not look quite as impressive on the sales bench, but perform better in the real world. I think the future of plant breeding holds both: Big box stores will increasingly demand -- and get -- the flower equivalent of red delicious apples, while good garden centers will keep looking for and growing better plants that need a little more care, and might have an ugly-duckling stage.

Meanwhile, if anyone has a good, old, VINING sweet potato vine, I need cuttings.

18 April 2010

New perennials headed your way

More new plants seen at Pack Trials in California:

Sakgit Gardens had a stunning array of euphorbia. This 'Tasmanian Tiger' isn't hardy for me, but if you are in zone 7 or warmer, keep an eye out for it.

This Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' is only listed as zone 6, but the representative from Skagit said they had preliminary trials showing it might be actually zone 5. Not as amazing as some of their others, but still, I think it is headed for my garden this year. This is the flowers -- leaves are green edged in yellow.

This is a 2-for-1 picture: On the left, a Uncinia. Lovely, but only hardy to zone 7. On the right, Oenothera 'Shimmer' (zone 5, If I recall correctly.) I LOVE the oenothera foliage. It will get large yellow flowers eventually, but with leaves like that, who needs them?

Yes, we're talking about perennials, and yes, those are gerbera daisies. This is a new series from Northern Innovators which they say is hardy to at least zone 7. I was all excited about the perennial, until I saw the zone... but, their representative said it should be hardy to at LEAST zone 7. They haven't tested in colder zones yet, so we'll see. I don't know if they'll make it all the way to my zone 5, but if you are in zone 6, I'd give them a try. The flowers are smaller than regular gerbs, but still very nice, and they'd make amazing cut flowers.
A close up of one of the flowers:

16 April 2010

New annuals headed your way

I'm going to have a series of posts about what I saw during my recent trip to the California Spring (aka pack) trials. The focus of the trials is annuals, so today is a run down of the ones that caught my eye. I'll follow up with perennials, with some more general thoughts on the State of Plant Breeding Today, and What I Thought of California to come.

For lovers of black plants, Ball has a new black petunia (shown here in a mixed basket with calebrachoa):

I'm not a huge petunia fan (despite the fact I work with them) but I couldn't resist taking a picture of this petunia 'Cappuchino' from Dummen. Such an unusual color!

Nemesia seems to be a rising trend, we saw TONS of them. My favorite was this 'Metallic Blue' I think nemesia are lovely, but they've never performed well for me. It will be interesting to see if some of this glut of new varieties hold up better to the heat.

Cuphea seem to be moving into the mainstream. Several companies had new cupheas with HUGE flowers. Not sure how much I like them, but they are a nice change from the endless petunias and geraniums.

Another trend I am very happy about are the regal-type Pelargoniums (aka, geraniums). Regals are spectacularly beautiful with huge, bicolored flowers, but are notorious picky and hate heat. Many companies we visited had new series of regals they claimed were more heat tolerant and better performers. I hope they are right. I'd LOVE to see these types replace the boring old zonals.

I'm not much for standard cushion mums, but I really liked these mums: Just a few flowers on each plant, but each on the size of my hand! I really hope these catch on.

08 April 2010

"Stopped into a church I found along the way...

... I got down on my knees, and pretend to pray"

The Mamas and the Papas have been playing in my head the past few days because... I'm headed to California tomorrow! I've never been to California before (well, I made a layover in LAX once, but airports don't count) so I am quite excited. I'm going to be enjoying the California Spring Trials (formerly and better known as the Pack Trials) with a group of mostly academics -- including some good friends.

If you've never heard of them, the Pack Trials are a chance for the big plant breeding companies to show off their new varieties to everyone. The trip will be a great inside peak into the ornamental plant breeding-industrial complex, and a chance to see what may be coming soon to a garden center near you. I'll take tons of pictures and give you all sorts of thoughts about it all when I return next week.

So stand y!

07 April 2010

Wednesday Links

After a couple weeks off, Wednesday Links is back!

I love Hakonechloa but really am not a big fan of yellow variegation. So I'm excited there is finally a good white variegated form on the market!

The Wall Street Journal has a nice story on horticulture therapy. My garden is TOTALLY therapy for me, the ultimate stress reliever and generally keeps me sane, but I never knew if that was something fundamental about gardening, or just a quirk in my personality. Looks like it is more of the first, though I'm sure it is a combination of the two.

Chani, over at the Timber Press blog writes a defense of dandelions -- with which I absolutely agree. I love them. I'm even going to try growing pink ones this year

The Germinatrix writes about echium. I won't say any more... it is classic Germinatrix, and you just have to go read it. I'm kind of obsessed with echium at the moment (a surprising number are turning out to be hardy for me) so maybe I'll post about them soon.

01 April 2010

Living room Garden

My friend Virginia sent me photos the other day of a planting we did two years ago at the Ohio State Learning Gardens. When we were both students, we worked in the gardens together, and started a tradition of whimsical, furniture-based plantings.

This is what we did for 2008:
Coleus on the couch watching TV next to the Canna Grandfather clock
Begonia end table and more of the couch
Virginia herself, relaxing on the sedum-ajuga rug next to the thyme chair.

Last year we were both too busy to do a planting, but we're getting ready to do one for this year come May!