Tag Archives: penstemon

Early June In The Garden

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' (Beardtongue)

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)

Having missed an end of May report, I am compelled to record some of the special garden joys of early June.

Recently Annette wondered about the white flower she was expecting on her Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’. I assured her these plants do have white flowers and promised to follow through with a planned post to show how these penstemon are looking in my own garden.

I planted Husker Red penstemon in the meditation circle as an evergreen choice for a section of the “wall.” It has thrived, reseeding freely, enabling me to establish new plantings throughout the borders and to pass along specimens to friends.

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' (Beardtongue)

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)

Other penstemon planted in the labyrinth at the same time have not fared as well. One of my favorite colors, this purple one is called Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’. Of a dozen or so plants only this one remains in the meditation circle, but last summer I was able to transplant a piece into the northern border.

Penstemon  mexicali 'Pike's Peak Purple' (Beardtongue)

Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)

Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ was added last year and has done great this spring.

Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Bees love these penstemons. They also have been enjoying tradescantia, foxgloves, Verbena bonariensis, echinacea and recently blooming Blue Sky salvia.

Tradescantia (Spiderwort)

Tradescantia (Spiderwort)

Digitalis Foxlight 'Ruby Glow' PPAF (Ruby Glow Foxglove)

Digitalis Foxlight ‘Ruby Glow’ PPAF (Ruby Glow Foxglove)

Verbena bonariensis (Tall Verbena) with Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Verbena bonariensis (Tall Verbena) with Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Salvia uliginosa 'Blue Sky' (Bog sage)

Salvia uliginosa ‘Blue Sky’ (Bog sage)

Bees really love Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear). It will soon need cutting back but I hate to when the bees are so enamored of it.

Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ear)

Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ear)

I like Echinacea in early summer. The flowers are fresh and take on so many forms before finally opening their petals. In the background at right is the meditation circle with Husker Red penstemon blooming. I also planted Angelonia in white and purple for color throughout the summer.

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Here are more echinacea with explosions of pink flowers from Red Rocks Penstemon in the distance.

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

A pass-along dahlia overwintered successfully and began blooming this week. (Thank you Libby!)

Dahlia sp.

The dwarf oak leaf hydrangea has finally put on its first big floral display after taking several years to get established.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers'  (Lil' Ruby dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea)

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ (Lil’ Ruby dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea)

My favorite pass-along old-fashioned rose had a few new flowers this week. Unfortunately I spotted a Japanese beetle on one. Those haven’t been a problem in several years.

Old-fashioned Rose

Old-fashioned Rose

Three of five August Beauty gardenias survived near the northwest gate, where they were planted to provide a screen for the air conditioning units. It has taken them much longer than expected to grow but with the heavy rainfall this spring they finally look healthy and are blooming.

Gardenia jasminoides 'August Beauty'

Gardenia jasminoides ‘August Beauty’

And finally to close I leave you with some favorite photographs of a second purple gladiolus that opened this week. The sunlight coming in from behind made the centers of the flowers glow like fire.





In A Vase On Monday— Hydrangeas

In A Vase On Monday - Hydrangeas

In A Vase On Monday – Hydrangeas

Monday brings the chance to share cut flowers from the garden by joining in Cathy’s weekly challenge In A Vase On Monday.

Hydrangeas began blooming last week and I am thrilled. The flowers have a way to go before they are fully open but I could not wait. Hydrangea macrophylla generally bloom on old growth. In the previous two years late cold snaps ruined the buds, so this is the first promising display ever from these passalong shrubs.

Often arrangements of flowers require many more blooms than one would expect. I had to return to the garden to snip a few extra hydrangeas to complete the vase.

These flowers were so luxurious and satisfying to arrange.

In A Vase On Monday - Hydrangeas

In A Vase On Monday – Hydrangeas

Perhaps an odd use of concealer foliage, I first lay out a collar of pink achillea around the perimeter of the vase and then added the layer of leaves above. I chose Heuchera villosa ‘Big Top Bronze’ for its beautiful red coloring on the undersides of the leaves to complement the other pinks and reds in the arrangement.

Folded leaves of Heuchera villosa 'Big Top Bronze' reveal reddish underside

Folded leaves of Heuchera villosa ‘Big Top Bronze’ reveal reddish underside

Heuchera villosa 'Big Top Bronze' foliage with Hydrangeas

Heuchera villosa ‘Big Top Bronze’ foliage with Hydrangeas

Penstemons are also blooming this week and I used several colors as filler flowers. Husker Red has dark red foliage with white flowers and self-seeds generously. Pike’s Peak Purple is my favorite. Originally planted along the path of the meditation circle only one plant remains there. Last summer I managed to divide it and plant a piece in a section of the border, where it is blooming but not really thriving.  Red Rocks is the third penstemon, and as is often the case with plants named “red,” the bloom color is pink, not red. Red Rocks is blooming well though.

