Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Flowers Coming 2011

From top:
'Tropical Bronze Scarlet' Canna
'Sunstastic' Scaveola
'Plentifall' Trailing Pansy
'Black Velvet' Petunia

Greenhouse Grower is a trade publication targeted at commercial greenhouse growers. These flowers were editor's choice award finalists based on performance at last spring's California Pack Trials. The criteria is based on how well they looked in a six pack or 4"pot on the garden center bench versus a product already on the market. The next set of trials for these plants was during Field Trials this past summer. It takes a lot for a variety to win both tests.
The big winner for 2010 appears to be 'Black Velvet this past summer. I'm sure Black Velvet will capture the imagination of the gardening world. Because, as its ad campaign declares, "Everything Goes with Black'. If you're lucky to see it at your garden center, catch it before they're gone.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gardening 101: The Series Begins

When I moved from my subtropical paradise garden in Sydney, Australia to Kansas in 1978 at age 13, I was devestated. We had moved with my father's job and the only saving grace was it was a two year assignment. That was 30 years ago. Long story.

Then that's when my garden saviour Jim Crockett came into my life. Jim had started Crockett's Victory Garden, a new gardening show, on PBS which became today's Victory Garden after his passing. The show and accompanying books were so successful because it very simply taught people how to garden. Today's show has lost its soul because each week it serves up magnificant gardens barely ever discussing the basic tools to create something beautiful in your backyard.

Yeh, yeh, yeh I know its defenders would say the producers use the over the top stuff to inspire and teach a lesson each week. But I'm sorry, on the water gardening show, they used examples including the Dupont's Longwood Gardens fountains. This travelog stuff takes up too much airtime. I didn't make up the travelog stuff. I found an interview with Michael Weishan, the preceeding host, where his spin on his departure was they wanted the show to go in different directions. He said the show was starting to look like any other garden-oriented cable show. This struggle is even documented in Wikipedia.

Then there's revelance. If I see one more rerun showing how to grow five varieties of moss in my backyard, I'll scream. And I know I'm an aussie, but if you take me out to another California story, I'll scream louder. Somewhere I read in the blogosphere, he's based in CA to be able to run his worldwide design business and host the show. Surely they could have found a new host who's dedicated solely to the show. See what I mean about losing its soul.

Fast forward to tonight. My blogging coach, a good unpaid friend, told me I should watch Julie & Julia for blog inspiration. Don't tell anyone I was netflixing with my headphones on. But the lead character in a true story commits herself to cooking every recipe of Child's megabible cookbook in one year. Since Crockett and Childs were contempories on PBS at the same time, I think its only appropriate for me to follow up with the Crockett book and others, guest bloggers and my own experience to show you how to garden in the midwest for a complete year.

If you believe you are beyond the basics, just ignore the Gardening 101 postings and hopefully you'll be inspired by the other more relevant to you subjects. Just like Julie , I'll have no idea how many will be reading but the 101 pieces will always be ready if somebody finds the blog and wants to know how to grow a beautiful garden in the midwest.

I'll start the postings in Faebruary. Subscribe today and I can assure you this is going to a fun ride

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Patrick's Picks: Poinsettias

Poinsettias now seem synonymous with the holidays, but we owe their existence as we know it to one man: Paul Ecke. Ecke, founder of the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, CA, was single-handedly responsible for hybridizing what had been a large gangly Mexican shrub into today’s potted poinsettia. Poinsettias are now the best-selling flowering plant in the world, and Ecke Ranch remains the industry’s heavyweight. Seventy percent of all rooted cuttings ordered by U.S. greenhouses come from Ecke; the company has 50 percent market share worldwide.

One of the highlights of my career was providing marketing communication consultation services to Ecke’s company—an experience that completely changed my perception of poinsettias. I always thought of them as mangled plants in plastic sleeves sold at local big box retailers, but Ecke showcased a stunning plant in many colors and forms with a broad range of decorating possibilities. So my family began a new Christmas tradition after my visit by going to a garden center to select plants for gifts and home. My recent mission was to find the most exciting colors and forms at Kansas City area garden centers for this holiday season.

Family Tree Nursery greenhouses in Kansas City, KS grow 44 varieties in eight pot sizes, totaling more than 22,000 plants for their three retail locations. Holly Ingle, the nursery’s head grower is a big fan of an early variety series with large, oak leaf-shaped bracts and foliage named Christmas Carol. In red, pink and white cultivars, it's a dark green-leaved variety, so the bracts are really set off against it. She says “I think it's very showy."
For those of you interested in something more unusual, Holly also likes Jester. "Traditionally, it has always been an interesting red, with its pointy, serrated bracts. It looks like it's off to a party!” she says, adding that there’s now a pink, too.

