Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Tales of Four Sweet Corn Varieties

Sure you can grow all the super sweet enhanced hybrids you want but I'd like to share with you four tales of some unusual sweet corns.

Multi-colored corn is associated with jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows. But I found 'Rainbow Inca' which is a strong performing sweet corn with a heck of a story. Dr. Alan Kapular was breeding sweet corn in the mecca of sweet corn breeding, Oregon (not). He started by selecting 12 ears from his commune vegetable garden -- I told you this was Oregon. The parents included flour corns, native American and heirloom sweet corns.

The next Spring he planted the offspring of the twelve. One twist of fate helped the program. Moles invaded the plot on numerous occasions, so he kept replanting which allowed both early and later maturing plants to breed together. In his breeding program he selected for sweet corn with large, crinkled and flat kernels of all colors. The kernels are larger than any other sweet corn. The genetic variability displayed by the many colors reflects the many sources in its parentage.

Inca corn tended to be over twelve feet, so he also selected for around eight foot tall so they were earlier enough to be dependable. He also selected for ears to be lower on the plants so he could reach them. Lower ears are bigger so selecting for lower ears automatically bred for higher yields. 'Rainbow Inca' makes a great young corn for roasting and wonderful as a tortilla or in soups. This variety is only available at Seeds of Change.

As the name implies, Golden Bantam sweet corn comes to harvest on plants no more that 5' tall. According to the people at Millington Seed Company, Golden Bantam was originally grown by a Massachusetts farmer named William Chambers. A friend named E.L. McCoy found two quarts of Golden Bantam upon Chambers death and sold them to Burpee declaring they now owned "the sweetest and richest corn ever grown".

According to Burpee, who introduced the variety in 1902, this corn made yellow corn popular since prior to that date people only wanted white corn which signified refinement and quality. Prior to this introduction, yellow corn was stereotyped as fit only for animal feed. So you know this variety had an impact on the market since it tore apart the white corn perception of refinement while exploding the perception of yellow corn as only a product only fit to feed animals. This variety became very popular due to its ability to sprout in cool soil which helped it claim to be one of the earliest bearing sweet corns. Golden Bantam is available at several sources. I'd spend my money with a company dedicated to saving heirlooms as opposed to the corporate driven Burpee.

Stowell's Evergreen Sweet Corn is the oldest sweet corn in production predating 1848. It was originally bred by Nathaniel Newman Stowell of Massachusetts. It was a cross between Northern Sugar Corn and Menomony Soft Corn. After years of refining he sold two ears for $4.00 to a "friend" for private use. The "friend" turned around and sold it for $20,000 and it appeared in catalogs in 1849. (I'm skeptical of the $20,000 number. Seems incredulous for that time period but I found the same number from another source). Some people consider it is still the leading white variety for home gardens and market growers.

The people at Cherry Gal Seeds say forget about all the sugar enhanced varieties. If you're a home gardener, just pick and throw it in a pot and the taste rivals the SE varieties.

Let's make a huge jump from 1902 to recent times. 'Ruby Queen' Sweet Corn is really red from the ear to the plate. The red gene is a dominant over all others and it comes from red dent corn. Dent corn is primarily used for livestock due to its high starch content.

What sets this variety apart is it can be harvested at two different stages of development. At the blush red stage you get the maximum sugar enhanced flavor (SE) . Wait for it to develop all the way so it can deliver its rich, old-fashioned corn flavor. I'd love to see the red tassels and stalks in autumn displays. Burpee suggests steaming or microwaving Ruby Queen to keep the dark red coloring. Burpee also is marketing this variety as an exclusive but I found two other companies offering it. I've seen them do this kind of thing before. I'd expect more from the industry leader.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sow Your Poppies Outside in February

Corn Poppies, Monet 1873

Yes, I am talking about the Midwest and, no I'm not pushing any envelopes here. As a kid, I remember planting my Iceland Poppies as a winter annual in my Sydney garden. The papery thin petals were of the finest texture and a very dear friend for the winter months. But unfortunately, Iceland Poppies don't perform well here in the KC area. According to Alan Branhagen, my friend and the Director of Horticulture at Powell Gardens in Kansas City, there are three poppies that are very successful in our area of the Midwest. Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Breadseed Poppy (Papaver somniferum) and the beautiful California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica).

