Archive for 2007

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like...

Winter! We’re welcoming the first day of winter with a fresh snowfall. We’ve been fortunate to get a series of small snowstorms this past month, and the promise of more to come. The moisture is so welcome, and the snowy scene is perfect for a laid-back holiday.

On this first day of winter I’d like to wish you and yours the happiest of holidays; peace and joy!

Take care and I’ll see you back here in the new year.

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New Resource

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As winter approaches we can turn inward to enjoy our interior foliage plants, such as this cool begonia, and also spend some time doing a little research and planning for the more active gardening months to come.

A few weeks ago, when my soil scientist brother-in-law was here visiting, he showed me a great resource for accessing NRCS soil surveys. The Web Soil Survey site is fairly user friendly, although it takes a while to get the hang of how to ask for the information you want. And there is a LOT of information! You can learn the percentages of clay, sand and silt as well as organic matter in your soil. You can find out the pH, etc., etc. The best part is that you can select the specific reports that you want to keep, put them in a “shopping cart” (there is no charge, this is just a new way to disseminate existing information) and have them sent to you via e-mail as a PDF document. The site also has great definitions---explanations if you will---of various aspects/components of soils.

The bad news is that not all addresses you may query have an associated soil survey---they aren’t in the data base yet. Also, the data is only as good as the information created in the original soil survey. For example, my soil here is sandy. My personal expert soil scientist confirmed that while squirming around in the house’s crawl space (a plumbing horror story for another time!). But the survey for my address includes my location in the broader swath of the survey area. Classification: Nunn Series. This is a clay soil type and certainly fits the characteristics of my friend’s house just six blocks to the south, but doesn’t apply to me.

Conclusions? Check it out, play around. Just know that for the most accurate information about a specific site you’re better off running a soil test through your local land grant university. Go here to access soil testing information from Colorado State University.

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One Week Ago

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That’s me, seated at the news desk of Denver’s Channel 7 TV with Steve Saunders and Dale Cedars. I was there as a representative of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado to talk about what can be done in the winter landscape. Our emphasis was on working with a landscape professional (like me!) right now to plan and/or schedule your outdoor projects for the upcoming spring. Most landscape businesses are at their slowest right now, so it’s much easier for consumers to get prompt, attentive service.

We also talked about some of the activities that, weather permitting, you can do in your garden right now:

1. Demolition! Out with the old to make way for the new. A great way to burn some calories on a brisk winter day.

2. Hardscape installation. Some non-plant elements of the landscape can be built in all but the worst weather. Think decks, arbors, fences, retaining walls, paver patios, and the like.

3. Mulching. Once the ground is frozen you can spread a nice layer (2-3” deep) of organic mulch or evergreen boughs to protect perennials, in particular, from the freeze-thaw cycle so typical of our crazy temperature swings.

4. Pruning. Before the buds break dormancy is the time to prune most of your woody plants. This is absolutely the best time of year for any radical pruning such as renewal or rejuvenation techniques.

5. Clean, sharpen and oil your hand tools. Sand the wooden handles lightly before applying a nice coat of mineral oil (have the tool and oil at room temperature!).

6. Run and play! Enjoy a whole new season in your garden!

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trellis at Cambie

Hi, all--

Checking the City's guidelines for community gardens, it seems we do need approval for any 'structures' in the garden. Just a flag; we'll have to do a drawing (I can do) and indicate where on the site we plan to put it. At the same time, we could try to address the water issue on paper and perhaps we'll get an answer.

I see the trellis going toward the left of centre, near the back wall as Vicky described, because I have the sense that this is where we'll get the most sun. Those of you who've spent more time there may have a better idea--let me know.

As to size: I had suggested 4 x 8 to minimize the wood cutting, but when drawn out, that looks awful. Applying proper architectural design principles, it seems it would be better to go with one of the following options:

1) 7' high x 4.2' wide x 2.3' deep (so that the 4.2 opening is parallel with the front edge of the garden;

2) 7' high x 11' wide x 4.2' deep (again, widest side to the garden edge)

From a safety viewpoint, we need to make sure that the wee tots can't climb on it, so I'm suggesting that we train the plants up the sides on light wire or jute string, rather than lattice.

From an aesthetic and demonstration value viewpoint, it can be constructed with its lateral supports extending a bit beyond the structure at either side, to accommodate hanging gardens, if we can figure out a watering system that will keep them alive. This may be where the 'deck watering kit' could come in handy!