The manager of operations for the Heartland Nursery and Garden Center in Lee’s Summit, MO, Kevin Keilig says his favorites include a strong, heavily branched variety named Cortez Burgundy. The flowers (bracts) may not be as large as some varieties, but there are plenty of them, they last a long time and the dark burgundy makes for a dramatic impact. Kevin’s next choice falls in the “love it or leave it” category. The Winter Rose series is known for ruffled, semi-double bracts that look something like a rose bloom. The first cultivar, ‘Dark Red,’ generated a lot of excitement at its introduction because it retains colorful bracts for up to six months. Winter Rose Peppermint has the ruffled flower form with red and white speckled bracts. Any in this series could be an intriguing choice, good as a party conversation starter or a distinctive gift.

Heartland is also following the recent trend of combining poinsettias with euphorbia Diamond Frost. Proven Winners branded this combination of two plants in one pot as DiamondPoint™, and Kevin says both will flower well past the holidays. You can also bring in your Diamond Frost from the garden next season, shear it back and enjoy a beautiful houseplant all winter.

With all the choices, selecting a poinsettia can be overwhelming. Before you set off for the garden center, check out for a history of the plant and the Paul Ecke Ranch. Knowing more about how these beautiful plants came to be and all the options out there will surely enrich your own family tradition.

Patrick Muir is a Johnson County Master Gardener. He can be reached at or visit his blog at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

3 Holiday Plants Beyond Pointsettias.

The Christmas Cactus is actually a tropical epiphyte from the rain forests of Brazil. An epiphyte is a plant which relies on another plant for support but not for nutrients. Despite the high rain fall, water falls off quickly so that they are dry most of the time. This plant is made for hanging baskets to showcase the pendulus flowers. Be forwarned, if there is a great dip in humidty levels, the blooms will fall of the plant but the plant will be ok. Creating flower in following years requires similar treatments to pointsettias.

Cyclamen are my best bet when it comes to beautiful and bold plants for the holidays. In red, pink and white, the blooms remind me of butterflies in mid flight supported by gracefull stems atop a bed of dark green leaves. What a description if I do say so myself.
To extend the bloom length, place in a cool room with indirect light.

FYI, I believe a bold red cyclamen is so much impactful at Valentines's Day. It can look great for over a month in cool locations compared to a bunch of Central American roses that might last three or four days before drooping over. There is a hard pink cyclamen for this area but I haven't seen it growing.

Moth orchids are a class act in my book. Yes they are graceful throughout the year as seen in homes, businesses and on the pages of of style magazines. But I think a pure white in an elegant cache pot makes a wonderful gift that can last for months. Orchid care is so easy and watering correctly is a big part of it. I had a Saturday ritual of placing the plant in the sink under a spray faucet for ten minutes. BTW, the watering three ice cudes a week orchid campaign is a bunch of BS. P Allen Smith should be ashamed of himself. Like he needs the money and he's pushing a product that will not bloom again.

Poinsettia Paperweight ca 1850 - 1870

At a New Jersey art museum on last night's Antiques Roadshow, the program spotlighted glass paperweights including the above poinsettia paperweight. Crafted at the New England Glass Company, the poinsettia image is made from glass embedded in the paperweight. The appraiser said it was created anywhere between 1850 and 1870. The completed work demonstrates craftmanship of the highest order.
Knowing poinsettia history like I do, it occured to me poinsettias didn't arrive in the marketplace until around the same time. So a brief history from the Paul Ecke Ranch website follows. Joel Robert Poinsett was appointed as the first US ambassador to Mexico from 1825-1829 by President Madison. During his appointment to Mexico, he became enchanted with the red blooms of a tall shrub he found in the Taxco region.
He had his own hothouse at his plantation in Greenville SC and sent cuttings to be propagated during those ambassador years. From these plants, he sent cuttings to botanical institutions and friends , including John Bartram of Pennsylvania. Mr. Bartram sent cuttings to Robert Buist, a Pennsylvanian nurseyman who distributed the plant under the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrmia (literally "the most beautiful Euphorbia ). However, it wasn't referred to as a poinsettia until 1836. The people at Ecke believe this history makes the introduction perfectly clear.
So back to the paperweight history. Since Ecke is certain of the 1836 date paired with the accuracy of Antiques Roadshow's estimate of an age from 1850 to 1870, then the paperweight was certainly crafted between 15 to 35 years after the plant's introduction to this country. Just like Poinsett, someone at the New England Glass Company must have been enchanted by the beautiful red blooms of what was at the time a relatively obscure Mexican tree. And in an incredibly short amount of time, an anonymous artist captured its beauty to be shared with future generations in the confines of an important art institution.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New 'Polar Bear' Pointsettia Launch