Poppies are not a good candidate for being transplanted. So sowing them directly in the garden is the only way to go. They are actually winter annuals and February is the best time to plant them to be successful in our area. You can even sow on top of melting snow and it seems to improve their chances of survival. The freeze and thaw of the snow, gently places the seed and the seeds germinate once the soil warms. Poppies grow best in the cool weather and they tolerate frost and freezes very well.

According to Branhagen, the site where you plant them must be well-drained and most importantly bare ground. He suggests the bare ground where you planted your bulbs last fall and the poppies will start to bloom after most of your spring bulbs are over with. Summer annuals should be planted around them and they will prosper to cover while the poppies are fading away. Sounds like a great plan to me. Thank you, Alan.

Corn Poppies make beautiful red flowers for the cottage flower garden. Branhagen says “I simply adore the vibrant red flowers around the light saturated, long days of the summer solstice." Plants tend to reach a height and width of about 12”.He recommends one of my all time favorite annuals, Verbena bonariensis as a companion. I can just imagine the wispy, thin branches of the verbena with little its buttons of purple against the flamboyant red blooms of the Corn Poppy.

Beyond just red flowers, Breadseed Poppies cover a wider spread in color from plum purple to pink, reds and whites. Okay let's just acknowledge it and get over it quickly, this is the opium poppy. But Branhagen says “you can also find some varieties to make your own poppy seeds to decorate and flavor your baked goods. Two selections ‘Hungarian Bread’ and ‘Heirloom Pepperbox’ are great for culinary use.” I know you can find the Hungarian variety from Renee’s Seeds. The height can be up to 3’ high.

The Californian Poppies are the state flower of California. Branhagen says "their flowers are more eloquently bell-shaped and a lovely golden orange on the wild form which is my favorite." I can personally standup for the resilience of Californian Poppies from an experience I had working downtown in Kansas City. Next to the parking garage for my building, there stood an eye sore of an auto repair business. Surrounding the sign of the business and down the sidewalk was an incredible stand of Californian Poppies. The vibrant orange played so well with the blue and white rusted sign. With that kind of recall, after 25 years later it is amazing what an impact color can have on the mind. The Californian poppies go way beyond hot orange. Try ‘Butter Cream’, ‘Dusky Rose’ or the vibrant mixes like ‘Jelly Beans’, listed as a mouthwatering mix of shades orange, salmon, rose and gold. Most varieties are from 12-18” tall.

An excellent source of all these varieties and so much more can be found at the

So when the snow begins to melt, get out your boots and sow poppies on your bare ground. Let me know how it goes and if it doesn't work don't blame me, blame Alan. But thank you very much Alan for this fantastic information. Keep up the great work out there at Powell Gardens.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My 2011 Dahlia Order

Somehow I was able to narrow down my dahlia order to just three after looking at the Swan Island Dahlias catalog of 350. I have always been a fan of flowers that are so deep red, in the right light, can almost look black. Then I like it to pair it with white to get the maximum impact out of both. So the following three are incorporating that strategy.

I have grown 'Crossfield Ebony' (top) as a kid and thought it was great so I'm ordering it again because the unusual pom-pom form adds great texture when combined with other flowers. The white 'Bride to Be' is in the SID's cutflower mix so I'm assuming it should great candidate for the vase. The waterlily flower form of Bride to Be will look great with the pom-pom and the traditional flower form of 'Voodoo' (bottom).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Best of the Specialty Catalogs 2011

B&D Lillies
'Raspberry Swirl' (above)

The premiere source for asiatic, oriental and trumpet lillies in the US and maybe the world is B&D Lillies. The company's catalog is eye candy for any gardener at this time of year. They have been a family-owned business since 1978 and I can attest to the quality of their products. For something completely different check out the new asiatic 'Yellow Hornet'.

Caladium World

Caladium World is the granddaddy of them all when it comes to caladiums. I have not used the company but I'm impressed by the fact they sell, on most varieties, three different grades of bulbs. So you get what you pay for. The only downside I see is the minimum order is ten bulbs of each variety. But what's interesting is they suggest planting three of one variety of a lower grade close together to get the impact of a jumbo or top grade bulb. So with that strategy you're only getting three "plants" which makes ten a more manageable number for the smaller garden.

One big tip from my experience, DO NOT PLANT caladiums corms "(bulbs) until the soil is very warm even in containers. Growing from corms will always outperform plants. Around here don't think of it before May 15 or even later. That reason is why you don't see as much of them as their beauty deserves. The best I've seen around here were out front on Tommy Bahamas on the Country Club Plaza. The containers were warmed by direct sun but the plants were protected by a canopy. We all will never have the same situation but we can learn from the example.