And finally, if we're going to build one, why not do two and put one on the roof garden as well? It would help define a 'small space' for our 'small space gardening' theme, and give us a little shade on, say, the west side? Contingent, of course, on our getting funding to extend the roof deck to the west.

Comments? Other ideas?


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More Color

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A few weeks ago my husband attended a workshop in using soft pastels that was taught by Arvada artist Jan Myers, whose work he has long admired. One of his fellow students mentioned a local resource for soft pastels; one of only four locations in the entire US where they are made.

Last week, houseguests in tow, we visited Terry Ludwig Pastels in Littleton, Colorado. Terry himself graciously gave us a tour of his small operation where about two dozen raw pigments from all over the world are combined to create hundreds of beautiful hues. All of the production is done by hand, and the finished pastels are sold via the internet or there at the studio. Sticks may be purchased individually, or in color sets designed by Terry and other artists.

The photo above is a set that my sister created for herself---it gives you just a hint of the rich depth of color of these soft, buttery sticks.

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I’ve spent the last couple of weeks being a tourist. First, I visited New Mexico including the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque. My husband and I were there to watch CSU and UNM play football (a pretty good game, although CSU lost again), but we couldn’t resist a walk around the campus to check out the plant material. Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is used extensively there and was near its peak autumn color, as you can see from this photo. It was struck me at the time that this huge wall of color looked like a giant abstract painting.

I returned home to play tourist here in Denver (as host to our lovely house guest, Virginia). We went to the Denver Art Museum to see the new exhibit Color as Field: American Painting, 1950-1975. It features a wonderful selection of large, mostly simple abstract paintings which focus on color. A couple of things I noticed that these paintings have in common are the use of unpainted canvas as part of the composition, and also the use of the paint in a transparent/translucent form. Most of the paintings are studies of color relationships via volume and/or proximity. If you are as intrigued by color as I am, be sure to visit the museum before the exhibit closes February 3.

By the way, Boston ivy does well here too, although it needs shade or partial shade and moderately moist, rich soils. It will climb on walls without support and holds its leaves much later into the fall than the more common Engleman ivy (Parthenocissus quinquefolia engelmannii). I saw one just yesterday in an old North Denver neighborhood and its red foliage was truly spectacular!

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This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago; a reflection of the beautiful blue Colorado sky in the water pot of my entry garden.

That pot is now empty and stored away until next spring. Now that we are well into the second month of fall, it’s time to get serious about preparing the garden for winter. Here is a check list of chores that I try to get done between late October and late November before the distractions of the holidays and the onset of really cold weather.

1. Plant bulbs.

2. Blow out automatic sprinkler system and insulate tap.

3. Remove hoses from faucets; drain. Store hoses and sprinklers in a handy location for winter watering.

4. Winterize water features. Drain, clean and store or cover fountains and pots. Remove plant debris from ponds and set up a bubbler (a submersible pump with a short piece of pipe attached to the outlet) to keep some surface area free of ice. Disconnect pumps to recirculating waterfalls---especially if the water volume is fairly low. Ice buildup can divert water and cause problems. Moving water will also make your pond colder, which may be an issue if you have fish.

5. Empty all containers of annual flowers or veggies (off to the compost pile!). Remove soil – or the top 8-10” from large pots - (again, off to the compost pile!), and put containers into storage. My “storage” is the back corner of my covered patio. A shed or garage would also do the trick. I have also had luck leaving large, glazed pots turned upside down right out in the garden.

6. Spread compost and/or slow release, organic fertilizer throughout planting beds.

7. Remove leaves from lawn areas. I rake my leaves directly into my garden beds for a loose, temporary mulch. I’ll remove them in the spring for composting. You can also run your lawn mower over them and leave them, or rake them up for mulch or to compost.

8. Winterize lawn mower. After the last mowing, run it until the gas tank is empty. Clean mower and sharpen blade.

9. Wrap young trees. I don’t need to do this anymore, but here are the directions for “how-to”.

10. Clean up/cut back perennials. I do most of this in the spring, because I like the structure and texture that many plants offer during dormancy. However, it’s nice to have some puttering around to do on those days when I really want to be in the garden!

I’ve already completed a few of these items, but today I’m off to tackle #5. Enjoy your fall garden!

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Chocolate, Caramel or Toffee?

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I must have had Halloween treats on my mind when looking at my northern red oak (Quercus rubra) yesterday. The foliage color is not the typical brilliant orangey-red that I associate with this species. They are distinctive around town this time of year---their huge, colorful crowns can be seen from blocks away. Why are the leaves on my tree brown? I have no idea. They always go from green to yellowish, then straight to brown---no stopping for red!