Paul Ecke had a daunting objective in the 1960s when he started breeding pointsettias. He wanted to take a tall, gangly mexican shrub and turn it into a potted plant. Then he had another daunting objective: how to position a plant no one ever seen before into a staple of Christmas celebrations.
Ecke was able to breed poinsettias and went on to create the best selling pot plant in the world today, The Paul Ecke Ranch has 70% market share of rooted cuttings in the US AND 50 % market share worldwide. Talk about market dominance.
The next step Ecke faced was how to position the new plant as a part of family Christmas celebrations. And his solution was absolutely brilliant. The location of the ranch in Encintas, CA was close to Hollywood. He decided to offer free plants to decorate the set of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Local stations were overwhelmed with inquiries about the beautiful red plants displayed on the Tonight Show. And the rest is history.
This year's introduction from The Paul Ecke Ranch is 'Polar Bear'. They claim it is the whitest white introduced to date. For each plant sold, Ecke will make a donation to Polar Bears International, a group dedicated to the conservation of this beautiful animal. Part of the PR campaign included this display at a greenhouse grower tradeshow in Las Vegas constructed of 10,000 poinsettias. One more brilliant tactic from the third generation of the Eckes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Patrick's Picks: More Gifts for Gardeners

Checkout my gardening gifts column in this month's Kansas City Gardener.
For the newbie and experienced gardener, the award winning Veggie Gardener Answer Book could be very useful. The book is organized by crop to make for easy usage as a reference. At a little over $10, it would make a great gift or even a stocking stuffer.

The next book is Best Garden Plants for Kansas. A Wichita Master Gardener is a co-author making the recommendations very valid for our area. As an introduction to gardening or an idea starter for garden designing, this book delivers on both accords at a reasonable price of $12.71. As part of a series, there is also Best Garden Plants for Missouri

For veggie or flower gardeners, the themed seed packet collections from Renee's Garden would also make a great gift. The distinctive watercolor packets only add to the charm of such a gift. I really like the Hummingbird and Butterfly, Children's and Container Vegatable selections.
Logees Tropical Plants is the premiere choice for hard to find plants. You can find the Tri-Color Hanging Bromeliad Wreath on the homepage for $29.95.

Another company favorite is Gardener's Supply. Check out their deep-seated garden kneelers. This ingenious product serves as support to lower yourself down to weed and then push down to raise yourself up without needless straining. Family Tree Nursery and Garden Center also nominated a similar product While you're there also check out the Balsam Peace Sign Wreath from $34.95 to $44.95.

If the recession isn't impacting your budget I have two other companies. Charleston Gardens is well known for thrir upsca;le gifts. But Iliked the more practical ergonomic canvas for $95.00. Check it out just for fun.

If you've seen enough poinsettias and amaryllis, then check out the jasmine at White Flower Farm. Not for the faint of heart or nose, the rich, sweet perfume can carry through the house. They are running "a special" of three delivered to three addresses for $99.00.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Best of Proven Winners Combos

I'm working on an advertising project and asked the marketing team at PW what do they consider to be their best combos? Picture above are three of those combos.

From top:
Purple Haze

Supertunia 'Boudeaux' x 1
Supertunia 'Royal Velvet x 1
Superbena Large Lilac Blue x 1

Picasso's Fantasy
Alyssum 'Snow Princess' x 2
Sweet Potato 'Sweet Caroline Light Green' x 1
Supertunia 'Pretty Much Picasso' x 2

Freedom Rings
Superbena Dark Blue x 1
Verbena Tukana Scarlet Star x 1
Verbena Tukana White x 1

Friday, October 22, 2010

yellow itoh peonies

one of the holy grails of peony breeding was to introduce the deep yellow of tree peonies into the tradional peony. the new catergory are called intersectionals or itoh peonies, named for the japanese breeder toichi itoh. his is a story of perserverence. in 1948, he took on the challenge and some say after 20,000 crosses, he bred the first intersectional hybrid, a white that would become the seed parent for 36 hybrids. these hybrids would bloom after his death in 1956.
from these hybrids, modern breeders like Don Hollingsworth from nearby Maryville, MO (who knew?) have created hybrids like ' Garden Treasure' (pictured).
last winter i asked for trial plants from the one of the Monrovia sales rep and surprisingly received three yellows to trial. i was shocked when i found out the retail price is $100 per plant. i would not have been so bold to ask if i knew the price. the price for being on the cutting edgre. i was surprised to read these yellows don't burn up in the sun like tree peonies. i'll keep you .updated on their progress.
if i did have money to burn, i'd try 'kopper kettle'. that rusty color also comes from the tree peonies. it will be fascinating to see where it goes from here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

