While attending a marriage seminar on communication, Tom and his wife Peg listened to the instructor declare, "It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other." He asked Tom, "Can you describe your wife's favorite flower?" Tom leaned over, touched his wife's arm gently and whispered, "Pillsbury All-Purpose, isn't it?" The rest of the story is not pleasant. —Author unknown


The psychology of reblooming irises


There’s a psychological term called “cognitive dissonance” which is the “the uncomfortable tension that may result from … experiencing apparently conflicting phenomena,” according to Science Daily.

That’s pretty much how I feel when I see a reblooming iris doing its thing in autumn.

On one hand, it’s a thrill to see a beautiful iris in bloom at any time.

On the other, it’s sort of jarring to see a spring vision in a fall garden.

The photo above shows ‘Immortality’ in my garden today. What a great name! It’s the only rebloomer I have, but I think I need to order more from Rainbow Iris Farm, my go-to Iowa iris provider.

My friend, Kelly D. Norris, owner of Rainbow Iris Farm, says ‘Immortality’ takes on a blue hue during cooler weather, and it definitely looked bluer when it started blooming a week ago (photo below).

“The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.”

I’m modifying. I’m modifying. It’s an easy cognitive leap. Let’s have irises blooming everywhere in fall!



Happy hour for monarch butterflies: Smooth asters



Have you ever watched a monarch get drunk on nectar in your yard? I just did, and boy, is that a beautiful sight.

Monarchs, as you may know, are in trouble. Donald Lewis, Iowa State University professor of entomology, recently posted a plaintive article on the loss of habitat with an article entitled, “Where Have All the Monarchs Gone, Long Time Passing?”

In it, he says that by some estimates, half of the overwintering monarchs that go to Mexico in the fall come from the Midwest. But milkweeds, the food source for monarch caterpillars, are disappearing. The monarch population last winter in Mexico was 1/20th what it was 16 years ago.

Laura Jesse, of the Iowa State University Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic, also posted her reflections. “I was recently releasing a monarch butterfly that I had reared from a caterpillar when I was struck with the realization that I may be witnessing the end of something,” she writes.

It’s hard to believe that could be true. I remember that milkweeds used to be virtually everywhere, especially rural ditches. Thousands of little white “parachutes” with a tiny rider of a seed attached floated everywhere at this time of year.

2012 study on Insect Conservation and Diversity by John M. Pleasants and Karen S. Oberhauser concludes that milkweed loss in agricultural fields is due to herbicide use, and the decline of milkweeds has had a devastating effect on the monarch butterfly population: “We estimate that there has been a 58% decline in milkweeds on the Midwest landscape and an 81% decline in monarch production in the Midwest from 1999 to 2010. Monarch production in the Midwest each year was positively correlated with the size of the subsequent overwintering population in Mexico. Taken together, these results strongly suggest that a loss of agricultural milkweeds is a major contributor to the decline in the monarch population.”

So I am planting milkweeds next year, and you should, too. The caterpillars only feed on milkweeds.

And without the caterpillars, we don’t get to enjoy this time of year, when my smooth asters (Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’) open up and the monarchs belly up to the bar, clutching those small lavender stars (did you know that the word aster means star?) like it is the nectar of the gods.

For so it is. Plant some milkweed and some smooth asters next spring. You’ll be so glad. And they will, too.


Mascotte green bean: Chipmunk approved

'Mascotte' green bean, the All-America Selections 2014 Vegetable Award winner. Unless you have chipmunk helpers, don't try this at home!

‘Mascotte’ green bean, the All-America Selections 2014 Vegetable Award winner. Unless you have chipmunk helpers, don’t try this at home!

When Harris Seeds sent me a packet of ‘Mascotte’ green beans in July, I planted them in a sunny spot in the garden, right where green beans belong. This dainty bean is bred for small space gardens or containers, growing 16 to 18 inches tall. It’s the 2014 All-America Selections Vegetable Award winner, lauded for its diminutive size and upright posture.