Center: Penstemon x mexicali 'Red Rocks', Penstemon mexicali 'Pike's Peak Purple', Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'

Center: Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’, Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’, Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’

Penstemon x mexicali 'Red Rocks' (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Also featured in today’s vase are three stems of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’. These large clusters of oak leaf hydrangea, which open white, should gradually turn pink and eventually darken to a rich dark rose. This has never happened. Instead the flowers turn brown and dry up before reaching that stage. Maybe there will be enough rain to keep the plant happy this year.

White clusters of Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers'

White clusters of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’


Achillea filipendulina (Fern-leaf Yarrow)
Heuchera villosa ‘Big Top Bronze’ (Coral Bells) – foliage only
Hydrangea macrophylla (from Jayme, March, 2013)
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’  (Lil’ Ruby dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea)
Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)
Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)
Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’ (Red Rocks Penstemon)

Container Notes

I found a new ceramic vase at my neighborhood’s garage sale a few weeks ago. The selling point was its matching lid with holes to help secure the flowers, like a flower frog. The lid works but with limitations.

To begin this design I edged the container with a low soft border of Achillea filipendulina (Fern-leaf Yarrow). Supported by remnants of feathery foliage, the achillea stayed precisely where I put it.  But the taller, heavier hydrangeas were less cooperative. At the beginning the hydrangea stems had a lot of wiggle room in the openings, shifting around and adjusting as I inserted other flowers.

Eventually I managed but this arrangement might have been easier with a stronger base of Oasis or another anchoring system. The lid does lift up easily to add fresh water.

Vase lid with holes

Achillea filipendulina inserted into holes of vase lid

This view shows how the initial edging of achillea and heuchera leaves support the hydrangeas in the arrangement.

In A Vase On Monday - Hydrangeas

In A Vase On Monday – Hydrangeas

Hydrangea Color Notes

The pink color of my mophead hydrangea is surprising. I grew up in an area where hydrangeas were always blue. I have never had the soil tested here but there are plenty of pines in the neighborhood so I had assumed the soil was acidic. When Jayme gave me the plants, I think there were 2 or 3 blue flowers the first year, 2013; 1 or 2 small pale blue ones in 2014; 1 or 2 small white ones, 2015. So the flower color has been transitioning as the plants grew and became established.

Hydrangea macrophylla

Hydrangea macrophylla

For blue flowers hydrangeas require acidic soil (pH 5.5 or lower) and for pink, neutral to alkaline (pH 6.5 and higher).  To change pink to blue flowers, applying aluminum sulfate to lower the pH and add aluminum to the soil is recommended.

Whew! The End

You deserve a medal if you managed to read this far. Thanks for stopping by.

And as always, thanks to Cathy for hosting this weekly flower obsession. Visit her at Rambling In The Garden to discover what she and other gardeners are placing In A Vase On Monday.

Overhead view of Hydrangeas

Overhead view of Hydrangeas

A Hint Of Winter

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Frosty patterns on Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

It was cold during the night and frost was heavy on the ground when I entered the main garden early this morning. Icy formations accentuated leaf shapes and stem structures, lending elevated status to the humble remnants of the garden season just past.

In the meditation circle the frost’s silvery-white seemed to enhance the colors of the plants.

Meditation Circle

Meditation Circle

The textural contrast between hard red stepping stones of the path and soft mounds of thyme was made stronger by the thyme’s frosty coating.

Thyme in Meditation Circle

Thyme in Meditation Circle

The weather is warming again for the weekend and into next week high temperatures will be in the sixties, but today there was a hint of winter.

Veronica spicata 'Pink Goblin' (Speedwell)

Veronica spicata ‘Pink Goblin’ (Speedwell)

Last night the sky was clear for the annual Geminid meteor shower.  Despite street lamps and traffic headlights in our neighborhood we were able to watch meteors streaking through the sky. Awesome!

Early October Garden

Days of cool rain marked the year’s transition from September to October. The harvest moon remained hidden behind deep clouds.

Yesterday, temperatures and humidity rose dramatically. This afternoon the sun broke through the clouds lifting the temperature to 86F, quite a change from highs in the mid-sixties at the weekend.

Certain signs of autumn belie today’s warm weather. Berries now adorn the Flowering Dogwood, whose leaves had already browned in July’s extended dry spell.

Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood)

A windblown spire of Salvia uliginosa ‘Blue Sky’ (Bog sage) rests against of Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ Autumn Joy (Stonecrop). The Salvia’s pink calyx reflects the ruddy, rusty hue of the flowering Stonecrop.

Salvia uliginosa ‘Blue Sky’ (Bog sage) and Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ Autumn Joy (Stonecrop)

A multicolored flower petal of ‘Blue Sky’ Salvia sits suspended in a spider’s complex world.

‘Blue Sky’ Flower In Spider’s Web

The burgundy Chrysanthemum in the background has bloomed most of the summer and now complements the rose-colored wisps of fall-blooming Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass). In the foreground stands a spent stalk of Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage).

