Sunday, June 21, 2009

Phlox pilosa

Phlox pilosa is native to the midwestern and central-southern states of the US, and is rarely seen in gardens. I got seed from Prairie Moon Nursery, a very fine source of seeds and bare roots of native plants. The seed germinates best after exposure to cold. I set a few plants in the "wall" school garden, where they bloomed in their second year and again this year. Phlox pilosa produces masses of fragrant blooms which are much loved by bees and butterflies. It forms dense clumps and grows a couple of feet tall or less. Unlike more common garden phlox, it does not get leaf mildew, at least not thus far. Its only fault is that it tends to flop when it blooms from the weight of the flowers, so it is best to tie it up or place it among other plants that might help support it.

Some Deer Proof Perennials

One of the scourges of gardens throughout the eastern US are the deer. I've heard and read so many horror stories about them, but my home garden is in a densely populated area so they are not a problem there. But things are different where my school is, deer freely roam around the school at night, and I find their footprints in my slope garden, and occasionally other signs of their presence, like a double flowered helianthis stripped of foliage, or missing branches on my Anisodontea julii plants that I had in the slope garden last year. They seem not to bother the garden near the wall, perhaps it feeks to enclosed for them to feel safe, but they do check out the slope garden. I have found that they never touch certain plants, especially ones known to be toxic or herb type plants that emit odors from their foliage. They don't like most salvias, nor marigolds, and only took one chomp of a young Shirley poppy before they decided that wasn't so good either. I started several perennials from seed last year from a "Zone 6 mix" that was offered a couple of years ago by Gardens North (an amazing resource for seeds). I love surprises, and indeed I couldn't figure out what some of the plants were until they bloomed. Some did bloom the first year, most notably some salvias and an agastache, both of which the deer refused to touch. A large leaved plant also was untouched, but only when the shaggy yellow daisies appeared this year did I realize it was Telekia speciosa. Telekia is definitely a space hog, but the foliage is attractive and the flowers quite nice. Surpisingly I could not identify Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) before it bloomed this spring, even though it grows in the woods around here. It is an invasive species, but one of the better ones, I suppose, since it has lovely fragrant flowers and is not as aggressive as its ugly cousin garlic mustard. I did cut it back after blooming to prevent it from further seeding in my garden so as to enjoy it in strictly limited quantity in the future. A pink silene also came out of the mix, I think it is Silene dioica. It started blooming in May and is still blooming right now. Some bearded Iris cultivars were also planted among the perennials, and they were not bothered either, but I admit to putting down some homemade repellent (hot pepper, milk, eggs, garlic powder with my own added special touch of a bit of lime sulfur to worsen the already repulsive odor) when their buds got close to opening. Iris are toxic, but I have read accounts of deer "testing" the flower buds. Achillea (yarrow) is avoided, and is so easy to grow from plants or seeds. The pink forms are especially pretty in a cottage style garden.
The local deer also have plenty of other things to eat around Chappaqua, so that may also be a factor in preventing really serious damage to my garden. Still I think it is prudent to plant things that make them feel unwelcome so as not to encourage them in any way. The real answer to the deer problem lies in reducing their numbers, since we killed off their natural predator (wolf) and created much more of the "edge" habitats that they prefer. Its not just gardens that they terrorize, but also increasingly threatened native wildflowers, particularly cypripediums and trilliums, among many others. And don't get me started on Lyme disease, that's a whole 'nother discussion!

Simple Pleasures

Shirley poppies are hardly considered a classic example of the kind of plant grown by sophisticated horticulturalists, but they really are quite exquisite. Maybe they are just too easy to grow--find a sunny spot (in this case my school slope garden), sprinkle the seed on bare ground in March (while the temps are still cool) or early April, keep weeded, and stand back. Truth is I don't often see them in gardens around here, probably because like all poppies they hate transplanting and thus won't be found in nurseries selling annuals in packs (funny how "packs" have shrunk from 6 plants to four or even two lately) for the lazy gardener who has no idea of how to grow plants from seed. They also don't bloom all summer, they relish cool weather (something we've had an unusual amount of for May and June, along with the most clouds and rain in my living memory) and quickly fade as July's heat takes hold. They form tons of seed, then dry up and die (if the spider mites don't do them in first) but they are back the following spring from self sown seeds. Some seeds may even sprout during the fall and overwinter as tiny plants--these tend to form the most vigorous plants as they have a head start. Still, seeds of the various strains are easy and inexpensive to obtain, and so long as they have some bare ground and sun, they can be counted on to return year after year. I've tagged some of the more unusual flower colors and forms, so I can save seed from them, for I understand that after years of self sowing the red forms take over. Actually the reds are quite splendid and bold, but the softer shades and picotees (the white picotee is the identifying mark of the "real" Shirley poppy as opposed to other forms/strains of Papaver rhoeas) are also quite stunning in a different way.