Chesterton Tribune

June gardens: Every plant in its place

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Of Wonders and Weeds


June is for....justifying each plant in its place.

By now, everything that’s survived the winter should have broken ground and be actively growing, giving us a chance to survey what’s too crowded, what’s just right, and where the blank spots are in our landscape.

It’s become apparent the white-edged Solomon Seal, polygonatum variegatum, needs to be transplanted after growing much larger than I anticipated.

Since it seems to do well in dry shade, I plan to move four struggling azaleas to a moister site where they will get more sun and replace them with the Solomon Seal, which dangles 1-inch white flowers along its arching stems in spring. Both in flower and out, this nice plant makes a great “filler” for floral arrangements.

I’m not sure when the best time to transplant Solomon Seal is, but this could be a clue: it’s offered in the fall Wayside Garden catalog. Being 30 inches tall, I would cut back the plants before moving them to concentrate the action below ground instead of above it.

Talk about spreading! Valerie Swanson warned me about gooseneck loosestrife -- its nodding white flower heads arch over like a goose’s neck -- but I bought it anyway. Now it’s coming up everywhere in that border and will meet Mr. Roundup shortly.

They are hybridizing more well-behaved forms of loosestrife (lysimachia) like the variegated yellow-flowered “Alexander,” which promises to be “a vigorous grower but not invasive.”

Gooseneck loosestrife reminds me of the multi-colored chameleon plant (houttuynia) with the licorice smell; catalogs tout its striking foliage and say it “grows vigorously.” That’s putting it mildly. I’m still pulling that stuff out everywhere after six years.

Words like “spreads by underground runners” really get my attention now. I picked up a lovely rose dotted bellflower, campanula punctata “Elizabeth” at a local garden center, but when I read it “forms a large colony,” I put it back until I learn more about it.

There are places in some of our gardens for these special plants, to be sure. We just need to be better educated in choosing where we locate them. It’s often recommended to place aggressive plants in large pots and sink the pots into the ground, leaving the lip well above the soil line.

Porter County Cooperative Extension Educator Dave Yeager said this year’s local strawberry crop was the “best we’ve ever had, and the sweetest.” That’s the good news. The soybeans and corn are barely growing, and the tomatoes, peppers, melons, green beans and cucumbers aren’t doing well, either.

"We need heat and 70 degree nights. We don’t even have 70 degree days. Even 60 degree nights would be nice,” said Dave.

Cool-season crops such as cabbage, onions and peas like the recent chill, however, tomato plants can be injured if temperatures dip below 44 degrees. Also impacted are lawns, which are growing too rapidly in the rain and losing their desired dark green color. Application of sulfur-coated urea with nitrogen should help, advised Dave.

A silver lining in the below-normal temps is that spring flowers are staying in bloom longer, yet insects are on the rise, said Dave, especially the pine sawfly. He also expressed concern about diseases on crabapples and roses if the thermometer rises as well as the rain gauge. Keep that fungicide handy.

As I write this, partly sunny 70’s are predicted, but wasn’t it supposed to be in the 80’s by now in the previous long-range forecast? All I know for sure is everyone is talking about their bumper crop of weeds, which at least are easier to pull after a rain.

Congratulations to Sadie Steciuch of Chesterton for receiving a $1,000 scholarship from the Garden Club of Indiana Inc. to be applied to her upcoming senior year at Purdue University in West Lafayette. Sadie is pursuing a degree in landscape architecture.

The mother of four children, last year Sadie interned for several months with Fanning and Howey in Michigan City; this summer she will intern with Wolff Clements in Chicago, the latter firm having a broader range of clients including historical restorations.

“I like to do a variety of things as opposed to specializing, at least to start with,” said Sadie, noting that landscape architects can design therapy gardens, recreational sites, golf courses, housing developments, botanical gardens and children’s playgrounds.

Sadie’s interest in landscape architecture blossomed when she spearheaded the group that raised the money and coordinated construction of Dunes Friendship Land here in Chesterton Park. “What interested me was the aspect of seeing something built that affects people every day and how just being there impacts them in a positive way.”

June 2 was well-known hosta hybridizer Olga Petryszyn’s eighth annual sale in Furnessville, a fun mix of garage-sale frenzy and botanical symposium. Her own hybrid crosses offered for sale are exactingly labeled, and it’s a treat to view stunning new hostas like “Brother Stefan,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Viva Las Vegas,” and “Key West” that will be on the market within two years.

As bleak and dreary as it’s been, flowers are an especially welcome sight in Duneland, now more than ever.

A lovely white clematis vine recently caught my eye at 320 Lincoln in Porter. Clematis like cool, shaded feet in rich soil and warm sun on their leaves. Most often trained on some form of trellis, clematis will scramble up a deciduous shrub or sturdy perennial neighbor just as easily. Striped mauve-pink “Nelly Moser” will take quite a bit of shade and still bloom its head off.

My sincere thanks to all who’ve offered such kind words about this column, but I do need to offer a disclaimer: I am not a certified master gardener and the list of what I don’t know about gardening far exceeds what I do know.

When you think about it, isn’t that why we continue to garden? People grow in gardens, too.