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage), Chrysanthemum, Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass)

Blue-violet Ageratum brightens a dark corner of the garden.


Helianthus angustifolius (Swamp Sunflower), became very aggressive and was theoretically removed from the garden a few years ago. Unaware of its banished status, it displays brilliant yellow blossoms annually.

Helianthus angustifolius (Swamp Sunflower)

Helianthus angustifolius (Swamp Sunflower)

The annual, Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon), has bloomed throughout the summer among the stepping stones of the meditation circle.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

The meditation circle itself is soggy this week and needs attention.

Pine-bark mulch now sits in drifts, having been swept across the stone paths during the recent heavy rainfalls.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue) still performs satisfactorily, while generous green mounds of Thyme surpass expectations.

Unfortunately other evergreen perennials that were chosen specifically for their drought-tolerance, Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) and ‘Pikes Peak Purple’ Penstemon (Beardtongue), are brown and may not recover. ‘Purity’ was beautiful all winter and spring and ‘Pikes Peak Purple’ was lovely in spring, but both choices will need to be reevaluated for long-term performance.

Thyme For Meditation

Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme)

Thyme in the meditation circle is green and healthy. After a year of growth it has gently spread, helping to soften the path of stepping stones. I am not completely convinced the trays were correctly labeled when I purchased these plants last year, but they were marked Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme). This thyme is not fragrant at all, but I must have thought with “citriodorus” in the name, it would be become fragrant eventually!

Dianthus and Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme) Along Meditation Path

Drought-tolerant plants were selected for this labyrinth and some that performed great last summer may be staying too wet this summer. A few heavy downpours knocked over plants several weeks ago, blocking many of the paths. Yesterday was clean-up time.  I sheared away lots of Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue) and Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon) to open up the stepping stones.

While some of the Pike’s Peak are still blooming, many are brown and look like they may not even survive. Similarly the center planting of Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) has died back significantly. Iberis bloomed from December to May this year and maybe just needs a rest. It may revive in the fall, but at this point last August, the Candytuft was lush and healthy-looking.

Meditation Circle


I realize the fence along back of the Western border looks awfully bright. While a new ‘Carolina Sapphire’ Cypress gets established, a mix of annuals were supposed to fill the void and provide vibrant summer color along the back fence.  The seeds did poorly though, giving just one small group of zinnias.  The cypress is growing fine though.

During a few weeks of drought and extreme temperatures in July, the garden had quickly turned brown and dried up. Convinced the garden was finished until September, I turned my attention elsewhere. Then something interesting happened. Rains returned and the garden responded. Now the garden overall is probably the greenest it has been in August for years. The last few summers have been so discouragingly dry, I failed to recognize and appreciate that this summer was different. 

So yesterday I began to make amends. I trimmed back some Shasta Daisies, Echinacea and a few other things to make them tidier and to encourage re-blooming. I did save a few cone heads for the American Goldfinches. There is still a lot of clean-up to do, but now I am much more motivated to make plans for autumn plantings.

Though an annual, the Angelonia should provide color into October.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

A Garden Journal To Conclude July

Cleome (Spider Flower)

Desiccation was the word that best described the garden at the end of June, but as July ends there are some signs of verdancy. July was a difficult month for the already stressed perennials and shrubs, but some decent rains have had a visible restorative effect on many of them. Even the lawn now shows less brown and more green.

While the garden seems willing at this point to make the effort to improve, this gardener is finding excuses. The garden could really use some serious maintenance but as usual, it is getting very little attention as the summer goes along. Among the many tasks that need tackling are applying mulch garden-wide and dividing the irises. I have done some weeding, deadheading and trimming, but not nearly enough to improve the overall effect—there is so much more left to be done. Another week though before I can get some time to concentrate on it.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

In the meditation garden Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon) lies sprawling across the labyrinth’s path, knocked over by recent poundings of rain.

Last summer was the first time I had planted Angelonia, an annual, and it was outstanding well into October.  This year it has not been quite as spectacular, but it is finally beginning to bloom more profusely. The bees really enjoy the flowers.

Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ (Summer Snapdragon)

Garden View With Meditation Circle

The meditation circle is normally a very low-maintenance feature, but a heavy rain this past weekend also washed away much of the pine bark mulch, covering many of the stepping stones.

Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme)

The section of Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme) is mostly green, but in some poorly draining areas it is starting to show some brown spots from excess standing water during the storm.

Perhaps the thyme will bloom yet. There are a few faint colored puffs on it that, when one looks close, are seen to be little lavender flowers.

Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft)

Once the star performer of the labyrinth, Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) is losing its shine.

Many of the mounds are severely stressed. This time last year it was holding up beautifully and was quite green.

The candytuft bloomed from December to May this year and perhaps needs a rest. Maybe some compost should be added for nutrition.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)

‘Husker Red’ is still working well in the meditation circle. Curiously the leaves of the ones planted last year are mostly green, with little or none of this luscious dark red colored-foliage found in these that were added this year. The coral Dianthus lining the entrance makes a nice pairing.