Another lesson learned, you don't need to go to Florida for corms. The variety used outside of Tommys' was the good old white and green standby 'Candidum' which is readily available at garden centers. That's what I'll be using in my north facing windowbox and I'm not starting them until June 1. But if you're looking for something extra special, go to Caladium World.

The people at Powell Gardens reported last year that White Wing is incredibly sun tolerant. Let me know if you find the same thing.

King's Mums

When most Americans think about mums the vision in their head is of this obligatory mound of button size blooms. But almost everybody else in the world thinks about an elegant cutflower that comes in many different colors and forms. I developed great respect for chrysanthemums as an Australian school kid. In the same suburb of Sydney that I went to middle school, there was a man who would send over his exhibition blooms via air to the greatest flower show on earth, the Chelsea Flower Show in England. It captured my imagination to think of a man who strove for excellence halfway around the world. So you can see how my respect for mums came at a very early age.

Some Americans are familiar with Football Mums. The tradition of using softball-sized varieties started in Texas at homecoming games when they were used as a corsage. (I did mention this was Texas, didn't I?). This tradition spread through the South and you can still find Football Mums in use today. My bold assumption is this tradition remained in the South where the growing season was long enough to create these whopping sized mums.

I used King's Mums as a teenager when I was exhibiting in shows. The only issue I had was I was selecting some varieties that matured too late in the season for this area. You'll see in the King's Mums catalog today, the days to maturity for each variety are clearly noted. The people at King's told me they have many loyal mid-western customers.

Pleasant Valley Glads
Miniature Glads Source

One of the biggest miscarriages of justice in gardening is the association of glads with funerals in this country. Gary Adams with Pleasant Valley shared with me that up until the 60's, glads were the #1 selling wholesale flower even above roses. Gary thinks the market bottomed out and the glads were so cheap that florists made a lot of money using them and they looked great in big arrangements. But perception often becomes reality in no short order. So I'm not going to slay the funeral flower dragon.

But I'm going to make a pitch for miniature glads. Imagine 1 1/2" florets with for an example 7 open buds and 22 total buds and everyone will flower if kept in water. They look great in summer bouquets. Plant some every 10 days to get flowers through the summer.

Swan Island Dahlias

Dahlias have always been one of my favorite cutflowers along with zinnias. Roses are out of the picture since I surrendered to blackspot. (I miss you Double Delight). SID is the largest dahlia supplier in this county. The color catalog is of the highest order dramatically showing each of its 350 varieties. It's been a family-owned business for over 75 years. I ordered from Swan Island Dahlias when I was a teenager and loved the final product.

Ordering new dahlias is a pricey proposition. So this year, due to the space limitations, somehow I'm limiting myself to only two tried and true varieties that also make excellent cutflowers. 'Bride to Be' is a 4" sized waterlily flower type on compact plants with a height of 3 1/2'. And with the beguiling name of 'Voodoo', this almost black/dark red sports 5" flowers on a 4 1/2' bush.

One big tip for successful dahlia growing from SID : DO NOT WATER dahlias after planting until the first shoot breaks the soil. Biggest way to rot your tubers, I presume.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Be Skeptical of AAS Vegetable "Winners"

The AAS winners for 2011 are generating a lot of buzz as they do every year. There are three new vegetables including two tomatoes ideal for hanging baskets. It should be interesting if they hold up to expectations. I'm skeptical they will be around to stand the test of time based on the performance of prior winners and AAS hype.

Take for instance the AAS winning vegetable for 2010 'Shiney Boy' watermelon. The award is based partly on its "sweet tropical flavor and crisp texture." With 20 lb fruit on 13' vines, AAS claims the vines can be grown vertically on trellis frames. GIVE ME A BREAK. 20 lb fruit grown on a trellis. AAS has a history of overselling its winners. Part of this may explain why so many winners are dumped from seed catalogs within a couple of years.

I believe the AAS program breeds mediocrity by the design of its program. AAS winners are determined based on points scored by AAS judges at trial gardens across the country when compared to the best performing plant already on the market. So a winner could receive high scores in the south but may suck in the Midwest yet become an AAS winner. Making one promise of performance across this great country of ours is flawed and naive.

