Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chocolate Saves Local Gardener From Too Much Rain!

Dirt Diva Two

“Man Nearly Killed by Monster Vat of Chocolate.” Mmm, headlines make me hungry. It’s raining and blowing and raining and . . . well, you get the picture. There’s no way I’m going to go out and garden in this deluge. The plants are soggy, the raspberries are soggy, the rose buds are brown mush. It's perfect mushroom weather. I feel like I’m turning into a mushroom with all this rain. It’s 44 degrees out and it’s not even September! So, I’m sitting here cruising the internet, thoughts of hot chocolate mushrooming through my thoughts. I pull my sweater up to my ears and mindlessly type ‘chocolate gardening chocolate gardening’ on the Google search bar. Surprise!

Lily 'Coral Butterflies'

& Atriplex hortensis

There are references to chocolate, gardening, and flowers galore! Well, not actual food chocolate, but, plants the color of chocolate and some that smell like chocolate. Apparently, chocolate is the ‘new’ black - the ‘in’ color for modern gardeners. Browns, tans, black, wines, and maroon, all make up the more flexible dark gothic colors of the chocolate garden scheme. They even had a chocolate garden at the 2005 Chelsea Flower Show inspired by Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Roald Dahl Foundation Chocolate Garden, designed by John Carmichael, had cocoa pod-like gravel and a water fountain that seemed to flow with chocolate. Hmm. Chocolate scented and colored flowers? Okay, I’ll bite. Let’s see what will grow in our zone 3 gardens shall we?

I know my Columbines, the black and white Aquilegia vulgaris ‘William Guinness’, and the deep wine ‘Ruby Port’ will qualify. Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’ actually smells like chocolate, but, it’s only about ten inches tall, so, you’ll have to get down on your knees to enjoy it! The Sweet William, Dianthus barbatus, ‘Sooty’ is almost black with deep purple flushed foliage and would look lovely paired with the columbines. Bugleweed, Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’ or ‘Caitlin’s Giant’ have deep chocolate colored foliage and pretty blue spikes of flowers. Don’t forget the Heuchera family which has many dark wine to almost black-leaved members like ‘Chocolate Ruffles,’ ‘Palace Purple’, or ‘Plum Pudding.’ Throw some butterscotch on top with the hot gold Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ for a mouth watering effect.

The tall Hollyhock Alcea rosea ‘Nigra’ has satiny black flowers which are beautifully set off by annuals like deep gold or wine red sunflowers (for a photo see August 10th posting on, deep burgundy sweet pea ‘Midnight’, the black bachelor’s button ‘Black Ball’, and Nasturtiums ‘Black Velvet’ or ‘Mahogany.’ Asiatic lilies like deep maroon 'La Toya' or 'Nerone', the white ‘Tinos’ with her deep carmine throat, or chartreuse ‘Latvia’ with a maroon stardust pattern will look lovely as well. Add some contrast with golds and yellows for a hot look. For a cooler effect try annuals like white Borage and Cosmos or the perennials Thalictrum rochebrunianum, a tall meadow rue with delicate lilac rose flowers and the white
Monkshood ‘Ivorine’ and shell pink ‘Carneum roseum’.

Berberis thunbergia 'Crimson Velvet'

If you’re lucky to have a Canadian red-leaved choke cherry tree and the maroon leaved shrub Physocarpus opulus ‘Diablo’ you could have a garden room planted in all wine, maroon, black, and deep reds. Actually, gardens designed around one color scheme are very cool. Instead of planting a lot of just one kind of wine red lily, try to find several different shades of wine red and black lilies to plant together. This livens up the colors and keeps them from being too ‘flat,’ a problem that often plagues plantings of solid colored lilies.

The trick is to place these dark colors so that they don’t disappear from view. Either use them as background to highlight a bright colored specimen or place them in the foreground in front of lighter colors. I read where a British garden designer actually held up a bar of chocolate, squinted one eye, and perused the dark heart of his chocolate garden. He claimed the Cadbury’s bar “disappeared” into the color scheme thus the design was a success. No doubt he said that while tucking his chocolate stained hanky back in his pocket. I’ll have to try that myself and see if it works! Maybe I’ll get one of those chocolate bars with lavender flowers in them to keep to a gardening theme. Well, if it keeps on raining check out this online nursery for some interesting ideas and garden gifts. For photos of the Roald Dahl Chocolate Garden and some terrific garden pictures go to or Stoke up the fire, grab your chocolate, and relax. The weeds will wait for you.