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage)

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) has flopped over but is blooming now and should last well into autumn.

Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ and Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’

Encouraged by recent rains, Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ now has a few new blossoms. Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ is in full bloom to the delight of many insects. The stalks of this Rudbeckia seem very sturdy but, like those of so many items in this garden, they would benefit from staking.

Cleome (Spider Flower)

Cleome has flowered well in one spot and poorly in another.

In early July there was a heartbreaking loss of a Crape Myrtle in the front yard from a freak wind storm.

The same storm brought down a pine into the garden, obliterating a Buddleia davidii and some other plants in an area along the back fence, an area I have been actively trying to invigorate.

‘Carolina Sapphire’ Arizona Cypress


Actually there are several large gaps along the back fence. In the northwestern corner a ‘Carolina Sapphire’ Arizona Cypress was planted earlier this year to replace the eleven-year old one we lost last summer. This is a fast-growing tree that will fill this area in a few years. Meanwhile I can tell it has grown quite a bit.

While waiting for the ‘Carolina Sapphire’ to mature I envision this corner overflowing with cutting flowers in the summer, but my efforts have been small.

Zinnias were planted from seeds, but thwarted by extreme temperatures, they remain small and insignificant. I think the birds must have eaten most of the seeds.  This is a rather poor showing.

Transplants of cleome did not survive here.

Also Gladioli planted in this same area flopped over after their first exposure to wind, so they did nothing to make the garden look nice long-term, but their blooms provided enjoyment in cut-flower arrangements.

So, there are many openings and opportunities around the garden at this time. Although I am not doing much work in the garden this summer, I am thinking and planning. I am optimistic the garden will be fun again next Spring. And, while there are no grand views, no wide vistas in the garden right now, it is surprising to me how many individual plants are providing some interest. It seems much better than in years past.

Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm)

Meanwhile birds, wasps, bees and other insects do not seem to mind the garden’s disarray, as they feast on nectar and seeds. The yellow of American Goldfinches brightens the garden as these tiny birds feed on various plants—they especially seem to appreciate the Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower).

Hummingbirds regularly visit Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm), which is no longer lush and spectacular but is still in bloom.

Leucanthemum x superbum (Shasta Daisy)

And fresh dew on Shasta Daisies is still a remarkable thing.


With two days to go this hot July stopped short of setting a local record for the number of consecutive days above 90 degrees, when the temperature reached a mere 89 degrees yesterday. Precipitation was 0.5 inches above normal for the month (actual month total was 4.64; normal month total, 4.04). Three heavy storms on the 21st, 22nd and 28th accounted for 3.31 inches of that.

Smiles and Starts

In the meditation circle this morning numerous bees were flitting in and out of the Penstemon  mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue). Watching them back out of the purple, bell-shaped flowers made me smile.

Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)


one bee seemed to stumble awkwardly

and fall a foot or so

from the top of the blossom

it had targeted.

The bee struggled for a moment but then regained control and flew away, thus escaping the trap set by this ominous-looking spider.

Argiope aurantia (black and yellow garden spider)

I had not noticed the spider myself and was startled to realize its presence.

I think this is a Argiope  aurantia (black and yellow garden spider), a common garden spider in the U.S. and not harmful to humans.  This spider incorporates a dense white zigzag in the center of its orb web.  This zigzag feature is a stabilimentum, the purpose of which is not confirmed, but one possibility is to warn birds away from the web. Interestingly stabilimenta are only found in spiders that are active during the day.

Mid-July Musings

Gardenia jasminoides ‘Chuck Hayes’

‘Chuck Hayes’ Gardenias began blooming at the end of May this year and since then a few occasional blossoms have continued to appear. This particular bush lost several limbs last week when the top of a neighbor’s Loblolly Pine came crashing down during a severe wind and rain storm. The jolt seems to have encouraged a few more flowers.

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’

Temperatures are heading toward 100 today. A few individual heat-loving plants are going strong, but for the most part the garden is shutting down. There are no lush drifts of color or interesting plant pairings to note.

There are still plenty of bees around enjoying such delicacies as Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes,’ Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue), Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ (Catmint) and Salvia ‘Blue Sky.’

Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm)

Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm) began flowering on the last day of May and though it looks stressed from the heat, blooms continue to appear. For the past three weeks hummingbirds have been regular visitors.

Goldfinches dart among the tired and ragged seed heads of Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower). For a while longer I can justify leaving the drying coneflowers for the birds, although their sprawling stalks (and most of the garden in general) have become very unsightly. This garden is definitely at its best in Spring.

A Few Garden Minutes Last All Day

Another beautiful day in central North Carolina and it would have been a day perfect for working in the garden, but the day passed another way. Early this morning there were just a few moments to enjoy the crispness of the air, notice the bird sounds, greet next-door neighbors and savor that feeling one gets from being outside among the flowers.