I did a review of vegetable winners over the last five years and found the only source for nearly all was Park Seed. So while heirloom seed companies' missions are to save valuable genes from extinction, Park Seed's mission must be to keep genes of average performers that the marketplace has already discarded. The irony is the tagline for Park Seed is "Always Dependable."

So unless you see the performance of a variety at a trial ground near you, be very skeptical of AAS' promotion of its winners.". Our closest garden is in Olathe and the public is invited each July to see the trial gardens for yourself. I will promote the date on this site closer to the event.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Patrick's Picks - Underused Shade trees

This column first appeared in the June issue of the Kansas City Gardener.

Drive into most new home developments in the Kansas City area and within a stone’s throw you’ll find the overused favorite shade trees of home builders. On the modus operandi hit list are the ‘Autumn Blaze’ Maple, ‘Autumn Purple’ Ash and the ‘Heritage’ River Birch. This month I contacted three area professionals on a mission to find underused shade trees for our area. So if all your trees fit the pedestrian label, hopefully you can find some space to grow one of these less familiar but outstanding trees.

The Sugar Maple, Acer saccahrum, is most commonly recognized as the maple leaf on the flag of Canada but uncommonly known as a superior residential tree. Sugar Maples are one of the tallest of shade trees coming in at 70 to 90‘ tall and 60 to 80 wide. Chris Thompson is a project manager with Audrie Seeley Landscaping in Kansas City, MO and is responsible for the management of the commercial landscaping installed by the company like the Kansas City Zoo Polar Bear exhibit for example. Thompson says "because Sugar Maples are a slower growing tree, they have a denser wood structure and are able to handle a heavier stress load from ice and the rigors of thunderstorms. They have phenomenal fall color and are simply a great tree." .

There are several specific varieties including ‘Fall Fiesta’, ‘Commemoration’, and Green Mountain’ although the standard Acer saccharum grown from local seed sources is also an excellent performer. Thompson says "Sugar Maples typically only find a home in commercial landscapes as the architects are knowledgeable of their characteristics and have made great use of them. Please let your readers know about this big kept secret and I am sure they will thank you once they have one planted and get to enjoy all the benefits."

The Little Leaf Linden, Tilia cordata, is a smaller growing shade tree that is perfect for residential landscapes. Roughly 30’ tall and wide at full growth, the tree will grow at a moderate pace. Varieties you will find in the Kansas City area are ‘Greenspire’, and ‘Bicentennial’. Not only does it fit well in the residential landscape, but it also is fragrant in the spring while it flowers. There are several varieties that are grown at local nurseries and this tree is also used by architects for commercial landscaping.

Thompson says "the Little Leaf Linden is desired because of its extremely dense growth habit. This tree differs from a maple as the leaves of a maple are far less dense than a Little Leaf Linden. If someone is looking for another great tree for the residential landscape, then the Hedge Maple, Acer campestre, would be it. Hedge Maples are typically used by architects in parking lot islands and roadway medians. They are very hardy tree and provide a great texture for the landscape. As a maple, it has great color and will be a favorite of the landscape." Due to its dense foliage, the tree was often used as a hedge in Europe, thus the name. The mature tree is about the same size as the Little Leaf Linden coming in around 30’ tall and wide.

The Gingko is the king of durability with fossilized records dating back 200 million years. The tree is nicely sized for suburban lots at 40-50’ tall and 25-35’ wide. Ken Wood, the Nursery Manager at Family Tree Nursery in Shawnee, KS says “they are great for fall clean up as after the wonderful golden fall color show, leaves will all fall from the tree in a 24-48 hour period. With several male varieties on the market, Gingko are considered insect and disease free. ” One of the most impressive displays of ginkgos in the world can be found on the South lawn of the Nelson Art Gallery near the Country Club Plaza in the Henry Moore Sculpture Garden. Twenty nine bronzes of this icon’s work are nestled in rows of nearly matched gingko.

With branches that seem to dance on air, the Bald Cypress, Taxodium, disitchum is the most graceful of all the shade trees. Most people have seen the species on television in the Florida Everglades with their huge gnarled roots in the water. This genetic background makes the tree very valuable for sopping up major wet spots in your yard. Wood says “the Bald Cypress soars to 50-60’ tall but considering the fast growth, the tree has good wood durability preparing it well for hazardous weather. The tree also creates a beautiful silhouette in the winter season.” When you see such an unusual bronze fall color paired with the feathery texture of the branches, the overall effect can be simply stunning. This tree is well-suited for full cleanup since the small leaflets are easily blown into your neighbor's yards.