The beans sprouted quickly, but I was disappointed in the germination rate. Quite a few beans were missing from the end of the row. I shrugged and waited for the plants to get large enough to harvest. The slim beans are tender and tasty in the delicious way that only fresh-picked garden green beans can be.

This week I discovered more attributes of this award-winning bean: It can grow in a rock wall. In dense shade. Planted by chipmunks. And there’s another bean plant growing about 4 feet away, atop the rock wall next to shade-loving epimediums and ferns.

I guess I’m just lucky that my resident chipmunks (inexplicably called “squinnies” by locals) didn’t devour all the bean seeds right away. I’m glad they tucked a few into a safe place for later retrieval. Or harvesting by the resident human.




Caramelized Tomatoes with Maple Syrup

Caramelized Tomatoes with Maple Syrup

Caramelized Tomatoes with Maple Syrup

It’s a lovely thing when preparation meets opportunity: My garden was full of ripe tomatoes this week when I returned from a trip to the Garden Writers Association’s symposium in Quebec, Canada with a lovely jar of maple syrup, a gift from Premier Tech Pro-Mix potting soil.

It was one of several gifts in a goodie bag from clients of the Garden Media Group after a lovely gathering of garden writers (thank you also to Costa Farms, Fall Creek Farm and Nursery, Longfield Gardens, Rescue, Suntory, and anyone else I forgot!)

Attached to the syrup jar was a tiny book with recipes for Maple Mojitos and Caramelized Tomatoes with Maple Syrup. Mmmmm!

As a fan of the sweet and savory food group, I immediately made a batch of the tomatoes. They are oh-so-good on salads, pizza, and pasta. Could also go great on bruschetta! Here’s the recipe:

Caramelized Tomatoes with Maple Syrup

Ripe tomatoes cut into quarters or smaller (I did about one-sixth)

Sliced garlic

Olive oil seasoned with a liberal amount of fresh or dried thyme (or herbes de Provence or other seasonal herb)

Maple syrup

Directions: Place the quartered tomatoes, skin side down, on a baking sheet. Place a slice of garlic on each piece. Brush the tomatoes with the mixture of olive oil and herbs, sprinkle with salt, and a few drops of maple syrup. Place in 200 to 250-degree oven for 4 hours to caramelize the tomatoes.




Plant Geeks R Us

You might be a plant geek if you go to a conference and stuff 5 roses, 3 buddleijas, 2 blueberries, 2 crinum lilies, 1 raspberry, 1 primrose, 1 lavender AND 1 cactus into your carry-on luggage, then realize that most of these plants will have to spend winter indoors because an Iowa garden in October isn’t the best place for tiny, non-hardy perennials. And you don’t care. (Thanks for the cactus, Costa Farms!)

You might be a plant geek if you receive a T-shirt and plastic glass that declare you one. And you’re thrilled (thank you, Proven Winners!)

You might be a plant geek if you start salivating when you see a plant you can’t leave outdoors all year but simply must have, maybe, just maybe something like Bloomtastic Crinum Purple Dream. And the sample plant is only 3 inches tall. (Thanks, Hines Growers!)

You might be a plant geek if you get a secret thrill from nabbing a plant that won’t be on the market until next year. Something like Bull’s Eye shrub rose, with creamy petals and a cranberry center.Thanks, Weeks Roses!

You might be a plant geek if you’ve already amended your soil to make it more acidic to grow the compact new Brazel Berry blueberry bushes, then snag a couple more because, well, ya know, they won’t take up that much room. Jelly Bean blueberry and Raspberry Shortcake raspberry could even fit in a container. Thank you, Fall Creek!)

You might be a plant geek if you don’t even care when a plant isn’t blooming, as long as it has fantastic foliage, like Kennedy Irish Drumcliff primrose. Thank you, Skagit Gardens!

You might be a plant geek if you spend hundreds of dollars to go hang out with 400 of your closest friends in Tucson, Arizona for six days and consider it one of the highlights of your year. Thank you, Garden Writers Association!

You might be a plant geek if you plan to write more blog posts about soils, tools, and other gardening products.

YOU might be a plant geek if you read to the end of this post. But don’t worry. You’re in good company. Plant Geeks R Us.