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)

Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion)

Achillea filipendulina (Fern-leaf Yarrow)

Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)

Notes On The Garden At Memorial Day

Northern Border

Temperatures reached 87 degrees and the day felt quite humid and summery. The borders appear full and lush, a tribute to the power of adequate rainfall; however, the first flowering period of many plants is past, so deadheading and trimming are on the agenda for this week.

Southern Border

There has been little work done in the garden for the last two weeks, but that must change. The garden is in transition and is very much in need of attention. Echinacea, Gladioli, Liatris and Daylily are replacing Iris, Lamb’s Ear and Tradescantia.

Liatris spicata ‘Alba’ (Gayfeather)

Shasta Daisy clumps will be covered in bloom any day. Meanwhile Meadow Sage should be cut back to encourage more blooms. Nepeta may need shearing soon as well.

Northern Border, Meditation Circle

Monarda and Lantana are teasing with a bit of color today.

Monarda didyma (scarlet beebalm)

Lantana camara (Common lantana)

This weekend in town I came upon a large and beautiful planting of Baptisia and Autumn Joy, all in full bloom. In this garden all three baptisias lost their flowers suddenly this year after a just a short bloom time, but the foliage remains healthy and green.

Baptisia australis (blue false indigo)

Hylotelephium telephium ‘Herbstfreude’ (Autumn Joy)

Paths in the meditation circle are in some disarray lately. The pine nugget mulch being used this spring is too lightweight to stay in place when rains come. Also the mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ Penstemon has sprawled over quite a bit and requires staking again. Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ is so much better behaved and retains its upright place, (although its self-sown seedlings need to be removed soon).

Meditation Circle

Meditation Circle

The annual Angelonia ‘Blue’ in the meditation circle has begun to grow now that the weather is hotter.

Angelonia ‘Blue’

There will be plenty of tasks to keep this gardener busy this week but with an abundance of flowers blooming and the scent gardenia wafting through the air, it should be mostly delightful to spend time in the garden.

Gaura lindheimeri ‘Passionate Blush’ (Butterfly Gaura)

Tradescantia (Spiderwort)

A Perfect Day In May

Meditation Circle

Today’s weather could not have been more perfect to have a group of friends visit the garden, walk the meditation circle and share a potluck lunch. Cloudless blue skies, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-seventies made for a fine day to be outside.

Inside the labyrinth Penstemon (Beardtongue) hybrids are blooming this week and buzzing with bees.

Penstemons In Meditation Circle

Penstemon  mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ delineates a long stretch of path near an outer edge. Its color is deep and rich violet-purple. Its loose form means it sprawls over into the paths on either side, making it necessary to trim the overhanging flower stalks to help keep visitors safe when walking the labyrinth.

Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)

Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue)

Marking several turnaround points in the labyrinth is another penstemon cultivar, Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red.’ This variety has a tighter and more upright form, making it more suitable and requiring less maintenance in the narrow space between the paths. Both Penstemon cultivars remained green during this past mild winter.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue)

The garden has transitioned away from the focus on roses and irises, but a few Bearded Irises linger.

German Bearded Iris

German Bearded Iris

German Bearded Iris

Yesterday the garden’s peony opened. This is ‘Pink Parfait.’

Peony Paeonia ‘Pink Parfait’

April’s Middle – Garden Views and Notes

Garden Views

The garden was refreshed by gentle rain during the night. By noon today the grass had dried sufficiently for mowing, just in time too so visiting friends could wander around and linger in the garden.

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Artemisia, Tradescantia (Spiderwort)

Bee On Meadow Sage ‘May Night’

Catmint (Nepeta) and Phlox


Several types of irises are blooming. Newly opened today are the pale yellow Japanese Iris, pass-along plants from a special sister-in-law in Idaho.

Japanese Iris and Tradescantia (Spiderwort)

Japanese Iris

This iris with pale lavender standards and dark purple falls is another pass-along from a former neighbor. I brought this and the Japanese Iris from my first garden nearly eleven years ago to help form the foundation of this current garden.

Bearded Iris

A more recent pass-along, this lovely white iris with very large flowers is from a gardening friend now serving in the Peace Corps.

I did not realize the garden had this black iris but am thrilled to discover it. It must have come into the garden at the same time as the white one above. It promises to be gorgeous.

Pass-along plants bring memories of friends and neighbors, but precise identification of these is not possible. I simply remember them by the names of the donors. Here is another iris from my old garden by way of a dear family friend.

Notes on Labyrinth Wall Plantings In The Meditation Circle

Meditation Circle

The meditation circle is a year old this week and the evergreen perennials that help define the walls of the labyrinth easily survived the mild winter.

  • Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) – Used in the innermost portion of the circle (goal of the labyrinth), currently this is ending a long bloom cycle that began December, 2011.
  • Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue) – Two plants, used to define walls at one of the turn-around points, did so well that three more were added this spring. Self-sprouted seedlings from the original two are growing nearby and may produce some plants that can be added to the labyrinth, although references indicate that ‘Husker Reds’ from seeds will not have the same dark red leaves that plant divisions would.
  • Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme) – Not thriving but doing ok. Conditions have been too wet for this herb, but the thyme is beginning to improve and look healthier. May gradually replace them after they bloom.
  • Silver Edge Thyme and Penstemon mexicali 'Pike's Peak Purple' (Beardtongue)

    Penstemon  mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue) – This penstemon has a wilder look than the Husker Red and seemed scraggly last summer, but during fall and winter looked very green and strong. It was severely sheared in March and has returned with strong, lush look. This plant may become too wide and grow too far into the path.

To complement the perennials, yesterday I added fifteen Angelonia ‘Blue’  between the two left-most paths. Angelonia are annuals that bloomed until October last year, providing a lush look for the meditation circle without much maintenance. Angelonias tolerate heat and humidity, are deer-resistant and do not require dead-heading. They did outgrow the narrow 6-inch space between the paths and had to be trimmed back several times, but the cuttings made lovely and long-lasting indoor arrangements.

Late Winter Garden Notes

Several clusters of cheery daffodils enliven the garden. Adding more spring bulbs, (especially daffodils which the deer resist) would be an easy improvement to make. Usually when it is time to order and plant bulbs I tend to be focused elsewhere. This is a reminder to myself to really do it this fall—plant more Spring bulbs.

By this time last year I had been very active in the garden, planning the garden renovation, pruning, tidying around the perennials, installing a hedge. I have logged many fewer hours this year. Although the need is strong, discipline is lacking. Garden tasks abound. There are weeds to pull, pruning and trimming chores and general cleanup to perform, as well as some paths to redesign, more screening plants to choose and a replacement to locate for the Arizona Cypress that died last year. Note to self: get busy on these projects.

Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion)

Actually two items can be checked off my task list this week. I planted six or seven Rose campions a thoughtful neighbor potted up and saved for me after I lamented that my magenta ones died out several years ago. The garden has many white ones thriving that were planted from seed, but I had missed the red. These three were placed near a lavender, spiderwort and irises.

Penstemon 'Huskers Red'

Another chore completed recently was to finally plant several perennials purchased a couple of weeks ago.  Five Phlox subulata (Creeping Phlox) were added to a front section of the western border.  Many things there had died out over the years, leaving behind mostly a sad area of mulch, so the phlox will add color in Spring and will be mostly evergreen.

Three Penstemons ‘Huskers Red’  went into the meditation circle at turn-around points. The purpose is to provide some visual guidance (and a physical barrier) to clarify where to step next along the labyrinth.

Camellia x `Coral Delight` (C. japonica x C. saluenensis)

The label that came with this Camellia ‘Coral Delight’ indicates flowers should appear December to February. Planted in 2006 on the north side of the house, it actually blooms around March 20th each year. So many plants are opening ahead of schedule this year, it will be interesting to see if that date will hold.

Perhaps a Trout Lily?

In late December I transplanted this mottled-leafed plant and its mossy accompaniment from its home under a beautiful tea camellia at my sister’s house.  Upon seeing it, the name Trout Lily came to mind, but so far I have not found a picture that matches these reddish leaves—trout lilies seem to have green leaves with a mottled pattern.  Time will tell if it will bloom so it can be identified.

Almanac And Plant Tour

With temperatures in the forties, yesterday a brief rain fell midday. Walking through the garden afterwards was pleasant as the sun peeked in and out.

Plants are changing quickly, full of hope and promise in this early growth period, as they prematurely signal spring’s arrival. Weekend weather forecasts call for a low of 20 degrees on Saturday, 17 on Sunday and 28 on Monday.

Before the chill arrives, here is a close-up look around the garden.

A Rainy Winter In The Meditation Circle

Meditation Circle Entrance - Soggy After A Rainy Weekend

After facing several years of severe drought in this area, the plants for the meditation circle were selected last spring with drought tolerance in mind. In the past twelve months there have been some pretty decent rains though. As a result much of the thyme is blackened and dying this winter (or at least, dying back) and a few small patches of moss are volunteering near the entrance where water accumulates. The moss is pretty exciting actually. The thyme is Thyme Thymus x citriodorus (Silver Edge Thyme).  It did bloom a little last summer but overall has not contributed much in this location.

Penstemon  mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue) separates the path on the right-hand side of the labyrinth. This plant was mistakenly purchased thinking it would be more similar than it is to the beautiful clumping penstemon, Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’.  Instead ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ has a much looser form. To its credit it certainly has been green all winter.  I just came across some advice to cut ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ back to the crown in winter to promote more shapely, better-behaved growth.

The Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ has beautiful burgundy foliage which, after the few cold spells this winter, became only a little bit limp. These two ‘Husker Reds’, which serve to demarcate a turnaround point in the labyrinth, have performed reasonably well and when viewed close up, help to provide nice winter interest. From a distance one might not take notice, as the color blends closely with the mulch.

Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (Candytuft) in the center of the circle has exceeded expectations.  Not only has it remained evergreen, it has even bloomed much of this rather mild winter.

The left side of the labyrinth was planted with Angelonia and marigolds this summer and has been simply left bare while the perennials are being evaluated this winter. Annuals are a less expensive option in the short run than perennials and will be used to provide spring and summer color until evergreen plantings can encompass the entire circle.

Christmas Garden Notes

The meditation circle is my favorite feature in the garden these days. The top and right-hand sides are planted with perennials I am testing out to see how well they perform through different seasons. The plants I am enjoying best are the five Iberis Sempervirens (Candytufts) that share the blue reflecting ball in the center and the two penstemons,  Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (shown at position 10 o’clock).  This is how they appeared at 8:30 a.m. on this 32-degree frosty, sunny Christmas morning.

Iberis Sempervirens (Candytuft)

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'

The evergreen candytuft is flowering in December, an unusual but welcome event.  Here are a few more scenes of this peaceful little garden at Christmastime.

Fall Gardening – Falling Enthusiasm

The garden needs attention and a spate of recent mild autumn days has left little excuse for not tackling a long list of fall garden chores. Yet, the irises are not thinned, the replacements for the Arizona Cypress that died are not planted, the weeds are not pulled. There are no interesting bulbs waiting to be planted. Enthusiasm and motivation for gardening, so easily tapped in springtime, readily elude this time of year.

Meditation Circle

November 10, 2011

One chore yesterday left the meditation circle in a disruptive state. I pulled the filler plants-marigolds and angelonia-that had provided intense color all summer.

The design goal for landscaping the labyrinth is eventually to fill the borders between the meditation path with evergreen or semi-evergreen plants so as to avoid this lopsided, barren look.

I have experimented with several types of plants in the meditation circle and am really happy with the performance of a long-time garden favorite in this garden, Iberis Sempervirens (Candytuft). Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ (Beardtongue) is also working well for sections where extra height is wanted at the turn-arounds. These taller plants serve as visual cues for guiding visitors along the path.

The thyme is unimpressive so far. During the past six weeks, the Penstemon mexicali ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ (Beardtongue) has bloomed much better than it did all summer, winning it a bit of a reprieve, but it has a wild scraggliness that is unappealing for the meditation circle. A landscaping friend is coming to walk the meditation path this week and I am eager to hear her ideas.

Droplets, Webs and Color: Select Details

Yesterday the early morning garden was rich with droplets of moisture, complex webs and deep, intense color.

A Trio of Notables

Since the beginning  of the southern side garden ten years ago, Cleome or Spider Flower has been a summer staple.  It self-seeds usually quite heavily but for the last couple of years, only a few cleome have emerged, probably due to heavy applications of mulch in spring.  There are a handful of cleome now that were late maturing but worth the wait. The striking flowers sit atop stalks that are five or six feet tall.

Meadow Sage provided some deep rich color early this spring, then took a break during the heat of the summer.  Encouraged by refreshing rains and cooler temperatures, the meadow sage has returned this fall to fill the front of the northern border with  spiky texture and deep indigo and burgundy tones.

Added to the meditation circle in early June, Penstemon ‘Pike’s Peak Purple’ seemed like an ideal choice because the ‘Husker’s Red Penstemon’ had done so well earlier. It soon became evident this is a wilder, more scraggly plant that bloomed intermittently throughout the summer, but never was attractive.  Today the flowers do look beautiful though.

October Meditation On The Meditation Circle

April 15, 2011

In winter 2011 planning for a garden renovation was underway and one idea was to include a meditation space. By mid-April installation of the meditation circle and labyrinth was completed. Even in its then totally bare, stone and mulch state, the circle immediately became a dynamic focal point for the garden.

Throughout spring and summer perennials and annuals were added between the paths of the labyrinth. Various plants were chosen as experiments to see what would grow (and not outgrow) the narrow, six-inch wide path; what would survive the summer heat and dry spells; and what would contribute to understanding how to walk the labyrinth.

Five Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (candytuft) and eighteen mounding thymes were among the first introductions, added in March and early April respectively. Coreopsis was considered, but eventually planted elsewhere.

Early April 2011

By the first of May two Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ were added to demarcate turn-around points in the labyrinth.

May 1, 2011

Angelonia angustifolia (summer snapdragon) provided dramatic color in the meditation circle. In the foreground is Angelface Blue.  A lighter shade, Wedgwood Blue, was added later along the lower left path.

May 1, 2011

In early June ‘Pikes Peak Purple’ Penstemon (Beardtongue) was used to complete the plantings between the walking paths.  This proved less successful than any of the other plants. This native penstemon is wilder and more scraggly in stature, and less colorful than the ‘Husker Red’ it was meant to complement.

June 20, 2011

At July’s end the meditation circle garden was filled out and beautiful, transformed into a richly colorful space. The candytuft and thyme formed soft mounds, never encroaching beyond the designated space. Marigolds and the angelonia had to be trimmed back from the path several times–the cuttings made long-lasting indoor arrangements.  After a summer rain the angelonia stems fell over onto the stepping stones, but were easily uprighted.

