Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ABC Wednesday: B's are Buzzing

What better subject for this week's ABC Wednesday's letter B than Bees!

I have taken dozens of photographs of the bumblebees on my purple coneflowers, so here's one feasting on Queen Anne's Lace for a little variety.

Although scientists are concerned about the declining number of honeybees throughout the Western World, there doesn't seem to be a shortage of them at my home. Honeybees enjoy the clover in the grass until Mr. Lawnmower Man mows it down again each week.

Other than bumblebees and honeybees, I'm not very knowledgeable about identifying the different bee species. But I think this might just be a hoverfly (click to enlarge). My friends Cheryl and Gail are sure to know if this shiny body that happened to show up when I downloaded this photo of a daylily is actually a hoverfly.

There is a constant hum of activity in my garden, and I've learned to appreciate the work of all these pollinators. I don't spray my garden with chemicals, and in return they help to pollinate the plants.

They've certainly been a benefit to the vegetable garden this year . . . together with the regular rainfall we have had, I've had a prolific bounty of green Beans. The photo above shows what happens when you forget to check the beans for two days--many of these were 8-9 inches long! A little too big for my taste, but we'll eat them nevertheless.

B is also for Bugs. I don't know what these are in the hollyhock blossom--they almost look like lightning bugs/fireflies. While certain insects are beneficial in the garden, there are a host of them that can be very destructive. One of the worst has to be . . .

. . . the Japanese Beetle. While their numbers seem to be fewer this year than in the past, they seem to be expanding their palate. Once content with devouring roses and hollyhocks, this year I have found them on so many plants from my purple coneflowers to the green beans. I caught them on this quince shrub one morning, sleeping off yet another day of drunken feasting and revelry. Good thing the quince is pretty indestructible.

I wish I could replace all those nasty beetles with Butterflies. Along with many other bloggers in the Midwest, I have been lamenting the lack of butterflies this summer. The cabbage white above and the yellow sulphur have been around for a few weeks. But the more colorful varieties that usually visit each summer have been scarce--I've seen a few flit through the trees and over the yard, but they never seem to land and stay for a visit.

I spotted this Monarch last week while visiting the Prairie area at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana, Illinois. I hope this is a sign that the butterflies are off schedule this year and will soon be visiting here at my own little Prairie Garden.

ABC Wednesday is hosted by Mrs. Nesbitt; I'm a little early for Wednesday, but by tomorrow you will find a host of other ABC posts here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ABC Wednesday: Awesome Annuals

Welcome to the beginning of Round 5 of ABC Wednesdays as we start the alphabet over with the letter A. I've really enjoyed participating in this meme, but this time around I've decided I may not participate every week, especially during gardening season. However, this week is perfect because I had already decided to focus on Annuals for the letter A, and then Mr. McGregor's Daughter invited other garden bloggers to post about their "worst and best" annuals this year. So today I get to combine two memes in one post!

While perennials form the backbone of any garden, it's hard not to resist the bright blooms of new annuals each spring. I primarily use annuals in containers for long-lasting blooms throughout the summer and have some favorites I use each year. This is the third year I've used "Raspberry Blast" Supertunia in my favorite urn, and it's a petunia I would wholeheartedly recommend. It mounds nicely and drapes tidily over the edges of the container, and is positively covered with these variegated candy-pink blooms all season.

One of my all-time favorite annuals that I've written about here several times before is the annual Salvia "Victoria Blue." It's just coming into its own, and this sunny photo doesn't do it justice by any means. I have much better luck with them in the garden rather than in containers, and they're planted in several flowerbeds here. By autumn they're in their full glory, and they hold their blooms until frost. I also planted a "Black and Blue" Salvia, not pictured here, this year; it's much fuller than the Victorias and is a deep, deep blue. We'll see at the end of the season which one wins the Salvia beauty contest.

Another annual that has become a staple on my planting shopping list each spring is lantana. Two similar pots contain "Luscious Lemonade," a lemony yellow, but I really love the multi-colored varieties like this "Mimosa." If we ever get another heat wave this summer--and I'm not complaining at all about the cool weather we've had!--lantana will be one annual that will stand up to the hottest rays of the sun.

