An iPhone camera celebration of fall.
An iPhone camera celebration of fall.
I title this post intentionally because one of the most common questions I hear is about this fall-flowering perennial. “How do I keep my Montauk daisies from falling over?” or “When do I cut my Montauk daisies back so that they don’t fall over?”
Montauk daisies, aka Nippon daisies or Nipponanthemum nipponicum, are a favorite in my area because they are one of the last perennials to flower. If you live in zones 5 to 9 and have a sunny spot, you need this plant in your garden. Just know that this perennial needs to be treated like a shrub.
The leaves on Montauk daisies are heavy. As the stems lengthen, the numerous, heavy leaves cause the stalks to bend down. At the same time the natural way this plant grows is to let the lower leaves shrivel and brown while keeping the outer foliage green. So those who grow this plant see withering inner leaves and bare lower stems.
If the plant is generally upright and full, those inside stalks and withered foliage aren’t very visible. But if the plant is leaning over, the gardener focuses on that less-than-attractive inner plant.
Here are some tips for growing upright, full looking Montauk daisies:
Yup. If you’re a foodie, whenever possible you must grow your own. I understand that those in cities usually need to be content with farmer’s markets and CSA’s, but if you have a sunny porch, deck, or yard, start planning next year’s vegetable garden now. Why? There are four reasons that food lovers should grow their own and the first three are taste, taste, and taste. There is no comparison in flavor between a fruit or vegetable freshly harvested and one that’s spent a day or more out of the garden. A broccoli floret that’s been snapped off of the plant a half hour before dinner is entirely different in flavor than the head of broccoli you buy in the store.
We’re still harvesting Zephyr and Costata Romanesco summer squash despite the fact that both plants have had powdery mildew for over two months. They just keep producing new, clean foliage and I’m able to harvest new squash every other day. These are both so flavorful when freshly picked that just a quick sauté in some olive oil and finishing with freshly ground pepper is all they need.
Freshly harvested eggplant is also amazing. Normally you think of eggplant as taking on the flavor of whatever sauce is used, but an eggplant that is picked right before roasting has an actual taste all its own. I put mine in a 375 degree oven on parchment paper – no oil – and roast it until the edges start to turn brown. Delicious.
Fall is the perfect time to harvest Tuscan kale, Pak Choi, and Chard. These will all go through light frosts and can be used in any style of cooking. I’ve added Pak Choi leaves to basil when making pesto, used the kale in salads and all types of soup, and substituted chard for spinach in many dishes. If you’re harvesting these veggies shortly before cooking they don’t need as much seasoning or complicated recipes…simply cooked their flavor takes center stage.
One of the most life-affirming things we can do is to plant a vegetable garden. There is nothing so satisfying than being able to walk into your own yard and ask, ‘What’s for dinner?’ And whether the garden answers “Squash!” or “Chard,” you’re in for the most tasty food you can cook.
The tastiest food on earth? You can grow that! Oh…the fourth reason every foodie needs a vegetable garden? Health. Freshly picked vegetables are better for you, and since the flavor is so good you’ll eat more of the foods that are healthy.
For those concrete thinkers among you I must declare up front: I’m not just talking about plants and gardening here. In every place that I mention something horticultural you could substitute something else that you’ve killed and get the message. Think about that job you didn’t get or were fired from. Consider the business you started that quickly folded, the idea you had that never flourished, or the art or craft project that flopped. You get the idea, right? We’re talking failure here, in or out of the garden.
This is on my mind because I heard a horticultural marketing specialist state that one reason people don’t buy plants is because they’re worried about killing them.
What? Since when does any part of life come with guarantees? And is it really in your best interest to have everything you do succeed?
Here’s why you should welcome the opportunity to kill plants: If everything that you place in the ground thrived and did well, you’d never have an opportunity to try something new. Often our best openings come about because something has failed and we’re forced to look elsewhere.
