Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harry Mania (or I'm Just Wild About Harry)

It's one day and counting until the new Harry Potter book comes out. The publishing world has never experienced anything like this and since this is the last book in the series, I'm sure they are going to milk this for all it's worth. I've read all the Harry Potter books and I've seen all the movies except the one that just came out (my kids have seen it and they loved it). I prefer the books to the movies but my favorite has to be the first book in the series. It was so much fun to meet Harry and his friends for the first time, in that magical world.

I've preordered my own copy from England, but both of my kids will be at Barnes and Noble in Orlando to get their copies at midnight tomorrow night. They may even dress up for it -- I wouldn't put it past them. Oh, and did I mention these are college kids? Apparently dorkiness is an inherited trait. (Sorry, kids.) I may go to my local bookstore at midnight just to join in the fun. Anyway, stop in to the book clubs at if you enjoy reading and/or talking about your favorite books. There are online book clubs for just about every interest, and if you think we've missed something, let me know and I'll see if we can get one started!

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Starting in August, the Mystery Book Club at Barnes and Noble's website (, click "Book Clubs") will be featuring The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the Agatha Christie classic. While it's not my favorite Christie, it is -- along with Murder on the Orient Express -- her most controversial book. A new hardcover of the book has just been published and we are using that as an excuse to get this discussion going. I'm a diehard Agatha Christie fan -- read my first one, Funerals are Fatal, at age 15 and I've been hooked ever since.

I'm still moderating the Garden Book Club at but that site is quiet at this time of year -- gardeners are out in the garden in the summer! Except for me -- between writing and traveling this year, I've barely had time for my yard at all. It is unusual for me to travel this much but I figure it goes back to that "to every thing there is a season" and this year it is apparently my season to travel rather than to work in the garden. It's always been difficult to balance my writing assignments with downtime for gardening, but this year my schedule has been completely out of whack. Kind of fun, though!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer Salsa

With the chill of winter fresh in our memories, it may seem like summer with its shimmering heat is taking forever to arrive. May and June will soon be upon us, though, ushering in the seasonal craving for brightly colored flowers that seems ingrained in us all. Garden centers will soon be selling everything in bloom as fast as they can set it out, and landscape contractors will have their hands full filling beds, borders, containers and window boxes with foliage and flowers.

After the grays and browns of winter, not to mention the mud-spattered, once-white snow, all a plant needs to sell itself is color, color, color. Take advantage of this seasonal madness by heating up the color palette in your plant installation and design. Crank up the heat with vivid scarlet, flaming orange and glowing yellows, whether you focus on annuals or perennials, and whether you are working in beds or containers.

Perennial flowers tend to have a short bloom period but they also have the benefit of returning year after year. Annuals offer a longer period of continuous bloom, but they need to be replaced every year. On the plus side, the ephemeral aspect of annuals encourages creativity in plant combinations and color schemes, because if it doesn't work this year, you can always try something new next year. Annuals also grow quickly and flower the first year, while biennials flower the second year and perennials may take even longer to become fully established. For a bloom period that is long-lasting throughout the season and from year to year, plant a combination of bulbs, annuals, biennials and perennials, including ground covers and climbers and plants of all sizes in between.

To kick off the summer in style, go for a salsa effect with zesty, hot color combinations and bright, exotic foliage. While red, gold, orange and yellow are traditionally the hottest colors, accenting these colors with deep purple or bold hot pinks can take it to another level of interest. Foliage or flowers in white, silver or blue tones can act as a foil to keep the hotter colors from becoming overpowering, while ornamental grasses can provide an eyecatching contrast in texture without taking away from the color impact.

Another alternative would be to use very dark foliage -- purple, black or bronze -- to set off the hotter colors. Black elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta 'Black Magic') or 'Blackie' sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatus) are popular examples. There are also new sweet potato vine cultivars such as 'Black Heart' and 'Sweet Caroline' series 'Sweet Heart Purple' and 'Sweet Caroline' Red and Purple. Exotic looking 'Australia', Tropicana or 'Bengal Tiger' canna lilies would also work well with a hot color scheme.