Byer's Peak in the Chugach Range with Asiatic lilies and Campanulas after days of rain.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Late Bloomers and the Fruits of Summer’s Garden Labors

Dirt Diva Two

It always amazes me that the perennials that
color my garden in August are, for the most part, the big dogs of summer. Like fists rising from the soil, they tower above the garden in defiance of the frosts sure to come by mid-September. Magnificent Inula is opening her golden rayed flowers studded with bumblebees above huge tobacco-like leaves that glow with a fresh summer lime green. The Port Alberni tiger lily is smirking alongside with his brown freckled orange trumpets looking down at the plum blue catmint, Nepeta transcaucasica. Tall, stately Valerians are still sending their perfume out over the garden, but, will soon set their ubiquitous seed daring me to cut them before they escape to the ground. Only the Scabiosa-like flowers of the twelve-foot Cephalaria gigantea have yet to bloom. The magenta mist of the plum stemmed Thalictrum rochebrunianums is an elegant foil for the Cephalaria, reaching just a couple of feet below her arcing stems with their butter yellow stars. Even the walls of blue and purple Delphiniums are still pumping out color along with the Monkshood. I wish I had a Plume Poppy, Macleaya cordata, (one of Sally’s favorites) with its large fig-like, blue-green velvety leaves and feathery plumes of cream-colored flowers. It would be lovely next to the beefy Ligularia przewalskii’s tall spikes of yellow flowers in the shade.

Late bloomers in our gardens aren’t always looking down at us, but, many are so large that it takes all summer to grow before they can get around to flowering. Trying to figure out how to extend your garden’s bloom and color right into the frost isn’t difficult. You need to get out and visit public gardens such as the Matanuska Valley Agricultural Showcase Garden at the Visitor's Information Center in Palmer, the Alaska Botanical Garden in Anchorage, the various garden displays at the State Fair grounds, the gardens at some of the small specialty nurseries, or just take a Sunday drive to check out what’s blooming in the neighborhoods.

Asiatic lilies, particularly the tall1c or down facing types, can be in bloom right up
to the last weeks in August.The lacquer red ‘Red Velvet’is an old-fashioned small blossomed lily that looks at her feet instead of the sky. Tiger lilies are also late bloomers that come in freckled white, yellow, red, and pink nodding
trumpets. The taller varieties of Veronica should still have some bloom left and make a
good pairing with lilies. Under plant these sun lovers with some Dianthus deltoides, a creeping, self-seeding pink that comes in wine red, deep pink, or white.

Other late bloomers are Monarda, Yarrow, Sedum, and Filipendula Rubra Venusta (meadow sweet). The Sedum will need good snow cover, full sun, good drainage, and hopefully no winter rains and ice, to survive our winters. The Yarrow family tends to be promiscuous and seeds itself everywhere spreading surprise colors all over the driveway as it loves gravel and poor soils. I love volunteers and spontaneous plant surprises, but, yarrow are easy to deadhead and their seedlings easy to spot for weeding out of your beds. A member of the mint family, Monarda likes good rich soil, regular watering, and dividing to perform well or it is a short-lived perennial. Like the yarrow, it is also an herb that can be used for tea and culinary use with leaves that have a marjoram-like fragrance and flavor.

Foliage and shrubbery are an important background for the late summer garden. The annual salad herb, Atriplex hortensis, also known as Mountain spinach or Red orach, has a beautiful deep burgundy color. A relative of the equally tasty weed, Lamb’s Quarters, the leaves can be used raw or cooked and make a great floral filler for cut flower arrangements. Colorful shrubs such as the green- gold Spirea japonica varieties, ‘Fire Light’ and ‘Magic Carpet’, have a red tinge to their leaves that is enhanced by cool weather. Their deep pink flowers are an added plus in the late garden. The florescent gold leaves of Physocarpus opulus ‘Luteus’ (Ninebark) and Berberis thunbergia ‘Aureum’(Thorn berry) really set off the deep plum and rich burgundy of their siblings Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’ and Berberis thunbergia ‘Rose Glow’ and color the garden all season long.

Remember, you can plant your perennials and most shrubs as late as September, so you can still find a few bargains at the nurseries to plump up your late summer garden color. These cloudy days are perfect planting weather, so keep on gardening!