There are several oaks that do well in our region. Two of the best (for their drought hardiness and adaptability to heavy clay soils) are the bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor). In Denver’s older parks you can see good examples of the broad, rounded English oak (Quercus robur). Our native scrub oak (Quercus gambelii) doesn’t always adapt well to urban settings. These oaks are all fairly slow growing, but have nice strong branches that hold up well to heavy wet snows. Most of them are huge trees that need lots of space to grow to their full potential.

So what’s your favorite---chocolate, caramel or toffee? Have a fun Halloween!

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Autumn Gourds

Here is a sampling of the gourds that were used Saturday as table d├ęcor at the party my daughter and son-in-law hosted to celebrate their recent marriage. It was a beautiful Colorado fall day and friends and family (four generations!) from across the country were there to congratulate the young couple.

Anyway, to my horticultural embarrassment, I could not remember the difference between a squash and a gourd! Webster’s dictionary (my Dad’s collegiate edition from 1951 is on my desk---the fastest “search engine” in the world for concise information!) quickly set me straight: a gourd is any plant in the genus Cucurbita including melon, squash and pumpkin, and also the hard shelled bottle gourd, Lagenaria vulgaris. I’ve always loved gourds for their huge variety of odd forms, textures, and colors. To me, gourds are Autumn!

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Harvest Time

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Glorious Grapes! This year the grapes seem sweeter than ever before!

Jim harvested a big batch and cooked them down to juice. (Note the last of the tomatoes sitting on the counter to ripen. Salsa, anyone?)

Most of the juice will go into smoothies, although some grape syrup may be in the works too. Our favorite neighbor, Nigel, got the leftover skins and seeds. Mmmmm….

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Prime Time for Grasses

This is a recent view of my meadow garden. The grasses are in full bloom/seed now and at their peak. It’s kind of a mish-mash of tall grasses and short grasses, many native to our area. Here you can see the reddish little bluestem (Schizachrium scoparium), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and Indian grass (Sorgastrum nutans). These tall prairie grasses are underplanted with very low buffalo grass (Buchloe dachtiloides). There are also a number of perennials and species tulips planted with the grasses to add color and interest in the spring and summer, but this is definitely the time of year when I like this garden the most!

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We've Got Babies!

These big beauties are our pet koi. Several of them have been with us since they were only about 4” long, some 15 years! Many of them are now in the 20”-24” range, and we love to watch them slowly cruise around the pond. As the water temperatures cool they will stop feeding and slowly go into hibernation mode. They’ll spend the winter resting near the bottom of the pond, where the water is the warmest. We’ve already stopped giving them any supplemental feed and they’re now on a strictly vegetarian diet.

As the water plants also start their decline into dormancy we have more open water surface area---the better to view our fish and their babies! We don’t get them every year; I think all the big guys cannibalize them. At this point I’ve spotted about 5 little 1 ½ inchers darting around. Right now they all look very different---reds, oranges, blacks, spotted. It will be great fun to watch them grow and develop their mature coloration!

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The Humidity Factor

On my previous post I had a comment from Pam/Digging, an avid gardener in Austin, Texas, about humidity as a factor in plant selection. How right you are Pam! Folks in our area often crave plants that really need a higher humidity level than we have. Things like Japanese maple, true holly (Ilex), or Rhododendron. Sure, they’re sold at some of the local nurseries usually with the recommendation to plant them in a “protected” location. That’s a euphemism for “needs more humidity than we have here so keep it out of the wind and sun and give it lots of water.” And yes, I’ve seen these plants growing successfully in some gardens---usually those in very well established neighborhoods that have a lot of trees and shrubs to create a cooler, more humid microclimate. But most of us need to focus on the macroclimate and select plants based on those realities first.

Another note on humidity: if you are planning to add any broadleaf evergreens---even the well adapted types--- such as Mahonia, Euonymus, Arctostaphylos, etc to your landscape, you might consider waiting until spring. Our dry, windy winters are really tough on newly planted evergreens. Another option is to plan to treat them with an anti- desiccant, such as Wilt-Proof, and provide regular waterings through the winter.

I took this photo yesterday; I was surprised to see this Datura in bloom, as I hadn’t even noticed that it had sprung up!

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Sometimes it's All About the Seeds

This feather-duster seed head is the star attribute of Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa), a native shrub of the southwest uplands. This shrub is great in sunny, xeric landscapes as a background plant or screen; although it has a fine texture, it is quite dense, and gets about 5’x5’ in size. Most people either love it or hate it---I’m in the former camp.