It's easy to find annuals that will add a zing of salsa color to a design. Petunia hybrids such as 'Supertunia Red' or 'Surfina Red' are examples, as well as Calibrachoa hybrids such as 'Superbells Tequila Sunrise' and 'Million Bells Red', 'Terra Cotta' and 'Crackling Fire'. Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) is easy to grow from flats or from seed and cultivars such as 'Sun Up Orange', 'Sun Up Red' and 'Sun Up Yellow'. Zinnia 'Banana Treats' and 'Orange Treats' as well as snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.) like 'Snappy Dark Red' are reliable performers in hot summer sun. African daisies (Arctotis hybrids) can spice up a container or window box planting, especially 'Bumble Bee', 'Peachy Mango', 'Pumpkin Pie' and 'Sun Spot'. Osteospermum hybrids such as 'Sunny Dark Florence',, 'Lemon Symphony' or 'Orange Symphony' are good choices for a hot color design, as are verbena hybrids such as 'Tukana Scarlet Imp' and 'Deep Red' and 'Babylon Red'.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.) would be a good choice for a hot color scheme, especially Gaillairdia aristata 'Oranges and Lemons' or G. X grandiflora 'Fanfare'. Lance coreopsis such as Coreopsis grandiflora 'Sunfire', and threadleaf coreopsis such as C. verticillata 'Zagreb' or 'Sterntaler' also provide sunny color. Try 'Trays Gold' plectranthus (Plectranthus ciliatis) for drought tolerance in a low-growing plant, or add deer resistance to heat and drought tolerance by including bidens (Bidens ferulifolia) in forms such as 'Peters Gold Carpet' or 'Solaire'. Lantanas come in many varieties of hot colors, including 'Citrus Blend', 'New Gold', 'Patriot Classic Desert Sunset' and 'Patriot Classic Firewagon'. Sun loving cuphea (Cuphea llavea) comes in exciting forms such as 'Flamenco Samba' and 'Flamenco Rumba'.

For vivid foliage try new sun-tolerant forms of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) such as 'JoDonna', ''Rustic Orange', 'Twist and Twirl' and 'Texas Parking Lot'. Add interesting foliage plus attractive flowers with sages such as 'Golden Delicious' pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) or Salvia coccinea 'Spanish Dancer'. Mix these with colorful dahlias, daylilies and daisy-flowering flowers to season your design with that south of the border flavor.


Originally published in The Landscape Contractor magazine, April 2007

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Dallas Garden

I had a stopover in Dallas on my way home from McAllen. The combination of a big storm and Memorial Day weekend meant that I was stuck in Dallas for a couple of days. Luckily, I have friends and relatives in that area so it turned out to be a fun opportunity for some unplanned visits.

I spent one night with my aunt and uncle in Carrollton. They have done wonders with their garden/landscape. I'm attaching some pictures of their yard.

(More pictures to follow -- I have to reformat some of the best ones.)

McAllen, Texas - Plants in the Valley

In May I spent some time in McAllen, TX with my sister -- she's been there for several years but this was my first visit. I've been to Texas many times but never to this part of the state. McAllen is right on the border with Mexico, further south than Corpus Christie, and for some reason I was expecting it to be desert, sage-brush country, something like Amarillo. Instead, I found it very flat -- reminiscent of the part of the midwest where I grew up, in that respect -- but the plant life is actually sub-tropical. It wasn't all that different from Orlando, which really surprised me.

My sister lives across from a gated estate that is beautifully landscaped. One of the residents of the estate, Mr. Larry (that's his last name, I'm not sure I've spelled it correctly), gave my sister and me a guided tour of the estate and several people let me take pictures. I'm posting a selection of them, including one of my sister and Mr. Larry.

It was hot as blazes when we went on the tour, at least in the mid-90s. But I enjoyed every minute of our tour, and it was fascinating to see all the tropical plants that have survived there (especially knowing that they've had a couple of harsh winters in recent years).