Will I ever stop raving about zinnias?:) My zinnia seeds were sown rather late, so I'll have to wait to show you those tall beauties. Instead, another favorite of mine for containers are the different colors of the Profusion series. I started with the orange zinnias--and have a few this year--then I found the hot, hot pink Cherry zinnias pictured above. Last year I added a few white ones to a border in the roadside garden.

This year I found a new color--Apricot! Of course, I had to have these as well. The funny thing is that after a few weeks I noticed some of them had turned this color . . .

. . . yellow! There is a lovely lemony yellow variety of the Profusions as well, but these were definitely apricot when I planted them. They've now turned back to apricot. Could it be a lack of nutrients before I fertilized them? Too much heat for awhile? Strange . . . we'll see what color they are by the end of the summer.

Sometimes, though, you can't beat the old standbys . . . or newer versions of them. For several years I have planted a built-in planter on our front porch with pink geraniums and purple petunias. Last year this combo looked pretty good, but I really wanted something that would trail down the wall in a cascade effect. While looking for my usual "Royal Velvet" purple supertunias, I asked one of the employees at a favorite garden center for her recommendation. Immediately, she took me to see these "Royal Magenta" supertunias. She raved over them, and I have to say they are definitely going to be on my list next year! This is a good lesson for any gardener--sometimes it pays to ask for recommendations rather than stick with the "same old, same old."

While the camera can't seem to capture the color of the petunias--they're really a deep fuschia--it does well with the pale pink of the geraniums also planted here, "Rocky Mountain Light Pink." We actually have a nursery in our small town of about 4,000, and I bought all my geraniums there after discovering they were the fullest and lushest geraniums I had seen anywhere--and cheaper, too! You may think this combo of light pink and fuschia is a little gaudy, and maybe it is, but it's grown on me this summer.

Besides, this is the first time in five years this planter has looked the way I envisioned it!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter also asked us to report on our "worst" annuals, but the only ones I can say didn't live up to expectations are some that didn't germinate in my new "wild"/butterfly/weed garden. But I plan to do a post just on this new garden one of these days, so the disappointments will have to wait until then. And I didn't even mention my different coleus . . . but, hey, the letter C will be coming up in two short weeks!

ABC Wednesday is hosted once again by the energetic Mrs. Nesbitt. And join in on the review of annuals at Mr. McGregor's Daughter.

Monday, July 20, 2009

July Veggie Update

On the 20th of each month Tina of In The Garden posts her monthly vegetable garden update and invites others to join her. I'm glad to be able to participate once again, as the vegetables here are starting to mature. But first, since I missed this month's Garden Muse Day on the 1st of July, here's a little poem to inspire you:

Weedling seedlings
sprout at night,
at dawn, at noon
in broad daylight.

Weedling seedlings

of all kinds

crabgrass, vetch,

and tangling vines.

Weedling seedlings
choking out
pea-lings, bean-lings
as they sprout.

Weedling seedlings,
sneak attack.
Yank them out,
but they'll be back.

--Juanita Havel from I Heard It From Alice Zucchini

Despite the sentiment of the poem, my vegetable garden is looking much better this year than last, thanks to the newspapers and mulch put down early in the season. That being said, please ignore any weeds you might see in the following pictures.

The big news this month is that I picked my first green beans a week ago on July 12. All the rain we've had has been good for the beans, and they seemed to grow an inch or more overnight. I should be able to pick more by mid-week. Other than the radishes and some volunteer lettuce, the beans are the first vegetable harvest of the year.

Trying to get a photograph of all the bean blossoms, which didn't work, I found these two nasty creatures on one bean leaf. I've never seen Japanese beetles on green beans before; I'm hoping they had just strayed from nearby hollyhocks.

This is what happens if you forget to pull all the radishes as soon as they're ready. The radish seed was planted to mark the row of carrots, and few were actually eaten. Assuming this one was way too hot for consumption, I added it to the compost pile.

New to the garden this year are a few beets which appear to be doing well despite the fact that I didn't thin them properly.

