April 2010
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Flowers for Cutting

Keep fresh flowers on your table all summer — not from the florist, but from your garden. Some flowers are just suited to cut and bring inside. The absolute easiest are tall zinnias like Cut and Come Again, Lilliput and big cactus-flowered types. Another great group for cutting is the branching sunflowers. These are smaller than the giant, single stemmed sunflower; the more you cut the branches the more they bloom. They come in so many colors, not just yellow, but pale yellow, mahogany, bicolor, white and shades in-between. A couple other easy choices include cosmos and tithonia. Occasionally you can find plants for sale, but if you don’t, they are easy from seed. The more you cut these, the more they bloom. Years ago I visited the garden of a lady in Courtland who kept every sort of possible flower and foliage in rows in a garden just for cutting. It was the first cutting garden I had ever seen and the impression still stays with me. It included a number of items that just come back year after year, like hydrangea, gladiolus and crinum. Her cutting garden was the source of flowers for friends and church, too.

Lay a dark tarp over the soil before planting cantaloupe to give them a head start.

 

Early Cantaloupe and Melons

Consider a dark tarp to warm the soil for your favorite melons to give them a headstart. It also works wonders in helping to keep the weeds out from among the vines once they start to run. Lay a dark tarp over moist, well-prepared soil and cut a planting hole for the plants or seeds. The dark color of the tarp will warm the soil early. Then, as the vines grow, they will shade it by the time the weather gets hot. Melons on a tarp will also be really clean, as will the leaves, which helps prevent diseases. If you can water them with a drip system or a soaker hose laid down under the tarp, all the better. That will really help keep the leaves dry, which helps prevent mildew, one of the most damaging leaf problems on melons. Because cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon really depend on healthy leaves to produce the sugar that gives them a good, sweet taste, healthy foliage is really important. Do everything you can to keep it that way, including planting varieties that are as disease resistant as possible.

Upside-Down Tomatoes

 

Hanging tomatoes discourage birds and suffer from less disease.

Several years ago a friend of mine tried the idea of growing tomatoes upside-down. He loved it. There are two big benefits: birds found it harder to peck at the fruit because there were no cages to land on and the leaves did not have as many problems with disease, probably because of better air circulation and no soil splashing from the ground. To create the gizmo pictured here, he obviously created a sturdy structure to hang them from first. Each upside-down planter was made from a five-gallon bucket with a two-inch hole in the center for the plant to fit through; a drill with a hole saw bit for installing door handles works perfectly. He then slipped the plant through, leaving the rootball inside and the leafy part of the plant hanging. He cut a coffee filter to slip between the rootball and the bucket to keep any soil from washing out as he filled the bucket with good potting mix. The top of the bucket was open to the air to make it easy to water and fertilize. This type of planting tends to keep the plants from growing as large as they normally do, so it is a good way to try some of those out-of-control tomato varieties that get so tall.

   

Hibiscus thrives with full sun and a little liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks.

 
   

Hibiscus Need Full Blazing Sun

One lament I sometimes hear from gardeners who pick up a beautiful hibiscus at the garden center is it did not bloom very well once they got it home. Sometimes the reason for that is simple: not enough sun. This is a plant that absolutely loves full, blazing sun—not partial sun, or sun in the morning or afternoon — it needs the full strength of the sun to bloom well. A little liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks helps, too.

An Herb Garden in a Strawberry Jar

Originally designed to grow clean strawberries, the pockets in a big jar can hold an herb garden at the back door. Mix it up by planting several like sage, thyme, parsley, mint, oregano and rosemary. Save the largest herbs like rosemary, basil and dill for the top. Regular snipping keeps the plants pinched to size so they don’t get too big and dry out quickly. Plant the jar in layers, one at a time, pushing the tops of plants through the pockets from the inside out. Fill as you plant. That’s a lot better than filling the jar and trying to squeeze the plant roots into the hole. Use a premium quality potting soil. Water the top and each pocket with a gentle stream. I love this way to keep a bunch of herbs at my fingertips at the kitchen door.

Borage, A Stunning Blue

 

Borage not only offers gorgeous blue blooms in spring but is edible, tasting a little like cucumber.

If you like blue flowers, try borage. Borage (Borago officinalis) is an easy annual plant with gorgeous blue blooms in spring attracting bees to the garden. A lot of people include it in the spring garden just for this reason, but the leaves are edible and have a flavor a little like cucumber. Left alone, it will also reseed, but plants may come back from the roots for a year or two. Cooks find many clever ways to use the flowers: on a salad, topping a cupcake or as candied blossoms.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.