Today’s Denver Post had a great article about the National Seed Storage Laboratory on the CSU campus in Fort Collins. From time to time I read thoughtful blog postings like this one that stress the need for seed diversity and conservation. The Post article explains how that can- and is- being done on an international level.

Are you a seed saver?

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This is how soil is made; Plants and other forces of nature breaking down rocks into tiny particles. Several Palace Purple coralbells (Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’) were planted at the base of this rock about 15 years ago. Within just a few years we noticed a seedling peeking out from this crack. Each year this “seedling” gets just a bit bigger and, in fact, we now have another sprout on top of the boulder! Interestingly, there have never been any seeds germinate in the soil around the mother plant…

I’ve been thinking a lot about soils lately; because that is the chapter I’m working on for my book right now. It’s a huge, complex topic that I need to distill and simplify in a concise and logical way. So tell me, what is the best advise regarding soil that you’ve been given? Any real “a-ha!!” moments?

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Meet. . . Solidago!

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Solidago, also know as goldenrod, is a reliable late summer bloomer with vibrant yellow flowers. There are a number of varieties available on the market today varying in height from 2’-6’ tall. My favorite, by far, is the ‘Fireworks’ cultivar of Solidago rugosa. The flower form, indeed, looks like an exploding firecracker! It has a delicate texture that is a great contrast to the more stalwart asters, sunflowers, and plumbago that are also in bloom now. Most Solidago prefer a compost enriched soil, moderate moisture, and full sun.

My Fireworks goldenrod is shown here with an ornamental sage.

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Bedding Plants

The idea of using annuals to fill an entire planting bed is alive and well in the Denver parks system. As you drive along city boulevards or stroll through almost any city park you’ll see massive displays of color in beautiful (and free!) public gardens. The city has its own greenhouses and plans and grows thousands of flowers, grasses and beautiful foliage plants (coleus, kale, abutilon, etc) each spring. Most often they do a great job of combining plants that will have an impact on a massive scale. I enjoy visiting Washington Park, in particular, to check out the gardens. A lot of attention obviously goes into selecting “the best” plant combinations, but they don’t always work; I learn a lot from critiquing both.

Wherever you live, I hope you can take advantage of these last few weeks of summer and visit your local public gardens.

Here are some views of Washington Park from September 1, 2007.

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Welcome Tim!

Our lovely daughter, Erin, was recently married! Our new son-in-law, Tim, was Erin’s traveling companion on her trip to Chengdu, China, earlier this year. They survived an assortment of (NOW funny) challenges and adventures during their journey to the other side of the world. It seemed a good omen, so now they’ve embarked on a life-long journey of another sort. Tim’s love of creative writing, traditional Chinese medicine, and RPGs will bring “hybrid vigor” (as we plant people say) to our gardening, visual arts, college football loving clan. Yea!

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Kendrick Lake Park

If you need some late summer inspiration for your landscape and gardens, I suggest a visit to Kendrick Lake Park in Lakewood, CO. Located on West Jewell Avenue between Garrison and Kipling, the park features a walking path around Kendrick Reservoir, a children’s play area, and a FANTASTIC xeriscape demonstration garden.

The garden was installed (yes, despite the scorn of many, those of us in the landscape profession happily use the word “installed” for plants and all of the many other materials that go into creating an outdoor environment!) several years ago and is finally reaching it’s potential. The garden focuses on native and adapted low water using perennials, grasses, and shrubs.

Right now the grasses are at their prime,

As are the hummingbird mints (Agastache)

And the Mexican hat (Ratibida)

I hope you have an opportunity to take a stroll through this garden---be sure to take your camera!

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100th Post...An Exciting Announcement

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I'm thrilled to announce that I have recently been awarded a contract by American Nurseryman Publishing Company to write a new book on gardening. The working title is “Plant Smart! Six Steps to Choosing Perfect Plants” and the release date will probably be sometime in early 2009.

This is a very exciting project for me for several reasons. First, it will allow me to put a lot of the information that I have been teaching for many years into a simple, permanent reference format for those who prefer to learn on their own and/or don’t have access to a formal classroom setting. Second, it will give me professional recognition beyond the Denver region that will enable me to lecture on a national level---something I have aspired to for many years as I truly enjoy public speaking. And last, this will be a new professional challenge for me, a non-writer!

This blog was created, in part, as a writing exercise tool---a journal, if you will---to keep me thinking about words and how to express ideas and observations. So now, along with continuing to post about plants and gardening, art and fiber, I will also be writing about the process of creating and publishing a book.

Wish me luck!