Also new this year is one plant of chives. I keep forgetting to cut some for cooking, but I just like the way they look in the garden.

The fennel is growing by leaps and bounds. This is another plant not really intended for human consumption, but rather for the butterflies. No sign of caterpillars, however, so I may have to find some recipes using fennel after all.

The vegetables that will be sure to be eaten, though, are the tomatoes. All are looking very healthy and putting out lots of blooms. Even Mr. Procrastinor himself checks their progress regularly; he has been known to eat the first ripe tomato in the garden before I even have a chance to pick it.

As you can see, he won't have too much longer to wait.

Last year I wrote down all the varieties of tomatoes I planted and exactly where they were planted. This year I stuck the plant tags in the ground beside each grouping when I planted them, but I think they've all disappeared through the mulching and weeding. So much for comparison of varieties for planning next year's garden.I'm not sure what type of tomatoes these are--at first I thought they were a grape tomato, but now I'm thinking they're Romas. It should be obvious soon enough if they get much bigger.

Also growing in the garden are carrots, onions, parsley and green peppers. The spinach and lettuce were pulled out to make way for zucchini and summer squash. The summer squash never appeared--I think the seed was too old--but the lone zucchini plant is doing well and, barring any squash beetles, should produce more than enough for us. I'm looking forward to next month's report when there should be more vegetables ripe and ready to pick!

The last photo has nothing to do with the vegetable garden, but I had to add it after complaining on my last post that the butterflies have been conspicuously absent this year. The evening after I posted my Bloom Day post, I had a visitor . . .

. . . a Painted Lady came to enjoy the coneflowers! I welcomed her and told her I have been preparing a feast of blooms for her. I'm hoping she invites all her friends and relatives to join her!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

GBBD July: It's all about the Coneflowers...

Today is that special day of the month, Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and I am so glad! It seems for the past few weeks I have been focusing on other people's gardens that I haven't shown much of what is blooming in my own garden. So put on your walking shoes, and let's wander around to see what is brightening up my little corner of the prairie.

Everywhere you look these days, the purple coneflowers are in bloom, and my garden is no exception. They have been multiplying like crazy, threatening to take over one corner of the main garden next to the house. Next year I will have to get an earlier start on digging up and transplanting the seedlings, but I don't really mind--they are my favorite plant, and I can never have too many coneflowers.

The same is true of the roadside garden, where they are obscuring some lovely daylilies. Coneflowers are native plants and attract bees, butterflies, and other winged creatures . . . but I've mentioned this all before; if you want to know more about coneflowers, you can read my post from last year's July Bloom Day, where I focused on coneflowers more than any other plant. They also make great photo opportunities since the center makes a nice landing spot for bees and butterflies. Sadly, I haven't seen many butterflies this year, but I've taken dozens of photos of the bees on the coneflowers, including one on yesterday's post.

One plant that also has attracted bees, as I expected it would, is the bee balm, name unknown, but it is a dwarf variety. This plant's blooms have faded, but since it began blooming the day after the June Bloom Day, I thought it deserved a shot on this Bloom Day post.

Another plant that has been blooming for quite a while is the hollyhock. They began blooming about the same time the Japanese beetles arrived, so many of the leaves now look like green lace.

All my hollyhocks are the old-fashioned variety, originally planted by my husband's grandfather or from my grandmother, transplanted from my mother's garden. I don't know why I bothered to collect seeds last year, when they self-seed so easily. This hollyhock plant is the tallest and fullest of all . . . and it's growing out of my compost heap! (Shhh, don't tell anyone what a lazy composter I am.)

Last month the only daylilies I had to share were my Stella d'Oros. Thankfully, I have a few others that are now blooming, but not nearly as many as I would like--I've been envying all the beautiful daylilies I've seen on other blogs, and I intend to plant more, just as soon as I can figure out where! Above is a new one I purchased last year, and the tag is around here somewhere . . . this is another good reason to add labels to your blog posts, because I also can't find the post from last year when I planted it.

Other lilies here have no names; this one was an "accident", I think, in the midst of a planting of Stellas.

Another unknown variety, this deep rusty-red was a passlong from my aunt.