A Bungalow of One's Own

I don’t normally write about products I haven’t personally tested or experienced, but the Sweetwater Bungalows just look so darn cute. Jo Hunt, the president and owner of DHA Lifestyle PR in California, has shown me some pretty neat things in the past, including Lechuza self-watering planters so I strolled through the Sweetwater Bungalow website instead of through an actual cabin. (And no, I’m not getting a free cabin for making this post! Dang!)

Here’s the inside of the Pioneer model:

10'x12' Pioneer is $4,500; 12'x14' is $5,000, platform and windows not included

It made me want to park one of these puppies right next to a little lake somewhere. Or in my back yard, if I had enough flat space to do it!

The Sweetwater Bungalows are tent cabin kits that you can use as a private retreat … backyard guest cabin … yoga space … kids’ playroom. They’re customizable; you can add height, change the color of the rain fly, add your own windows (including a double French door!). Add your own platform.

The website claims it will take two people 6 to 8 hours to assemble one of the smaller kits (10’x12’/12’x14′ Kits) or 12 to 14 hours to assemble one of the larger ones (14’x20′ Kit). Yeah, right. Maybe double that for me.

These little cabins can be heated by wood, kerosene, gas or electricity. I  wonder how they’d hold up in a typical Iowa winter because they’re not designed for heavy snow loads. The company website says, “We have one in Lake Tahoe that gets a lot of snow but the owner lives there so she can just knock the snow off. Most of the snow slides off but it does catch on the brackets and can build up.”

It’s more than a tent, because it comes with a rain fly, awning and eave system to keep it dry. People have been known to add electricity, too, but I’d rather have a spot where I really can’t plug in.

How long do they last? That depends on the conditions where you place them. Makes sense. All homes need upkeep! Expect to replace the rain fly ($250) every 7 years or so, they say, and the rest to last for 12 to 15 years.

There are a lot of tiny cabins, yurts, and other self-constructed structures on the market. They all appeal to the desire for a bungalow of one’s won. Let me know if you try one.

The Homestead

The Sonoma

The Vista

Um, What's a Tuber? A Handy Glossary of Garden Terms

If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between a determinate and indeterminate plant such as a tomato, wonder no more. A handy new glossary of garden terms has been compiled by Park Seed and the National Gardening Bureau.

By the way, an indeterminate tomato keeps growing and producing fruits until the plant is killed by frost; a determinate one sets all its fruits at one time. That’s an important consideration when planning your garden.

Here are a few more. Go to the National Gardening Bureau link for the complete list.

A plant that loses its leaves seasonally, usually in the fall.
Root system of a more common or hardy variety that is used to graft a more desirable variety onto, usually roses and/or standard forms.
Treated Seed     
Seed that have been treated with an insecticide or fungicide to aid in preventing soil insects or disease from destroying the seed prior to germination.

Plants Don't Read Maps, But People Do

The United States Department of Agriculture unveiled a new zone hardiness map this morning. It’s big news in the world of people, who do read maps, but not so much among the world of plants, which do not.

To quote the USDA:

“If your hardiness zone has changed in this edition of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (PHZM), it does not mean you should start pulling plants out of your garden or change what you are growing. What is thriving in your yard will most likely continue to thrive.”

What IS a zone map? The USDA has a new, well-written description of that, too: “The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.”

Another thing that’s changed since 1990, the last time the USDA released a PHZM:  technology. The new zone map has a cool new interactive feature. Just click on a spot on the map (hoping you’ve aimed your cursor at the right place) and voila! It tells you the zone, the average cold temperature, the low temperature range, AND the latitude.

Here’s what the USDA says about the interactivity: “For the first time, the map is available as an interactive GIS-based map, for which a broadband Internet connection is recommended, and as static images for those with slower Internet access. Users may also simply type in a ZIP Code and find the hardiness zone for that area.”

It’s kind of fun to play with … try it!

Some locations, particularly sections of the northeastern United States, appear to be warmer than they were in 1990.