blue pumpkins of australia

when australians think of pumpkins, they think blue. Without Halloween to drive the jack-o-lantern industry of thick skin type pumpkins. Australian pumkins are all about taste.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds offers three aussies, just part of their overwhelming ninety squash varieties. 'Queensland Blue' (bottom left)is the most popular in australia. this variety is the one grown in my grandparent's market garden. in the moderate climate, this type of pumpkin can be stored for 5-6 months. i'll try to convince some farm friends to try it next spring.
next is 'Jarrahdale' (top left) named after a small town near perth. it weighs in at 6-10 lbs 100 days. baker's creek describes it an excellent variety.
i hadn't heard about 'treamble' (top right) until Baker's. it also known as the shamrock pumpkin due to three lobe form. baker's describes a fine, rare variety for eating.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Collecting Antique Seed Packets

I've always been a collector from Christmas ornaments to watering cans. Now that I'm in an apartment I've been looking for an inexpensive catergory that didn't need a lot of storage. I just happened to see a blurb on collecting seed packets. And where else do you start but ebay?
My first packets just arrived. I got a dozen for $15.00 which looks lilke a steal since individual packets range from $3.00 to $18.00.

My first packets are from the Tillinghast Seed Company in La Connor, WA. They were the first seed company in the Pacific Northwest. They started selling cabbage seed and went national with a full range of seeds in the 1920's. My packets could be printed any time between the 30s through the 50s.
Several of the varieties are still on the market including 'Orange Gleam' nasturtium and 'Fire Chief'' petunia. Chief was a Gold Medal All America Selection in 1950 and the first true red petunia. I found a newspaprer clipping from the St. Petersburg Times hailing the new winner. 'Fire Chief' had been the only other gold medal variety since the 'Scarlett Ohara' in 1938 which is also still on the market today.

'Cream Star' was the AAS winner in 1940. I've grown Tithonia 'Torch', the orange mexican sunflower that was the AAS winner in 1951. 'Torch' is widely available in seed packets.

Heucheras New Hybrids Explosion

for many years heucheras were dark green plants with insignificant flowers. then a dark purple seedling was bred at Kew Gardens in London. i can personally tell you that Kew is wonderful. (name dropping over). it turned out to be the world acclaimed 'Purple Palace' named after Kew Palace found on the grounds (who knew?)

the next historical event was 'Snow Storm' from Dan Heim at Terra Nova in 1988. (above right). some would say its creation kicked off the explosion of what you see in today's 'Key Lime', Peach Melba and 'Midnight Rose' and whereever we go from here.
Photo credits: MOBOT & Terra Nova

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

backyard giant pumpkins

in honor of the season, i'm enjoying reading a book titled "backyard giants - the passionate, heart breaking, and glorius quest to grow the biggest pumpkin ever." it's a documentary following a father/son team from Rhode Island trying to break the world record of 1,500 pounds.

how can pumpkin growing be heatbreaking? try being on track to break the record only to have your pumpkin catch a bad fungus and break open the day before the weigh off. since they feared the soil would continue to foster the fungus, they acquired additional land next to their home for $225,000. i recall an old perfume ad from the 80's : "somewhere between love and madness, lies obsession."
i believed for many years, these types of sizes were achieved with 'dill's atlantic giant' variety but the genetics have progressed many generations since then. to take advantage of the extra vigor coming from hybrids, a select female bloom is polinated with a different male flower. eventually only one pumpkin per vine will be permitted to mature. the seeds of a world record holder can fetch over $200 per seed at auctions the following winter. see what i mean about obsession.
another thing i learned is where each set of leaves occur, they bury the vine so sadditional roots can send more energy back to the fruit. i had no idea. to find out if the father or son breaks the world record, check out this beautiful written book at your library.
the largest fruit, yes like tomatoes they are fruit, in kansas topped the scales at over 950 pounds. our summers are just too hot for whopping pumpkins.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I recently watched A River Runs Through It for the upteenth time. There's a scene where Brad Pitt's character braves enormous rapids to catch a rainbow trout with his exquisite fly fishing skills. Robert Bradford's character witnesses this was a time he had witnessed perfection.

This started me thinking, when have I seen perfection? And once again, it harkens back to a rose. Peace spanned the front fence of my boyhood home with huge lemon and pink blush petals. In my child's eye, they appeared to be the size of small balloons. In the tradition of many generations of Australian kids before me, my mother sent me to school with a bunch wrapped in wax paper and I laid them at the foot of the Virgin Mary. In my recollections, this is when holiness met perfection.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Crape Myrtles in Midwest

Crape mytles are a small woody ornamental in the South. However, we can push the envelope and have a small shrub here in zone 5b. It may burn down to the ground or you may have some amount of the wood from the previous season hanging on. Don't panic when your plant doesn't bud out until early summer. They will be the latest shrub to get going each year.