Human beings don’t really like change. We often put up with less than satisfactory circumstances because we’re used to the status quo and alterations take effort. We get so comfortable in our ruts that it’s difficult to see that we’re actually in the pits. When something doesn’t succeed we are compelled to climb out of those depths that we’ve been lulled into thinking are really OK.
Plant death is an opportunity to grow something new.
I’m a total garden geek, so you know I love to try new plants. It’s fun to discover newly introduced varieties that might be the next gold standards and my listeners and readers enjoy hearing about the latest introductions as well. So when a box of sample plants arrives on my doorstep my reaction is usually jubilation. Until today.
“New daylily plants!” I thought when the box arrived. But when I opened the package and read the literature that was enclosed, my pleasure turned to incredulity. My shipment of new plants were included with a brochure announcing “Tea Party Daylilies” that proclaimed that this brand is “For American Patriots.” The plants pictured have names such as Tea Party Passion and Tea Party Power leading me to wonder if I’d stumbled out of the garden and into a Saturday Night Live skit.
“Did someone really think that this is a good way to market plants?” I asked my husband.
Maybe they figure that a portion of those who agree with that segment of the American right will rush to buy these perennials. Possible, although as the brochure states they are honoring “real American values in your garden” such as “Personal Freedom” and “Free Enterprise”…so why wouldn’t those who resonate with this approach propagate the hell out of these plants and spread them to friends and neighbors freely? And don’t they know that people like myself will go out of their way to distance themselves from these daylilies and the brand? Perhaps they subscribe to the “even bad publicity is good publicity” school of marketing. I”m thinking that this is a 20th century approach that doesn’t have as much traction in our 21st century, instant communications world.
Beyond being appalled that a group of neutral plants are being saddled with a philosophy that I find abhorrent, I have to ask myself if this is good for horticulture. In times when people are bonding more with their smart phones than with the natural world in their own backyards, don’t we plant people hear a call to gather folks together and lead them back into the garden?
I believe that the politicizing of plants isn’t a good way to attract individuals to the joys of horticulture. It’s a gimmick that further polarizes our country, separating one person from another and distancing people further from the joys of the natural world.
American Daylilies and Perennials, you make Stella de Oro daylilies look good to me, and that’s saying a lot.
**POST UPDATE** After a few days of comments and reflections, I’ve come to the conclusion that this brand of plants could actually be good for horticulture. The people who, like myself, are appalled talk about these daylilies calling the attention of those who are Tea Party sympathetic to the plants. Several people who have seen this post and my link on Facebook and Twitter are now clamoring for these daylilies. I’m sighing all the way, but if it’s good for the promotion of gardening I guess it’s OK with me.
Here’s a recipe for growing goodwill and harvesting smiles:
‘Blue Horizon’ Ageratum
Other cutting flowers so you can “season to taste”
Plant annuals and perennials with the aim of sharing the wealth.
Water and fertilize as needed over the growing season.
Pick and share liberally.
It’s a simple recipe, but one that has the power to change lives. Think of all the places where receiving an unexpected, colorful bouquet would make someone’s day, week, or month. Think of how the simple act of sharing home-grown flowers can lift spirits and remind people that they are not forgotten.
Let’s all make it a point to share the bounty from our yards and gardens. Take bouquets to nursing homes, hospice facilities, neighbors, assisted living apartments, hospitals, cancer treatment centers and shelters. Present them to residents, not to the receptionist. Remind individuals that they are important and that someone cares enough to say so with a bouquet of flowers.
A Gardening Life – September 29
There are many books, articles and blog posts on plant combinations. You can plan your gardens according to the shades of flowers and foliage textures and colors…or a combination of both. Some design according to height or the time of bloom and these are also important considerations when placing one plant next to another. This season I was reminded that there is another way to look at our gardens, and that is from the perspective of the ultimate use of those plants.