In Des Moines, where I live, we’ve been shifted from a Zone 5a to a 5b, although counties encircling us appear to be Zone 5a. Perhaps—and this is just a guess—we’re warmer because of all the concrete here. Or maybe I didn’t click in quite the right spot.

A big question is whether this map reflects climate change. Carolyn Pinkard of Briggs Nursery wrote:

“Kim Kaplan of the USDA presented the map during a webinar this morning and fielded questions from the press.  Bart Ziegler of the Wall Street Journal and Seth Borenstein from the Associated Press both addressed the question of how the map may demonstrate climate change.  The majority of changes made to the map involved warmer vs cooler zones in the northeast region of the U.S.  Additionally, of 34 cities mentioned, over half are now listed in a warmer zone.  Kaplan was reluctant to associate any connection to climate change and repeatedly stated the USDA does not have evidence showing what caused the changes.  She also noted that, while many areas increased a half zone, most represented a minor temperature change with as little as .5°F affecting the change.”

Carolyn and the USDA bring up another good point: Every yard has its own microclimates. In my yard, for example, I can trial Zone 6 plants in a narrow spot between the south side of my house and a rock retaining wall where they are protected and where warmth from the stonework lingers.

The PZHM is just a tool and a guideline. According to the USDA, the map is “based on the average lowest temperatures, not the lowest ever. Growing plants at the extreme of the coldest zone where they are adapted means that they could experience a year with a rare, extreme cold snap that lasts just a day or two, and plants that have thrived happily for several years could be lost. Gardeners need to keep that in mind and understand that past weather records cannot be a guarantee for future variation in weather.”

Seems true enough here in Des Moines, where we’ve had a mostly brown winter, and warmer January temps than I can ever recall.

Finally, here’s the OLD USDA zone map:


October in Monet's Garden

The light. Yes, it was all about the light, the flowers, the air, the back-in-time sense of strolling through a living work of art. In an afternoon in Monet’s garden in October of 2008, I felt like an Inpressionist artist myself, seeing the grounds of this homey place in Giverny, feeling that this prolific artist had loaned me his own eyes for the day.

The light was a bit too harsh, too contrasty for fine photography. But did I care? Mais, non! These were the famous water lilies. These were the views Monet captured in 272 canvases featuring his water garden. These were the the places that Monet loved, late into his long life when cataracts influenced his work, as outlined by a Stanford opthamologist.

Monet was a true plant geek. “With the passing years he developed a passion for botany, exchanging plants with his friends Clemenceau and Caillebotte.  Always on the look-out for rare varieties, he bought young plants at great expense. ‘All my money goes into my garden, he said. But also: ‘I am in raptures.’ ” (From www.giverney.org)

Go, if you can. Take the train from Paris and walk to the garden. Allow time to visit the Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny. We didn’t, so must go back. Created in 1992  “to explore the historic and aesthetic connections numberswiki.com

between French and American artists,” it is now dedicated to “all the different forms of Impressionism, one of the most popular painting movements” and is surrounded by free gardens.

Allez, allez! Go, go!

Le chat

Mina lobata (exotic love vine)

Teddy bear sunflower

View from upstairs in the house


Happy New Year, 2012 Plants!

Auld acquaintance won’t be forgotten (I still love you, ‘Rozanne’ geranium!), but it’s so exciting to learn about the new plants being released in 2012. Thanks to companies like Proven Winners, Terra Nova, Ball Horticulture and many others, I’ve already tried some in my own yard. Others I’m still drooling over in a bad case of plant-lust.

As I get information about them this winter, I’ll post the new releases so you can enjoy them, too. Today’s installment is via Great Garden Plants, plant brokers from Michigan (www.greatgardenplants.com). The breeding work of the effervescent Chris Hansen is just beginning—wait till you see his new sedum—and he and partner Mary Walters sell the plants from other breeders, too.