Consult your local garden center pro to find out the hardiest for our area. If you can carry more wood through the winter, the more mature plant is more impressive. If you like to increase your chance of more wood in the spring, Larry Limburg of Clearfield Farms in Douglas County recommends putting a wire cage around the plant just like rose care. He stresses putting a foot of hay, as opposed to straw, inside the cage to insulate the plant. The average soul may consider this to be high maintenance butis not necessary to be successful

Plant on the south side of the house is the best advice Ken Wood of Family Tree Nursery and Garden Center can give you. In this type of microclimate, Ken estimates you will burn all the way to the ground every six out of every 10 years.

So have a little fun googling crape myrtle images and lust over the tree form. But take solace in knowing you can have a beautiful shrub.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

green flowers

i'm reading a great book titled - "green flowers - unexpected beauty for the garden, containers or vase." i've always had a thing for green flowers and have enjoyed the book. here are some of the selections for our zone:

columbine 'chocalate soldiers' - brown petals with larger green bracts.
clematis 'plena'
amaranthus 'viridis' green form of love lies bleeding - looks great with burgundy one in vase
kousa dogwood -early spring flower is beautiful with a tan and white/green combo flower
snow-on-the-mountain 'silver queen' great volunteer in the garden (above left)
lisianthus 'piccolo green' simply elegant form of texas bluebell
green snowdrop 'virescens'
helleborus 'double green' grow close to house so can be seen in early march
daylily 'green flutter'
hydrangea 'limelight'
bells of ireland - easy to grow annual is favorite of hip florists
nicotiana 'Lime Green' - stunning in garden or vase
rudbeckia 'green wizard' - imagine yellow form without petals
tulips 'spring green' 'greenland'
calla lilies 'green goddess' 'captain eskimo' great name!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Iris dichothma - The Vesper Iris

The Vesper Iris opens in late afternoon in a matter of minutes just as the evening vespers would have been heard in old monasterys. Iris ditchoma has traditionally been the last of the iris family to bloom but some reblooming bearded irises hasve taken that title away
I was genuinly excited to pick up three small plants at the Powell Garden Plant Sale last spring. i'm planning cvan evening garden by our patio and the star of the show with 4ft high flower stalks will be the vesper irises. Being Australian both the blackberry lily and pictures of the vesper remind me of my dear kangaroo paws. Apparently, both blue and white flowers can appear on the same plant.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

For the love of a rose.

Photography courtesy of Michael Gordon

It brought a big smile to my grandmother's face when she recounted the story of how the rose Peace was created. The Meilland family in France were the hybridizers and were successfully trialing it around Europe before the beginning of World War II. On the last Clipper flight to leave France before the Nazis came in was a box of cuttings sent to a notable rose hybridizer.

The family was unsure if the plane had been shut down by the Nazis or if the cuttings had made it into usable condition. After no communications for four years, they received a letter from the grower informing them that 3-25-40 had been a complete success. The huge flower with yellow petals with touch of pink blush had enchanted rose growers around the world and the introducer was inspired to call the rose Peace. The date it was first introduced to the rose world, was Sunday, April 29, 1945 -- the day Berlin fell. And on the day it received the All-American Rose Society Award, Japan surrendered. This is the hardest thing for me to grasp, within the first nine years over 30 million bushes were sold. And Francis Meilland was the leader for worldwide plant patents, so he made a ton of money and built the Eiffel Tower (just kidding!)

Of course, this was before I surrendered to blackspot. So I just have the memories of my grandparents plant and the huge Climbing Peace bush that was front and center in front of the old house in Sydney.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Mitchell's Daylily Backyard Paradise


After forty years in the gardening world, I was six when I started, I can only think of three times my breath hss been taken way and when I entered the Mitchell's Prairie Village backyard was one of those times. Jock had invited the Joco Master Gardeners to tour on the weekend before our visit but I can't get the wheelchair around in crowds. So Jock invited to my mother and I for a private tour.

When you pull up to the Mitchell's unassuming front yard, you have no idea that when you open the gate you will be greeted by hundreds and hundreds of blooms. This garden is more than just the flowers. Jock and his wife have crafted flagstones surrounded by small pebbles to meander through the entire backyard. The center of the garden is divided by a glorious waterfall complete with tropical water lilies and lotuses.

Jock is a retired doctor and has focused on hybridizing daylilies since retirement. All his plants are meticulously and subtly labeled to aid in his hybridization work. The program is all about self-satisfaction not getting named daylilies to the market. The last image above is his latest creation he is most proud of to date. So far there are only three rhizomes and I can't wait to get my hands on one when he gets enough rhizomes to share.

