May 28, 2016

How and Why to Grow Calendula, aka Pot Marigold

Orange Calendula backlit by morning sun
Orange Calendula Back lit by Morning Sun
 “It hath pleasant, bright and shining yellow flowers, the which do close at the setting down of the sunne, and do spread and open againe at the sunne rising”.
                                                  Dodoens-Lyte said in 1578 of the calendula

calendula bud and bloom in potager
Perky flower and bud of Calendula in the potager

They bloom when summer is young and at its most pleasant... mornings still cool...afternoons not blistering...
sunny yellow calendula bloom

...just one of the many reasons for my feelings of affection towards them. So yet unfazed and unswayed by future heat and humidity. In fact, I have come to think of them as the orange creamsicle and banana popsicle of the May and June garden. Delicious, and best consumed before melting.

yellow nasturtiums against rope taraccota pot in background
Nasturtiums in matching hues

I plant them from seed along with the nasturtiums... two, sometimes as many as five weeks before last frost, when temps are still cool enough (around 55-60 degrees F) for germination in about a week to ten days.  You might also try starting them indoors in late summer to early fall... for your autumnal pleasure if that is your leaning.

Golden Calendula and Winterbor Kale in the Potager
Golden Calendula and Winterbor Kale in the Potager
 I typically seed mine in one of the quadrants of the potager...along with kale or chard or bok choi. The Winterbor Kale I paired it with (find it here at Territorial Seed Company)...

single calendula blossom

in the potager this season was started from seed at about the same time. The foamy muted green of the kale foliage contrasting beautifully with the almost iridescent quality of the calendula blooms when back lit by morning sun and light.

Like most Okie blooms, they prefer afternoon shade, consistent moisture and fair to good drainage. Adequate air circulation (not my strong suit in the garden) will keep powdery mildew at bay, and I am always on the lookout for pill bugs, slugs and snails.

Of course, like their garden companions, nasturtiums, they will reward you for your deadheading ritual, and will respond generously with more bloom, particularly if dosed with a high phosphorus feed now and again. 

Orange Edible Flower: Nasturtium
Porcelain berry vine with nasturtium blooms

This time of year I am regularly cutting lettuces, greens and herbs in the morning, so cutting or deadheading my calendula is hardly a chore.

Golden Yellow Calendula

Occasionally a few of these edible flower petals will find their way into a salad or batch of scrambled eggs (however, if you plan to use them for culinary purposes, grow the single varieties which are purported to have the most flavor). Quite happily, another edible bloomer,

Double Form Yellow Calendula Bloom

the sunny Yellow Stella De Oro Daylily blooms nearby in an equally happy color palette (I am a girl who LOVES her color echoes) to complete the edible flower calendula/nasturtium/daylily triumvirate.

Stella d'Oro Yellow Daylily
Sunny Stella De Oro Daylily
A fly pollinator on calendula bloom
Tiny pollinators are attracted to its daisy shaped blooms...and make me happy
Double Orange Calendula Bloom
Calendula are at their best early in the day when they catch the glow of the morning sun.
This double yellow Calendula looks like the sun itself.
Opening bloom of a yellow calendula
Calendula opens with the morning sun, and closes with the setting sun
Some of these cheery edible flowers make their way into my salad bowl, but most are cut to create sweet arrangements that feel and look like summer mornings themselves. I can almost feel a lazy summer breeze gently blowing the white sheets drying on the clothesline as I arrange them.

fresh cuts of nasturtium, calendula, sedum 'Autumn Joy, lamb's ear, and frilly kale

Not often, but sometimes, with the help of this cheery bloomer,

summer mornings really CAN live up to to their bucolic magazine reputations.





and Magical

and remind us of what it felt like to be a kid again,

on a summer morning,

lamb's ear leaf with feverfew bud

 just eating our popsicles, fighting with our siblings,

 safe and secure, 

The Batesville, IN home where I was born, and where my mother hung clothes on the line.

while mom hung our wet linens on the sagging clothesline.

May 23, 2016

5 Ways to Use Gravel in Your Landscape and Garden

Gravel is right up there with boxwood and pumpkins in my hierarchy of things I love in the garden. And the longer I garden the MORE I love it and appreciate its many contributions to the landscape. Here are five ways I use this indispensable material in my own garden setting.

1.  As garden flooring. When I first moved in to my 1935 home, I did what so many of us do......I added on a redwood deck off the kitchen area. Over time, the deck aged and started to look bedraggled. In the summer, distressed trees would drop their leaves, which would then get trapped in between the planks and drive me crazy. It would get very hot and splinter-y as the summer progressed. So I had it torn out and replaced with a combination of flagstone and colors which complemented my home's exterior...and a set of flagstone steps, large and sweeping that lead from the house down to this patio area.

In some areas, the brick 'trench' edging surrounding my turf and defining the border is also contained in areas of gravel, as well as the stepping stones leading into the potager. Quite appreciated, I might add, when the weather is wet and the ground saturated and soggy.

2. As mulch for potted specimens. I love the finished look that a layer of pea gravel or crushed stone provides on the surface of container plantings. It is especially effective and appropriate for anything Mediterranean or arid in nature.

I especially like the way it deters digging squirrels and sow bugs while simultaneously holding in moisture and creating a dry barrier between leaf and soil...especially important when humidity is high, and the plant itself wants excellent drainage and dryer conditions.

Isn't it handsome; I mean, really?!

3.  As added weight when additional weight is desired. The large, good-looking, (and, I think, expensive-looking as well) urn pictured below was an $11 plastic pot I bought on sale at Lowe's and gave a faux stone finish. (More on that in another post.) It is remarkably light. Great for portability, not so great for standing up to our strong OK winds. The solution? A modicum of gravel of course. Not enough to make it prohibitively heavy, but enough heft to keep it upright in gusty winds.

See the three tier topiary hiding behind the other pots below?  It is a faux urn as well. Call in the gravel!

Gravel as a mulch for plants in the ground is a good choice for fuzzy-leaved growers like lamb's ear and sages that don't like their foliage wet.

Rosemary and yucca below appreciate a little gravel mulch in their surroundings as well.

4.  As a soil amendment for bulbs, perennials, and annuals that demand excellent drainage. Gravel or gravel + sand are rapidly becoming my favorite soil amendments. For heavy clay like mine, they are the ticket. it won't break down over time like organic amendments and helps keep vulnerable roots  from rotting because of too much rain or heavy-handed watering. (Like my dahlias, alliums and lilies...)

Isn't this allium bud amazing?


5.  As an excellent medium for seed germination. If you have a flower you are coveting, but have been unsuccessful at germinating or growing it from seed, try sowing it into the coarse crevices and openings of a gravel area. I have had great success doing this with fine seed, in particular. Foxglove, lady's mantle, columbine and mullion come to mind. Even if their gravely home is temporary, you can transplant them when they get large enough into their permanent spot. In their infancy, however, they appreciate the warm and cozy protected nature of a gravel environment.

Finally, on a proud note, the June issue of  SOUTHERN LIVING (subscribe here) ,with a 4 page story on my back gardens, is available now. The photography is brilliant, and I hope you will find a few tidbits of garden design advice in my story that you can apply to your own garden spaces.

For other ideas about the use of gravel as a surface and feature in your garden, and lots of other obsessions of mine, follow me on PINTEREST here.

A cozy way to pass some time on these cloudy, rainy days.