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One of my favorite places in the world is Taos, New Mexico. It’s not too far from Denver (about a 5 hour drive), but it has such a sense of place that you feel like you’ve been transported to a whole different world. I love the high, dry valley and mountain views, the Pueblo style architecture, and the laid back, friendly people.

We crammed a lot of fun into just a couple of days: We visited The Harwood Museum of Art and saw a fascinating exhibit of mid-century abstract expressionism by American painter Richard Diebenkorn. We also saw the national water media exhibit hosted at the Millicent Rogers Museum.

The Adobe Bar at the Taos Inn had a great trio playing vintage country western and honkey tonk music that was perfect with their fantastic margaritas! This was our first stay at the Casa Benavides Inn, a bed and breakfast just east of the town plaza. Very charming, with REAL Southwestern style, not that howling coyote crap. And the food was fabulous.

Enjoy the photo tour!

Russian sage and goldenrod

A classic Northern new Mexico scene: blue gate and hollyhock

The view from our room at Casa Benavides

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What a Relief!

The garden tour/art exhibit went off without a hitch this past Saturday. We got lucky with some rain showers and cooler weather the week prior to the event, so things went from toasty and dry looking to quite acceptable. Of course, I spent several days “staging” the garden by adding new flowering plants or those with cool foliage, moving pots from the patio into the garden, adding fresh mulch, weeding, deadheading, etc. It’s actually been months of work getting things (and keeping them!) ship shape for the garden event, not to mention preparing for an art exhibition (and having plenty of new work to show!) as well. Whew! The past few days have been spent merely puttering about, enjoying the fruits of our labors. Hope you enjoy this mini photo tour!

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Sex in the Garden

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I hope that you’re not sick of lotus flowers yet, because I just can’t resist posting two more photos. The first one was taken Friday, July 27, 2007 on the first day that this flower was in bloom. Note the rich pink color of the petals and the wonderful polka dot look of the stigmas on the pistil. The stamens are the curled, creamy colored frill around the pistil.
I must admit that this is undoubtedly the most beautiful photo that I have taken all year!

Fast forward to Sunday, July 29. Just a few days later and the petals have turned almost completely white, and the stamens have grown into the stigmas for pollination. Amazing!

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Don't Forget!

Just a reminder: on Saturday, August 4, my garden will be featured in Denver Botanic Gardens’ Highlands Art Garden Tour. The tour is from 1-3 p.m. and is preceded by a lecture at 11 a.m. by Julie Moir Messervy. Messervy will discuss “Creating Inspired Gardens Through Art” as part of the Bonfils-Stanton lecture series.

The garden tour is an open studio tour of sorts as well. All of the gardens will feature sculpture, and several of the gardens are at artists’ residences and/or studios. I’ll have some of my fiber collages on display---several new pieces and a couple of older favorites too. This photo is from my latest series of mini-floral fiber collages that feature my own photographs and fabrics.

Tickets are required for this event. Please contact Denver Botanic Gardens at 720-865-3580.

Hope to see you here!

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Lotus Update

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Finally in bloom! In a previous post I opined that the uplifted leaves of my lotus were a sure sign of imminent flowers. Well, it’s been a bit longer than I expected (wished for?) but this weekend we were rewarded with our first lotus bloom of the summer. These are such stunning flowers. They make me feel like my city patio has been transformed into an exotic Asian resort (minus the humidity!); a fun escape on a hot summer day.

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Mosquito Season

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Mosquito season is here---aaaaak! I hate mosquitoes, and now with the upgraded threat of West Nile virus they are on my hit list. I’m a big fan of Mosquito Dunks®, a biological larvicide that’s easy to use and lasts for about a month. I put them in my water pots, pond, birdbath, etc. The active ingredient is Bacillus thuringensis, a bacterium that is eaten by, and then kills, mosquito larvae. The dry cakes can be broken into smaller pieces depending on the surface area of water to be treated (a little goes a long way!). Look for them at your favorite garden center.

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Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Chocolate colored daylily and purple lysimachia
"Topaz" shrub rose
Globe thistle
Poppy mallow
Here is a list of the many things blooming in my hot and sunny garden today, July 15, 2007. It never surprises me to see how many things really are in flower at any given time!


St. Johnswort

Poppy mallow
Red flowering yucca
Aster Frikartii
Tall phlox
Purple coneflower
Sea lavender
Jupiter’s beard, red & white
Missouri evening primrose
Baby’s breath
Scarlet hedgenettle
Mexican hat
Horned poppy
Russian sage
Sea holly
Carpet Zauschneria
Globe thistle

Fresh herbs in full use now

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