As were these. I find it hard to get the true color of reds and deep pinks to show up in my photos; dark coral is the best way to describe their true shade. Although I transplanted several of these, the rest of the lilies are planted behind the roadside coneflowers, something that needs to be remedied next year, because they really deserve to be seen by passers-by.

Another common flower, the yarrow, is surrounding this large boulder. As the blossoms fade, I just snip them off--no worries about hurting this plant:)

Also blooming for several weeks now, the Coreopsis "Moonbeam" re-blooms after a good haircut.

A new bloom since last month is the Russian Sage. Not a very good photo, but since it's a bee magnet, too, I'll have plenty of opportunities to get a better photo later.

Another plant that I can't photograph well is the Baby's Breath. I always thought this was hard to grow, but this plant has survived and thrived here for several years.

In the shade garden, the hostas are sending up blooms, too. I have many different varieties of hostas, providing a steady succession of blooms.

I know not everyone likes these blooms--after all, it's the foliage of a hosta that is the beauty of a hosta. But I like these blooms, some of them quite dainty, and I think they add some vertical interest to a shady area.

Our Bloom Day hostess, Carol, has asked what differences we are noticing in our garden this year. I think some of my flowers are blooming a little earlier than last year, but overall the biggest difference I notice is that everything is doing better this year. With the regular rainfall we have had this summer, my garden is fuller and healthier-looking than it's ever been. This butterfly weed, Asclepias Tuberosa, is just one example. Not only is it blooming, but it's probably three times the size it was last year. Now if I only had some butterflies!

Nowhere do I notice the benefits of steady rainfall as much as with the hydrangeas. I lost one "Endless Summer" over the winter, but the two older "Endless" are fuller and taller than ever before and rarely wilt in the heat. They have just begun to put out a few blooms in the last two weeks, but many more buds are showing.

The first hydrangea to bloom this year was my new macrophylla, "Let's Dance in the Moonlight." I bought this at an end-of-the season sale last year, so this is the first time I've seen its blooms. This photograph doesn't do it justice--though the plant is smaller than the "Endless Summers," the blooms are much larger and fuller. I think "Endless Summer" may have been just an infatuation; instead, I want to dance in the moonlight a little more with my new love:)

But maybe I shouldn't give my heart away too soon. There's another new beauty looming on the horizon--by the next Bloom Day, I will hopefully have some blooms to show from another new hydrangea, "Limelight."

That's the joy of gardening. While July is the height of summer blooms here, there will be something new next month.

You never know what might be peeking out of the ground next time.

To see other blooms from around the world, be sure to visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Thanks, Carol, for being such a great hostess!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ABC Wednesday: Zzzz's

Amazingly, we have already reached the end of the alphabet this week with the letter Z. I think I've duplicated a few choices from my post for Round 3 of ABC Wednesdays, but all are new photos.

Zen in the garden

I recently visited Japan House on the U of I campus where the gardens certainly create a serene and tranquil feeling. Simple statuary and flowing water can create a Zen area in any garden.

Z is also for my favorite Cub pitcher Carlos Zambrano. Often referred to as Big-Z or Cra-Z, Carlos should have been in the All-Star game tonight! Not that I'm really paying much attention to the Cubs' games this year, of course . . . I don't want to have my heart broken in post-season again:)

Hot summer afternoons are perfect for some Zzzz's. Tarzan is the master of catnaps.

My garden is alive right now with the BuZZing of bees. Despite the dire warnings about the decrease in bee population, there doesn't seem to be a shortage here.

And, of course, no Z post of mine would be complete without a photo of some Zinnias. Since my seed-sown zinnias are far from ready to bloom, I've pictured one of my favorites for container plantings, the "Cherry Profusion." If you click to enlarge this photo, you'll notice a few insects I didn't even see when snapping the photo, including the little guy on the right blossom--a baby mantis. I hope he's just the first of many to arrive in my garden!

A short post today for me, but I'm getting ready for tomorrow, which is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, the highlight of the month in which gardeners across the world showcase what's blooming in their gardens right now.

Thanks to Denise Nesbitt and the rest of the ABC team for keeping ABC Wednesdays going for another round!