July 31, 2011

Now, well into October, the annuals continue to bloom. French Marigolds at the entrance and profusely blooming Angelonia along the left side add welcome color and help serve structurally as a gentle guide for how to walk the labyrinth.

When frost eventually forces their removal (October 24 or so) the circle will look much different. The plan is for the evergreen plants of thyme, Penstemon (both ‘Husker’s Red’ and ‘Pikes Peak Purple’) and Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (candytuft) to continue to provide winter interest.

Blooming In Mid-September

The garden has been completely on auto-pilot for the past eight weeks. With July’s extreme heat and drought came parched plants and severe gardening lethargy. Then the months of August and September brought several important rains, and as is the way of gardens, this garden responded, sparking renewal in growth and interest.

Blooms, Blooms

Touring and taking inventory today it was impossible not to revel in the multitude of blooms.

A few days into September the gardenias began blooming again, putting on a more magnificent show than in early June when temperatures in the mid-nineties forced them to struggle. Now the air is filled with the lovely and unmistakable scent of gardenia.

The Orange Canna adds height and interest to the east end of the side garden. Throughout July the canna’s blossoms wilted almost immediately. Today its elegant blossom brightens this space again.

A few Shasta Daisy flowers continue to bloom in different spots around the garden.  The divisions transplanted in early Spring are healthy.

It was a treat to discover the Jackmani Clematis in bloom today.  This is unusual for this garden. Again the rain seems to have made the difference.

The lantana has been in this garden for ten years.  It performed beautifully this year, one of those plants that does not mind the heat.

The Meditation Circle

The flowers in the meditation circle have held up well throughout the entire summer. The marigolds and angelonia withstand the heat and humidity brilliantly. Both have spread beyond the 12-inch allotment of space between the stepping stones, but an occasional shearing works to restore order to the labyrinth and yields long-lasting bouquets to bring inside.

The perennials in the circle, candytuft, thyme and penstemon, all performed well and look healthy. Between the two types of penstemon (Beardtongue), Penstemon Digitalis ‘Husker Red’ is the preferred choice. The 18 ‘Pikes Peak Purple’ Penstemons (foreground) have done fine but are more scraggly and flowers are not very showy–fine in their own right but not great accents for the labyrinth in the meditation circle.

To Be Continued

Many more flowers deserve mention today so this post will be continued later.  For a last glimpse at the garden today, here is Salvia ‘Blue Sky.’  This was brought from a former garden ten years ago. It is particularly lovely this year.

July Draws To A Close

July 2011 will be remembered as an extreme month of drought and heat, with the last week registering highs of 101,97, 93, 99, 102, 104, 100 and heat indexes that make one wilt. It is 74 now, moderated by storms that passed through and brought not just thunder and lightning, but actual rain.

This garden relies mostly on perennials, but at this time of year the garden’s perimeter beds have been browning and parching, with many plants barely hanging on.

A few plants have thrived as the summer progressed though the searing days of July, mostly those in the meditation circle’s labyrinth. The thyme, the Penstemon (both ‘Husker’s Red’ and ‘Pikes Peak Purple’) and the Iberis sempervirens ‘Purity’ (candytuft) are doing well. Here though the real stars are two annuals, the angelonia and the French marigolds, which seem to take strength from the strong sun. These provide the midsummer garden’s main color and impact.

Mediation Circle After July Rain

Penstemon Digitalis ‘Husker Red’

The Penstemon Digitalis ‘Husker Red’ has been a strong presence in the garden. The bloom time is early to mid-summer, but with this year’s extremely hot spring, there was no waiting for summer.  With summer still two weeks away the penstemon is winding down and forming burgundy seeds. The tradescantia’s blue flowers are bright in contrast to the red stems and reddish leaves of the penstemon.

New Labyrinth Perennials Planted

Yesterday the temperatures stayed in the low to mid-eighties, the humidity was low, and it was a fine spring day to plant the newest additions to the meditation circle: 18 ‘Pikes Peak Purple’ Penstemon (Beardtongue). Having underestimated size of the area to be planted, I found another six plants would have been desirable. In lieu of that I arranged what I had into six groups of three, leaving some space in-between.

It took many hours to plant these perennials, not the 30 minutes originally allotted as the soil still has a lot of clay.  I combined garden soil reclaimed from the recent fence project with bagged soil conditioner to try to improve the labyrinth’s soil.

This penstemon variety is not as stately as the two Husker Reds planted earlier in the spring. The leaves are narrower and wispier, with a lighter green color that unfortunately blends, rather than contrasts, with the surrounding grass.

The more plants I put along the meditation path the more it seems to need. More browsing at garden centers and visiting favorite gardens for ideas may provide inspiration. It will be wonderful to have the entire meditations circle in bloom eventually.