Jock has graciously offered to create new garden beds with daylilies for me at Trinity. Jo Roderson of American Daylillies & Perennials in has also graciously offered to provide me with daylillies at no cost to me. BTW, if your looking for the highest quality of plants, check out their website at

Thanks Jock for taking my breath away. Somehow I think it will be a long time before somebody else or some plant takes my breath away again.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Patrick's Picks - Compact Grasses

The long and thin blades of ornamental grasses weave into the broader leaves of perennial plants to create captivating displays and provide winter interest in the garden. But what makes including grasses in garden design difficult is that most varieties are far too are large for the average sized garden.

All three of our professionals this month recommend the same plant for the first time since I began writing this column. Alan Branhagen, the director of Powell Gardens in Kingsville, MO, describes Sporobolus heterolepis ‘Prairie Dropseed’ as a "lovely tuft of fine blades that somewhat reminds me of Tina Turner’s hair. The inflorescences are not colorful but open, airy and light reflective. ‘Prairie Dropseed’ has the Plants of Merit distinction from the Missouri Botanical Garden and matures to 2' x 2'.

Branhagen is also excited about the characteristics of Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Little Bluestem’.He says "This is one of the most beautiful native grasses in fall when it often turns russet reds, bleaching to more sandy through the winter. It is not seedy and remains in a clump, while the inflorescences are not showy but sparkle when backlit. Bluish leaved forms add to its interest in the summer." Little Bluestem grows to 3 feet tall with a 2 foot spread

The last selection from Branhagen is Sideoats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula . He says "The inflorescences are lined on one side with spikelets of scarlet anthers. They turn dry sandy blond for winter and remain ornamental". The plant is locally native and grows to only 18” to 3 feet tall with inflorescences and 18” wide. Sideoats requires full sun or only part shade in average to dry soils with good drainage.

Jan Vinyard and her husband Wayne operated Longview Garden in Lee's Summit, MO, for 27 years before retiring in 2007. Her first choice, Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Dot' has a nice 3-4' height habit with "plummy-red" inflorescences to 5'. "Distinctive gold cross bars make it show up in the garden to brighten up dull spots in the border. It spreads slowly and should be divided about every 3 years.” tall. Jan recommends Gaillardia 'Goblin', Sedum telephium 'Autumn Fire' and Aster nova belgii 'Professor Anton Kippenberg' as good companions.

Panicum virgatum 'Shenadoah' has a stunning combination of red-burgundy foliage through the summer and delightful tawny-pink influorescence. This is a native switch grass cultivar will grow well in places too wet for other grasses. Jan recommended good companions including Rudbeckia nitida 'Goldsturm', Monarda fistulosa 'Clair Grace' and Liatris spicata. Dried heads of these flowers all compliment each other in a winter landscape and offer great seed for finch.

I hope these relatively compact plants can help you take another look at including ornamental grasses in your perennial or mixed border. Life is too short and fertile garden soil is too valuable to put up with an underperforming plant.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hail Mary!

I lived in St. Louis for about three years. On "The Hill", known for its fantastic Italian restaurants, is surrounded by beautiful older homes. Most homes feature a statue of Mary front and center.

Of course being a gardener, mine had to be tied into the landscape. Since Mary is traditionally known for blue, I had to have a blue clematis bred in Japan named "Roguchi”. I read about the breeder and his plants in Horticulture several years ago. Once again, I bookmarked the plant in my head and had to have it. The nodding flowers grace Mary on my weathered statue. Hail Mary full of Grace, pray for us.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Iris Butterflies In Flight

The other memorable plant for me in Ken's presentation was Iris 'Butterflies in Flight'. I have seen this Japanese Iris before and I remember bookmarking it in my mind. I was wondering its timing was about the same as 'Caesar's Brother' Plant of Merit Siberian Iris. I doubt it but it creates a beautiful picture in my mind.

Everybody needs a mentor -- even gardeners!

After being a gardener for 35 years, I must stress I was only six when I began, you can't help it but develop a know it all attitude. But the spring I learned that every gardener needs a mentor. I went to the now retired Longview Gardens with an extensive list in hand for both the annuals and perennials. Then Jan Vinyard laid some magic on me and in the course of less than 45 minutes she redesigned my new perennial garden and had tons of other suggestions for my annuals. Being this veteran gardener, I thought I was cheating but I got over quickly.

As a society, we talk about child mentors, professional mentors and spiritual mentor. If you know a gardener, no matter what skill level, I'm sure they would be flattered if you ask them to be your mentor.