Alan Branhagen, the Director of Horticulture at Powell Gardens in Kingsville, MO considers the White Oak, Quercus alba, to be the queen of all trees.. The White Oak matures to 65’ to 85’ high and wide with beautiful light ash-gray, somewhat peeling bark. Branhagen says “the roots are coarse and deep so you can readily grow other plants beneath. And when planted in good soils, it grows surprisingly fast into a magnificent rounded crown. The leaves are deeply lobed and the fall color is the best of all our oaks from red to almost burgundy.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Best Kept Secret: MOBOT Plants of Merit

The Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful places on earth. In this master gardener's mind it ranks not too far above the Grand Canyon. I lived in St. Louis for three years and savored every time I visited. It should be a destination based vacation. (this is a marketing term which means, in this case, a vacation centered around just attending MOBOT) dog

It is often named one of the best botanical gardens in the world. Not only tor the grounds but also for its esteemed scientific research results. One of the most practical research projects is their Plants of Merit Program.

(Upper Right: 2011 Winner 'Purple Flash' Ornamental Pepper)

A MOBOT POM is determined by a joint effort of MOBOT, Kansas City's Powell Gardens and the Mizzou Botanic Garden (Who knew there was one??? Can they grow grass there? Is their mascot a black and gold thumb with the gold taken out? Who stole the gold? Must have been an in-state job). The criteria are easy to grow and maintain, non-invasive, pest and disease tolerant, outstanding ornamental value and readily available for purchase.

There is a listing of 56 plants raised up to Emeritus level but it's hard to find. In fact I haven't but have contacted the lead person to discover the link. A MIZZOU grad must have designed the site navigation. I have also shared an idea to have their panel break out the 10 most under-utlized selections from the emiritus list and build a pr campaign to build awareness of the whole list. I'll share when and if they create it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Best of the Seed Catalogs - 2011

A Cartoon by Joseph Tychonievich

The seed catalog people are all about pushing new varieties and getting them to the market as soon as possible. Many times there is less field testing of the varieties then there should be for a new product introduction. My philosophy is they are only annuals and I enjoy the anticipation of finding the next holy Grail or finding the quickest new addition to my compost pile. So with this perspective in mind, here are some of the best seed catalogs and the annuals and vegetables I'd like to try in the 2011 growing season.


Coconut Ice Sunflower is the world's first white sunflower according to the company. They hedged their bet on the color because it starts out a rich, vanilla color and bleaches out to white. If you ask me, although the blooms are smaller, I'd rather grow the ever dependable 'Italian White', It's a classic in my book but Coconut Ice could become a classic if it lives up to the hype.

The Cook's Garden

This is a new company for me whose niche is seeds for gourmet gardener. Green Envy tomato is like no other cherry choice out there. The Emerald Green doesn't look appetizing so I'd have to taste before I'd be sold but if you're early adopter kind of person, go for it. They're offering a trio of plants including Green Envy, the wildly popular Sungold and the classic red Ladybird for $15.95. Should make for a feast for the eyes on an appetizer tray.

One of my first crops of lettuce I ever grew was the simple oakleaf variety. For a leaf lettuce, the intriguing texture of nothing else out there. Their Oakleaf Mix contains two green varieties and two red. Another feast for the eyes and mouth.

John Scheepers Kitchen Seeds

Another new company for me but it's been in business since 1908. Nothing new to report but I love their catalog. The cultural instructions for each vegetable are clear and concise. The catalog's most important features are the illustrations and their quantity. They've been commissioned by an artist who has been drawing plants for the New York Botanical Garden for over 30 years and The Smithsonian Institution. Check it out for the breadth of varieties and enjoy the catalog.

Territorial Seed Company

I've been receiving their catalog in the slew I get each winter but never took the time to look at it. After taking a closer look at the 168 page catal, it's been my loss. It takes a lot to shock me any more but they're offering grafted tomato plants. Grafted vegetables are created when the top part of one plant
(the scion) is attached to the root system of a separate plant (the rootstock) The rootstock contributes vigor and disease resistance while the scion is chosen for fruit flavor and quality. This type of process has been used in fruit trees and grape vines for centuries. You've seen the most common use of grafting in most roses with the exception of the Knockouts.