Here’s what they’ve got on tap for next year (All photos courtesy of Great Garden Plants):

Coreopsis 'Mercury Rising'

Coreopsis is one of those amazing perennials that seems to bloom all summer, especially with diligent deadheading. However, most are in that not-so-wide color range between very pale yellow and dark yellow. Now, from hybridizer Darrell Probst comes the Big Bang series of coreopsis in exciting new colors. I’m heating up just thinking about ‘Mercury Rising’, with large (1 1/2- to 2-inch!) velvet-red blooms that don’t need deadheading because the plant is a sterile hybrid that doesn’t need to form seeds.  It’s 18 inches tall, 24 inches wide, and has disease resistant foliage. Plant it in full sun in soil with good drainage. Hardy to Zone 5 and maybe Zone 4

Echinacea Double Scoop 'Orangeberry'

Coneflowers used to come in just a couple of flavors: Purple, and faded purple-pink. But lately we’ve come to expect this Midwest native to be dressed in fancy frou-frou, and Double Scoop ‘Orangeberry’ from Darwin Perennials is no exception. With its double-petals in orange and raspberry, it reminds Mary of “Joy, tropical fruit, energy!” Another very long-blooming perennial, this is just one of several in the Double Scoop line to look for. It grows 28-30 inches by 16-22 inches and is hardy to Zone 4.

Daylily 'Night Embers'

I’m a sucker for a great plant name, and I must say, ‘Night Embers’ sounds perfect for this darkly glowing daylily. Fragrant, cherry-red petals with a hint of cocoa in them are ruffled, but the biggest payoff is that it is a rebloomer! 24-36 inches tall and wide when mature. Zone 3

Arundo donax 'Peppermint Stick'

I’m putting this one in kind of reluctantly, but probably somebody will gasp with excitement when they see this bamboo-like reed grass that grows in full sun up to 12 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Mary claims its underground rhizomes are slow to spread, so it’s not a thug. Its green-and-white variegation stands up to heat and humidity, and ‘Peppermint Stick’ can take winters in Zone 5.

Helleborus Fluffy Ruffles

I just like saying it, over and over: Fluffy Ruffles! Fluffy Ruffles! Do they have ridges? These gorgeous hellebores are from Chris’ own breeding program. I adore hellebores. They flourish in shade to partial shade, they’re extremely tough and vigorous when established, they bloom in spring, but best of all, they are deer resistant! In my yard, they are a perfect 10! If you want to learn how to grow them from an expert, follow this link to watch Chris’ informative video. Fluffy Ruffles are doubles that come in a variety of colors. I don’t know that you’ll see the entire range shown in this photo, but you might! They form clumps 20 by 24 inches. Zone 4

Heucherella 'Solar Eclipse'

From the amazing breeders at Terra Nova Nurseries comes ‘Solar Eclipse’, a heucherella (cross between a heuchera and a tiarella) that looks like it’s at the peak of an eclipse. Maroon leaves are edged with lime green, forming a clump 16 inches wide, 10 inches tall. (The flowers can reach 16 inches, but you’ll grow it for the foliage.) Zone 4

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers'

Click your heels together and come home to this gorgeous new compact oakleaf hydrangea. It was developed by the United States National Arboretum at its worksite at the Tennessee State University Nursery Research Center. While most oakleaf hydrangeas are large, sprawling monsters, ‘Ruby Slippers’ is a dainty 3 1/2 feet tall after 7 years. White panicles age to rosy pink, and the fall leaf color is described as crimson-maroon. Grow it in shade to partial shade. Zone 5

Rose 'Purple Splash'

Hybridizer Tom Carruth of Weeks Roses actually introduced this white-and-purple climber last year, but it’s worth calling it “new” if you didn’t see it then. It’s a repeat bloomer on canes 10 to 14 feet long. Enjoy more stripes in cooler weather. Unlike some climbers, this one has been bred for fewer thorns! Train ‘Purple Splash’ on a trellis for a vertical accent, and so you can get the blooms and their apple fragrance at nose height. Zone 5.