Iris Pseudatas; The New Eye Shadow Irises

I just came back from a Master Gardener training session with Ken O'Dell maven plantsmen and a long time volunteer for the Overland Park Arboretum. Ken was a wholesale grower since retired and his major push with the Arboretum is a the major grower for their spring plant sale. Ken presented a wide ranging discussion of working with perennials. It was a standing room only crowd of over 300 people andKen overwhelmed us all with three hours of PowerPoint slides.

However it was two types of rare species iris that inspired me to ask a volunteer sitting next to me to write down the names for me. Iris pseudatas is a cross between iris pseudacorus and the Japanese iris ensata. By water these irises can reach 5 feet but generally around 3 feet in common garden conditions. They are hardy in our area and reportedly bloom over three weeks, but who knows in Kansas at this time of year.
Pictured is 'Beyakuya No Kumi' or Land of the Midnight Sun.

Variegated horseradish

Photography courtesy
Rob's plants

The first time I ever saw this stunning plant was in my favorite gardening book, The Collectors Garden by Ken Druse. It looks like regular horseradish until after three or four years the leaves explode with a mass of cream leaf with some limited green variegation. Being the plant head that I am, I had to wonder how the plant could survive with such limited chlorophyll in the green parts. But after I got over my OCD, I was determined to find this plant. The only source I found was at Forestfarm nursery in a 1 gallon size. I bought two plants and I am at the beginning of the third year. I know I need some help, but I'm really excited to find four leaves that have a significant piece of variegation (as seen in picture above. I guess I will just have to keep looking at Ken's book until I have my own explosion in the garden. I'll keep you updated.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Most Beautiful Tree for The Midwest

Photos courtesy
University of Georgia Atlanta

The first time I saw the Fringe Tree was at a Rose Society meeting. This of course was before I had surrendered to blackspot. A woman brought it to make an arrangement that included the tree. The whites blooms looked like fringes of lace and I decided at some point I had to grow it.

Years later, I found a 3 foot Chinese variety, as opposed to our American native variety, in a 2 gallon pot at Arbor Village Nursery in Holt, select key Missouri. I planted it to close to a window that it looked great for about three years. I had to give it up when we moved to a ranch dueto my spinal cord injury.

I went back to Arbor Village, and this time through their catalogue. It was really nothing more than a stick and with limited garden space I had to put it in a cramped location. It grew too large very quickly and I had to move it last summer. Anyway, it didn't make it through the winter so I went in search of another one. Last wee fringe, one of my best friends and I traveled Skinners Garden Center in Topeka, Kansas, which was the only place I could find any dwarf white redbud. I was so impressed with the quality of their material, I decided to head back there for a day nether fringe tree. I was not disappointed. They had a both American and Chinese and five and 10 gallons and 1 1/2 caliper trees. At the 10 gallon Bush style for about 150 bucks. The the 1 1/2 caliper was 180 and I didn't think my wife would go for that. But when I came home she was like why did you spend the extra 50 bucks to get a tree. So I am trying to figure a way to get my went back to the Topeka and bring back the larger size in a pickup truck.

I was helped by Aaron in their shrub and tree department. He had done some on-the-job training at Gage Park in Topeka he told me there are some mature trees in the park so I can't meet to check them out when they bloom next spring. He also Said that the birds like the black berries that come in the summer. He said that they were responsible for seedlings in the park.

Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful tree for the Midwest. Go check it out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Give Me Spots on My Flowers,


(From top)
Iris dichotoma - Vesper Iris
Parancanda norissi - Candy Lily
Belacamda chinensis - Blackberry Lily

I have had a long fascination and admiration of mottled flowers. From classic lillies to , the leopard patterns I fing graphically stimulating. When I moved to our most recent garden, I planted thr traditional orange and had a great surprise to find a pink one

Window Boxes at Trinity Nursing Home

Life has been very difficult as a quadriplegic since my spinal chord injury nine years ago this spring. But the hardest chapter began last August when it became necessary for me to move into a nursing home at age 44. I have always believed I was a strong person but learning to not only survive but THRIVE in a nursing home is now one of my proudest accomplishments. So I have been reborn at Trinity Nursing Home in Merriam, KS.

Based on my executive training background, i began building relationships with the leadership team here. One of the first things I brought to their attention was they had been scammed by a disreputable landscape company. Although on paper the front of the facility faces south, the company shoved in sun plants last August in beds under two 50 + year old pin oaks and two mature crab apples. I'm sure the fact sun plants due to their volume are less expensive than shade plants was involved in the scam. As soon as I arrived I brought attention of the scam to the director however the company would not return phone calls. But this terrible chapter has been a great opportunity for this handicapable man.

