Gardener's Grapevine 2011.08.11

Written by David Green.

Ahhh summer...sun, beautiful flowers and bounty from the garden, is there any season more loved?

I hope by this time everyone has had a chance to take a look at the flowers downtown. We hit a winner with that combination this year.

Art and I went to Smoke on the Water at Toledo’s Promenade Park with friends Saturday and enjoyed the music, ribs and waterfront. We drove down Monroe Street past the museum on the way home and someone has planted a beautiful area in the median of the street. There were so many different flowers planted I couldn’t begin to name them all, but they put canas in the middle and graduated down from there with different heights of flowers to some that hugged the curb of the planter. It was stunning and impossible not to notice.

The Garden Club in Morenci has long discussions on what will work in the baskets downtown. We discuss: what will last the longest and not burn out, what is going to “pop” giving us the most color to draw attention to our quaint little town, and which nursery has given us the best quality and price so far. Most people don’t realize how heavy those planters are, but ask a city worker and they will tell you they are not as light as you might think. Every community has a civic organization that tries to make the downtown area more beautiful and July/August is the time when their efforts are at their peak.

Our garden is really doing well this year. We are harvesting tomatoes, squash, peppers and weeds! It is truly baffling how without our care the vegetables die, but the weeds don’t need anything to give an outstanding show. Now last week I spoke about how much I enjoy wildflowers and I know that all wildflowers are weeds. That’s all well and good until they are in my vegetables and flowerbeds. The thistles were beautiful along the roadside; they are not, however, beautiful in my gardens. This must be the year of the thistle; I have never had more than one or two on our property. This year they are everywhere and I no sooner pull one than three more pop up.  I don’t think there is a more annoying weed unless it’s the dandelion. 

There are different varieties of perennial phlox, most people think of it as the creeping ground cover that blooms in the spring. I grow that along with the tall variety that is between four and five feet tall. This has been a wonderful year for the phlox. Some of the varieties smell so good. I have five varieties and the white is the most fragrant. This is an excellent choice of perennial if you are looking for something tall that is not picky about its sun as long as it gets a little. It requires little care and is very resilient in hardiness.

Other perennials that work well in very hot dry weather is coneflower, daisy and coreopsis. I like to have a bed of coneflower because all winter long the birds will feed on the seeds. I suppose I should feel that way about the thistle also, but no matter how you look at it, they just don’t look right in a cultivated garden.

I tend to let the flowers alone in the winter instead of cleaning them up after the hard frost. The birds will make use of the seeds and some of the dead foliage is used in their nests. I know the squirrels like the dead grasses for their nests because you sometimes see them in the fall running with it in their mouths. They use sticks and stalks for the bases and grasses to line the nest. There are small round seeds on the phlox and it is fun to watch the squirrels try to get them. They can’t climb the stalks as they are too weak to hold their weight, so they climb our fence and attempt to pull the head off the plant to reach the seeds. They toss a lot of blooms on the ground to get the seeds.

Squirrels are either very aggravating to a gardener or lots of entertainment. I don’t fight them as you can’t win. I very much enjoy their antics. We feed our birds sunflower seeds in the winter and of course a few sunflowers always come up in the spring. They make their heads and bloom by August and are pretty dry in September/October. The squirrels have a blast getting ahold of the heads for the seeds. These stalks they can climb, but by the time they are dried the heads hang down and are hard to reach. The squirrels just hang upside down holding on by their feet and stuff the seeds in their mouths until their little cheeks are puffed as far out as possible. I have no use for the sunflowers so why not enjoy the entertainment! 

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