In this age of Pinterest perfect vegetable gardens, for instance, some may be tempted to plant their veggie gardens according to how they look while everything is growing. Although this is a valid approach it’s important to remember the final use of the produce that’s being grown. Unless that Pinterest photo is the goal, the quality (taste!) and quantity of the harvest are probably more essential than the appearance of the garden as the vegetables are growing.
I grew Amaranthus ‘Autumn Palette’ this year in my cutting garden and for most of the summer was completely disappointed in this plant. Although the seed packet showed a range of flower colors, my plants have been mostly beige. Basically beige, brownish beige, boring beige with a little rustiness thrown in. “Well,” I thought in August, “I’ll never grow these again.” Clearly I was forgetting why I planted this Amaranthus in the first place.
Last week I cut some zinnias and dahlias and included a few of of the ‘Autumn Palette’ in that bouquet. Suddenly those flowers were perfect. Although they were ugly in the garden on their own, in combination with other flowers they were the ideal color, shape and texture for a fall bouquet. It was a wonderful mixture.
Some plants are best viewed in the garden, and others are better appreciated in their ultimate destination, be it a vase or the supper table.
The interesting thing is that most people look at this and think that I’m only talking about the garden. I am vowing to “plant” beauty in all aspects of life, every day. This is “Whole Life Gardening” after all.
One of the joys of the September vegetable garden is the glut of tomatoes. Large, small, red, yellow and green, they hang from the plants even as those vines succumb to cooling temperatures and blight. Our meals at this time of year tend to be tomato celebrations since we know that we won’t taste this home-grown fruit again until next summer.
Gazpacho is a favorite meal in tomato season and since our crop of cucumbers was huge we were able to enjoy several versions of this cold soup. Last night it was a golden version made with Virginia Sweets and Yellow Boy tomatoes, roasted red peppers and County Fair cukes. The garnish was chopped cucumbers, garlic croutons, and freshly sautéed Zephyr summer squash. The warmth and creamy tenderness of the squash was a perfect contrast with the cold soup and crunchy croutons.
As the Guy Clark song goes, “Only two things that money can’t buy…and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
Two plants stole the show last weekend when my garden was open as a fundraiser for the Barnstable Education Foundation. Their habit is completely different, but they were the most asked-about varieties. Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’ is a perennial that looks like a shrub. If you plant this, be sure to allow at least eight feet in diameter for it to sprawl…no skimping. Although Lespedeza dies to the ground every winter it grows to four or five feet tall and eight feet wide every summer. The plant has attractive foliage all summer but when it explodes with purple flowers in September it’s stop-in-your-tracks-spectacular and worth every inch of the space occupied.
Next to the Lespedeza I planted Evolvulus Blue My Mind, an annual from Proven Winners. The flowers on this Evolvulus are blue, blue, BLUE. True blue, sky blue, yes, blue my mind blue. It is as neat, tidy and small as the Lespedeza is big, bold and floppy. I liked the contrast in habit as well as the combination of colors. This Evolvulus likes heat and didn’t take off in my garden until the hot, dry weather that hit us in July. Strangely, however, once this annual was off and running it tolerated the cool August nights just fine and is actually one of the plants that shows off its flowers even better on rainy days.
I should have put a sign on these two plants so that people wouldn’t have had to ask their names…but I’m fairly stubborn about not including plant labels in my garden. I want to enjoy how the plants work together without the distraction of signs. Our eyes and attention are drawn to the printed word (why do you think so many companies put their name on tee shirts and the like?) and when a plant is labeled I think our focus goes to the name not to experiencing the full and total wonder of what is in front of us.
And yet I know that many of those who walked through my gardens stopped by these two plants and thought, “What are these?” and then, “I want them!” So add them to your shopping list for next spring…see tips for success in the “Sharing the Wealth” section after the photo. Whether you label them or not is up to you. Enjoy.
Sharing The Wealth
Tips for Success With Lespedeza and Evolvulus