Strategically I decided to push the landscaping back until the fall when there would be more time available for recruiting volunteers and I would have time to get to know the environment better for designing a garden. There are thirteen 30" window boxes surrounding the two covered patio areas at the front of the building. I have decided to focus my efforts on these hopefully distracting the visitors' eye from the remains of the scam artists. Since the patio cover and trees provide varying degrees of light exposure I need to learn better for the future, I've decided to go with a simple combo of Sunpatiens and vinca vine.

The Sunpatiens were discovered when a cross of a New Guinea impatiens and a traditional impatiens lead to a hybrid with the preponderence of blooms of the bedding plant variety with the thicker leaf of the New Guinea allowing the plant to thrive in the sun. As I wrote in my column in the Kansas City Gardener, my only fault I see with Sunpatiens is the marketing behind it. There are three plant forms under the Sunpatiens brand name: Compact, Landscape and Cascade. But because the marketing company has them all under the same series there is more than enough reason for consumer confusion and frustration.

So I have three plants of each color with two vinca vine between them. The patios are on each side of the main entrance. I have the same colors in each box in the same position on each patio for maximum impact. I'll keep you updated with photography through the growing season.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Patrick's Picks -- Larry Moore's Tomatoes

Patrick Picks
February, 2009

HEADLINE: Patrick's Picks: Stretching the Tomato Season with Larry Moore.

It takes skill and experience when selecting your tomato varieties to ensure a harvest from the Fourth of July to the first major frost. Larry Moore, the co-anchor of KMBC Channel 9 News since 1972, is a passionate tomato grower, who through trial and error has developed a season-long program with hybrids that deliver excellent flavor.

Larry's enthusiasm for growing tomatoes is regularly demonstrated on air when he shares his bounty with co-anchors. Larry says "I keep growing tomatoes because there is nothing more tasty and delicious than home-grown red-ripe tomatoes. Tomatoes like sweet corn are best if eaten within 8 hours."

Larry always selects five varieties of tomatoes each year. He says "Early Girl Hybrid assures me of red ripe tomatoes by the Fourth of July weekend." As the name implies, Early Girl is one of the earliest producing varieties with tennis ball sized fruit in as little as 52 days. However, the later varieties will always have superior taste.

His favorite main producer is Celebrity ripening in about 70 days. With superior disease resistance, this All American Selection from 1984 has stood the test of time as a high-yielding variety. Larry says "They turn out 7-9 ounce tomatoes during the most trying of conditions--too much rain, drought, cool nights or extreme heat. The flavor is superb and the yield is tremendous."

Larry says "Big Girl and Big Boy come on in late July in or around 78 days".According to Gerald Klingaman, a retired extension agent with the University of Arkansas, Big Boy was one of the first hybrid vegetables, coming to the market in 1949 and is often listed among their top five all-time flavor favorites.
and is often listed among their top five all-time flavor favorites. pumpkin

The last of Larry's favorites is Burpee Supersteak Hybrid producing its fruit on average around 80 days. Like any of the steak tomatoes, Supersteak is known for its rich "beef steak" flavor and meaty texture. "They turn out two-pounders and each one is to die for. They are significantly affected by weather. Usually I get two to three two-pounders off each plant. However, this year because of cool
weather and fluctuating conditions, I got only two two-pounders off our plants. They produce lots of other tomatoes, too. Not all of them are two-pounders."

Larry says "My favorite moment with Supersteak tomatoes is when I pick a big one and duck into the kitchen. I get two pieces of toast, a leaf of lettuce, and three big slices of bacon, put them all in sandwich form, and then add a slice of this steak tomato with a dob of mayo. What a feast! It makes the growing of tomatoes well worth the work.”

To ensure all five varieties are producing through the end of the season, Larry applies two handfuls of soybean meal to each plant. Soybean meal is a high nitrogen (7-2-1) organic fertilizer manufactured in a pelleted form. Applied during Labor Day weekend, all his five varieties will still be producing until the first killing frost. Larry said "I'm still picking lots of tomatoes this year and it’s late October”.

CAPTION: Larry shares his bounty from this year’s mid-season variety Celebrity.
Patrick Muir is a Johnson County Master Gardener living in western Shawnee. You can find column archives and a listing of retailers participating in the Patrick's Picks Program at

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Moulin Rouge Sunflower

PA Smith's favorite and he is able to fit in two crops per season. I think these tall types of sunflowers are best used as a backdrop in a perennial border. That way when they're spent, you don't have to look at the unsightly mess the plant turns into soon shortly after flowering. I like the richness of Moulin's blooms. These burgundy hyprids are the only ones I grow. Yellow is so pedestrian and living in Kansas, if I want to see yellow sunflowers, I just look outside my house or car windows.