The grafting is done by hand and I can't imagine pulling this off in a commercial operation. The comparison photos show a dramatic change in fruit set and plant size of the grafted versus the traditional plant. So now you're thinking about cost. A typical plant in their catalog is $3.50, the single graft is $6.,95 and the double graft is $11.50. Let me know your results if you decide to invest (and I do stress invest) in your tomato plants.

Select Seeds

This is a catalog designed for lovers of flowers. The flowers are grouped in categories such as Fragrant, Cottage Gardens

Four O'Clocks are one of the easiest flowers to grow making them an excellent choice for children to plant the seeds by themselves. As the name implies, the flowers come out only in the afternoon and evening with a beautiful fragrance. .This company has an impressive line up of six including a new color named Salmon Sunset that looks very exciting.

Speaking of easy flowers, cosmos were traditionally pink, purple and white in the Sensation mix. But since the breeding work got intense in the last 10 years, there are more intense colors and flower forms. Select Seeds has an impressive lineup of a dozen including Cranberries which is featured on the cover of this years catalog. Cranberries is a garnet-hued selection. As opposed to four o'clocks, cosmos make excellent cutflowers and the more you pick, the more you get.

Park Seed

Park has offered seeds to customers from South Carolina since 1868. While I was growing up this was always my favorite. Speaking of favorites, I think I might have found a new favorite zinnia. Queen Red Lime's colorization is a mix of salmon and lime that my words alone can't describe. Go to to see for yourself.

My other selection is a new mix of the well proven Profusion zinnia series. Some of the colors have won the AAS Gold Medals but the new Sunrise Mix caught my eye. It's a combination of white, yellow and Fire. I'm working on a project where I'm lining a concrete ramp built for my wheelchair. To soften the harsh concrete, I'm creating 18" border designed for the Profusions. It will be fun to mix up the colors each year.

Seed Savers Exchange

SSE is a non-for-profit company with a mission to preserve and distribute heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers. The members save and exchange seeds to preserve our garden heritage for future generation. The revenue from each packet helps support the mission. Their 890 acre Heritage Farm, near Decorah, IA, helps maintain one of the largest collections of open-pollinated heirloom varieties in the United States. For most varieties, the catalog shares a brief story on where the seed source was found.

There are two re-discovered tomatoes new to the catalog. The most exciting is Lemon Drop which an SSE Florida found as a sport of Snow White Cherry. It has a refreshing tart sweet flavor which won the SSE 2010 Tasting Award. They also sell plants for $3.00 but if I were you I'd get my order in early with that testing award before they sell out.

The other tomato is an Italian heirloom named Rosso Sicilian. This variety was brought to the US by a Sicilian man in 1987 and given to a SSE member in Indiana who said its slices look like red-petaled flowers. It's as perfect choice for making tomato sauce or paste.

Seeds of Change

Seeds of Change is another company preserving biodiversity and supporting sustainable organic agriculture. SOC donates 1% of net sales support seed oriented causes. Their most exciting new offerings include a trio of summer squash when grouped together make an awesome display. The three globe type varieties are Geode, Satelite and Floridor. Check out the back cover with a picture of the three displayed together at a farmer's market for inspiration to grow all three.

White Satin is a ivory colored Nantes type carrot with 8" long roots. Nantes are more sausage looking as opposed to the long tapering traditional carrot. They look fantastic as a bunch or grouped with other carrots for a more rainbow effect.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

The power house of the heirloom seed industry is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Thompson & Morgan

T& M is a classic British seed company dating back to 1855. You have to be careful with your selections since the varieties are proven in European trial not American. But if you're looking for something different and willing to take some risks, you might enjoy the experience.

Basil Aristotle is a miniature basil topping at only 8" tall which is perfect for growing ntsin pots. At that size I recommend planting it by itself in containers since it would easily overwhelmed by larger plants in a mixed container.