Rudbeckia 'Little Goldstar'

‘Little Goldstar’ is poised to become a big star in your garden. “Destined to become the new industry standard, this new Jelitto introduction is a terrific improvement over ‘Goldsturm’,” says the information from Darwin Plants. At only 14 inches tall, this dwarf black-eyed Susan looks like a wee charmer. ‘Little Goldstar’ is easy to grow, tolerant of heat and drought, and promises weeks and weeks of golden blooms. Plant it in full sun. Zone 4

Sedum 'Lime Zinger'

I saved the best for last! Chris Hansen’s sedum breeding has produced this tough, tough groundcover that tops out at 6 inches, but can spread 18 inches in just one year. It’s a good choice if you have very dry conditions and want something eye catching as an edging or container plant. Chris describes the coloring as “thumbnail-sized leaves of lime green surrounded by cherry-red picotee edges.” Plants are covered with pink blooms for several weeks in late summer. Chris considers ‘Lime Zinger’ a breakthrough among groundcover sedums for its beauty and vigor. Check out his two other sedums in the Sunsparkler line, too: ‘Cherry Tart’ and ‘Dazzleberry’. Zone 4

Full disclosure: I received a tiny plug of ‘Dazzleberry’ from Chris at this year’s meeting of the Garden Writers Association and plan to nurse it through the winter so it can go in the ground next spring! Thanks, Chris!

Can I divide hostas in the fall?

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is: “When should I divide my hostas?”

First of all, I don’t think people realize that unlike perennial grasses, hostas don’t really need to be divided. I personally love the full, mature look they get when they fill their allotted spaces. But many people prefer a more orderly appearance, or just want to increase “the herd.”

Spring, when the “noses” are just poking out of the ground is considered the best  time to divide, as long as you don’t wait too long. However, if the plants are up too far, you run the risk of damaging the leaves and stems during the process, and they will not recover for another year.

Summer is also fine, with the same caveat about leaf damage.

Fall is actually my favorite time. Many hostas look a bit ragged by then anyway, and the rigors of division won’t make them look much worse. I also recognize which hosta I’m digging and dividing. In spring, I don’t always remember which hosta is where! (Yes, I should label them!)

Once established, hostas can become fairly drought tolerant, but if you transplant in the fall, keep the roots well watered and mulch them so they don’t dry out. Otherwise, these Asian natives are one of the toughest perennials I know! The only thing they can’t seem to fight: slugs and deer. They rely on us for protection from those pesky predators.

Although some hostas—especially those with yellow or white leaves—can take more sun, hostas should be considered shade-tolerant. They all need some sun to grow well, but avoid a spot where they are exposed to super-hot late afternoon sun. If you do place them in sun, provide lots of extra water. I’m always surprised when I see hostas planted with full-sun perennials … they look good in spring and early summer when we generally get more rain here in Iowa but by summer? Ratty!

How to divide

Dig the clump, using a shovel or garden spade. Use a clean, sharp knife or shovel to cut dense clumps.

Small clumps can also be soaked and the roots then teased, coaxed, and cajoled into parting company.

For more information on growing hostas, consult the American Hosta Society.

Small hosta divisions ready to be planted

Soak small hostas to remove soil before teasing apart roots


Botanical Latin: The new pickup line

Rosa rugosa.

Tulipa tardiva.

Gardeners, dust off your Botanical Latin. That’s how the conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy wooed his left-leaning actor-singer-model wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy:

“When I met him, walking around the garden in the (presidential Elysee Palace), he keeps giving me all these flowers’ names,” she said. “He knows all the Latin names, all these details about tulips and roses.

“I said to myself: ‘My God, I must marry this man, he’s the president and he knows everything about flowers as well. This is incredible.’ ”

Prince Charles of England is also a passionate gardener. Perhaps he never hauled out the botanical Latin with Diana.

Did the Bruni-Sarkozys’ latest botanical discussion involve Amorphophallis konjac, the perennial voodoo lily? Carla is pregnant with her second child, the couple’s first.

Amorphophallis 'Konjac' at the Des Moines Botanical Center


Deer in the shade garden

At lunch this week my new pal, Courtney Tompkins, was bemoaning the fact that her shady suburban yard has become deer infested. Her hostas were Bambi’s salad bar, leaving behind stalks resembling healthy clumps of celery. That’s my own salad bar, above.

It’s a common problem. One remedy is to use repeated applications of deer repellents, including my favorite, Plantskydd. (The product in its native Swedish is actually pronounced “plont-sheed,” meaning “plant shield” but has been quickly Americanized to “plant-skid”!)


A helpful PDF about using deer repellents is published here by the University of Maryland Extension Service.

But an easier strategy is simply to plant the things deer don’t prefer. Now, it’s true that a deer that’s hungry enough will eat almost anything except the rocks. And there appear to be regional differences among deer: The ones in Denver don’t necessarily choose the same plants as the ones in Des Moines.

Who knew?

My best lists of deer-resistant plants include this pdf from Rutgers University; these resouces from Cornell University; native plant list from Delaware; and from the Cincinnati Zoo.

In my Zone 5 yard, I have found epimediums, pulmonarias, brunneras and these other perennials do well in shade:


For spring: Daffodils

Tiarella cordifolia blooms in spring, but the interesting leaves persist all season.

Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) has fuzzy leaves.

Ferns of all types do well in shaded areas where deer roam. This is Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’, the 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year.


Before the fence


Before the fence

But I now have the best deer deterrent in the world: An 8-foot fence around my back yard!

After the fence!

Flowers of Murano—and other Italian horticultural delights

Italy is baking now (we’re hearing reports of 104 degrees in many cities) but when I visited in May, temps were in the 70s, the veggies and flowers were perfection, and the farmer’s market at Campo de’ Fiori (literally: field of flowers) in Rome made me want to go home and cook. For your eyeball-feasting pleasure, here are a few horticultural delights from northern Italy.

We’ll start with Murano, the famed glass-making islands near Venice, where it’s popular to insert the local products in flower boxes. Makes weeding much easier!

Calla lilies on Murano

Sprucing up a potted rosebush

Gorgeous orange climbing rose on Murano, maybe 'Crown Princess Margareta'?

Simple petunias—gorgeous in Venice

No expense spared for the pope's visit to Venice; each pillar base was festooned with flowers in the papal colors

Venetian gondola entirely decorated with roses in the papal colors

Windowsill basil with the colors of the Italian flag

True blue-purple colors of delphinium at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Early May is poppy season; these wildflowers were growing in the Roman Forum

Farmers cleaning green beans at Rome's Campo de' Fiori

Fresh herb selection at Rome's Campo de' Fiori

I've never seen fern leaves for sale at American farmers' markets. These were at at Rome's Campo de' Fiori

Freshly cleaned carciofi—artichokes—at Rome's Campo de' Fiori

Nemi strawberries from Lago di Nemi, a crater lake in the Alban Hills overlooking Rome, are prized for their sweetness and tiny size.

Zucchini blossom art at Rome's Campo de' Fiori

The joy of tiptoeing through the tulips

The girl was there, in a glorious tulip field by a road in the Netherlands. So was I, as a guest of the International Bulb Centre. It was—literally—a snap decision to make this image.

Six of us were on our way to Keukenhof, where 7 million bulbs are planted every year in spectacular designs (including more than 4.5 million tulips in 1000 different varieties). I have no idea where, exactly, we were. The thing that stunned me, an Iowa farm girl, is that this is Holland’s version of our corn fields. It’s a crop. But it’s a crop that delights.

It was about 12:30 p.m. or so when our minibus rumbled by the field. The sight of these ‘Merry Christmas’ tulips brought it to a screeching halt. We weren’t the only ones. Attracted like bees to these glowing red beacons, people tumbled out of their cars, almost desperate to be in the midst of such splendor.

As we tore ourselves away after a half hour frolicking in this field of dreams, I spotted this little girl posing for her family. I extended my point-and-shoot Canon G10’s zoom lens as far as it would go, squeezed off a couple of frames, and left in a haze of happiness.

That picture not only reminds me of this perfect moment, it symbolizes what gardening is all about: joy.

Plant some bulbs this fall: daffodils if you have deer, tulips if you don’t. And a host of others. They’ll always bring a smile to your face.

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