One of my favorite garden experiences as a teenager was growing a packet of open pollinated cone flowers from Park Seed. I planted a row and was blown away by the variance of plant size, leaf shapes and flower forms from one packet of seed. Although there is selective breeding involved in this case, I think it would be a blast to see what comes out from their Magic Box Mixed packet. If you have the space in the veggie garden, plant a row and after they flower select the ones you'd like to add to your perennial or mixed border.
I've saved the last spot for one of the best: Maine's own Johnny's Select Seeds. This is a company with heart. Not only for being employee owned but also the passion of its testing program. My only knock on JSS is you have to wade through the book to find the new stuff. Come on Johnny, give it to me straight. Put the best of the new on the first few pages or flag them with a big red NEW!. I love you man but you could make me love you more if you give it to me straight upfront.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Clematis 'Niobe' for Inspiration

I'm working on a major landscape project for a dear friend this year. It's a 1910 two story home with a wrap around porch. All white with limited black trim. She made a significant investment of lime green adirondeck chairs for the porch. So when it comes to the color palette, the green is my jumping off point. After about 30 minutes, I knew burgundy would be partner in crime with the green for a smashing combo. And I immediately thought of Clematis 'Niobe' as an plant to provide inspiration for the finished project. I've always wanted to use 'Niobe' because I love the richness of burgundy in a mass of large 4' bloom. I've read on numerous occasions it is THE best clematis on the market.
Niobe was hybridized in Poland. However, like all burgundy-red clematis, it has the American native Clematis texensis in its parentage. This hybrid entered the American market in 1975 and was quickly adopted and remains one of the higest rated clematis in the world. If there was a Clematis Hall of Fame, Niobe would be a founding member according to one blogger I found. It also is an excellent cut flower.
And the other great thing is the burgundy plants will go well with a glass of burgundy on the porch with my clients among the period piece boston ferns.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Memory Garden - What a Beautiful Thought.

Can't sleep again tonight so I'm blogging. Came across this serene imagine earlier in the day while checking the spelling of helleborus on google. It's a memory garden for a woman who lost a still born baby and needed a place to keep the memory of the child alive. Based on the moss and the incredible helleborus, my bet on the location would be the Pacific Northwest. But we can build a garden of great texture with our mid-western plant palette.

I agree with the garden designer's direction of a white/creme palette. Of course, helleborus are an excellent choice for early spring flowers and beautiful foliage all season long. When it comes to a memorial garden, my first thought goes to peonies not only because of their beauty but also the timing of the flowers coming around Memorial Day. I visited a friend on the weekend and went with the family to give their respects to several generations of their kin. I'll never forget the image of a huge pink peony right on top of her cousin's site. I witnessed the same effect when I saw a very old red hybrid tea rose on top of a child's resting place back in the outback back home. Bury me under anything but a flat piece of sod, please. But back to peonies.

You would need at least three peonies for the best effect in a memory garden. But this would overwhelm most sites. Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm Nursery in Wisconsin got my attention with what they call rock garden peonies based on their size. Roy Klehm is a preeminent peony breeder and one of his achievements is a 16" gem appropriately named 'Squirt'. They are sending me trial plants this fall so I'll be sure to keep you updated on results in my garden.

Don't forget variagated plants as an option in a white garden. I find them more impactful over the whole season when compared with fleeting flowers. I picked up some variagated ajuga at the Powell Garden Plant Sale last spring. The pink flowers would only enhance a memory garden. i've never planted it but I hear rave reviews everywhere for variagated solomon's seal. And of course there are many highly variagated hostas to fit any sized garden space.

Another appropriate selection is lily of the valley. Now those four words send some experienced gardeners into night sweats since it is a notorious thug but it can easily be controlled. Recycle old gallon sized black plastic pots to constrain them. Just plant several pips (small plants) into each pot and bury the pot in the ground with only 2-3" of the pot showing above the surface. The effect will ultimately be perfectly rounded lily of valley bushes. Use this technique for other ruthless thugs such as mint. Any size pot will work but as always create at least three.

Of course any good gardener knows this kind of garden needs a focal point. From the image above, it's hard to discern. I created a family grotto in the front yard of my old house with the Virgin Mary as the focal and created a place of quite reflection. Mary sat beneath an arch of blue 'Rogoochi' bell-shaped clematis. The effect was very calming.

So if it's appropriate for you, create your own memory garden or create one for a dear friend harboring the angst of a major loss. For more information about creating a special place like the helleborus garden above and other ways to celebrate the lives of children that have been lost too soon, go to

Monday, January 3, 2011

Black Velvet Petunia Introduction Video

The most exciting introduction of 2011 is hands down 'Black Velvet' petunia. Most flowers that use black or night are just very dark people such as 'Queen of the Night' tulip. But Black Velvet is truly black see for yourself:

So if you're not excited by what you saw, then check your pulse. Based on impressive garden test results, Black Velvet is the most impressive introduction in years.

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