Chesterton Tribune

Rain comes late for Duneland area gardeners

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Of Wonders and Weeds


September is for .... at last, rain and this garden column.

I’d love to say I’ve been doing wonderful garden projects, perfecting my landscape plan and growing amazingly healthy, beautiful plants. In truth, I’ve been too busy to get out in the garden as much as I wanted and the drought has gotten the best of the yard.

This is one of the few gardening seasons I’ll be glad to see end; there’s so much wrong with so many plants it’s best to just start over next spring.

I think in my zeal to water certain plants, I didn’t take into account their neighbors. The ‘Sensation’ lilac came through the drought just beautifully, but the ‘Munstead’ lavender in front of it got mushy and sulked for several weeks, probably because it’s a Mediterranean plant that likes it hot and dry.

This also may be why my ‘Autumn Joy,’ a member of the drought-tolerant sedum family, flopped everywhere. It probably just got too much water.

These are the kinds of observations that will be invaluable next year. Plants, like people, get along better if they have something in common.

Perhaps not enough water is why the ‘Purple Dome’ aster, which should be bursting now with purple daisy-like flowers with yellow centers, is mildewed toast. Books recommend cutting the sickly top growth to the ground and top-dressing the soil with a fungicide, but I may dig them out entirely and find a substitute because the area doesn’t have good air circulation, which is what mildew-prone asters need.

It’s always interesting growing a new plant for the first time. Last fall I planted three lobelia cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria,’ a brilliant red cardinal flower that had reddish foliage, too.

It was very late breaking ground in the spring (which is why labeling is so important), but it shot up once it got going, so much so it fell over, started growing sideways and then back up again as the flowerheads formed. Next year, I’m making a note to research if I can give the Victorias a haircut to make them shorter and bushier. I could stake them, too.

The hybrid tea rose hardly affected by the prevalent black spot in the rose garden this year is ‘Sun Goddess’ with its medium yellow flowers and tough-as-nails foliage. Hybridizers often list the parents of the plants they’re introducing; if I saw a rose with ‘Sun Goddess’ in its background, I’d give it serious consideration.

Another plant thriving this year were the dahlias, perennials that grow out of tubers that are not generally winter-hardy here.

Dahlias are amazing to me. These knarled little tubers produce bushels of flowers widely varied in color and shapes. The violet-hued ‘Lauren Michelle’ was tied with plastic landscape tape to a stake when the plant was about 24 inches tall, but at five feet it got so top-heavy it fell over and broke this weekend. Another note to myself: use sturdier stakes and tie up the dahlias a second time, too.

Now is the time to ease houseplants --- and tender outdoor plants we want to try indoors --- in for the winter. Move them to a porch or more sheltered location closer to the house or garage for a few days, and inspect them well for insects and disease. Someone recently told me she puts a drop of dishwashing liquid in the water when watering these plants to coax out any bugs that may linger in the soil.

This summer I had the pleasure of visiting the garden of Ron and Patty Waldier, who won an award from Lowe’s for their stunning yard. The thing that immediately grabbed me is the way the couple created garden rooms that draw you into each area. You also can hear the sound of bubbling water, which makes you want to seek it out.

Elements like the stone path, evergreen-covered berm, raised planter, arbor or one of several water features showcase the Waldiers’ ability to mix hardscaping (structures and paths) and landscaping in the perfect proportion. Fifteen years ago the yard was a cornfield. Today, “Around every little corner there’s something,” says Ron, who enjoys the frog pond and gazebo.

Plants also share the stage, like a buttefly garden, huge hibiscus and a bank of colorful cannas. A special plant is the ‘Madame Ruby’ daylily Ron bought for Patty. The couple’s selection of the right tree for the right place is evident, the scale and shape of each especially appropriate for its setting.

According to Ron, who owns Porter Auto Supply, his yard is his refuge. “I can sit and enjoy it without telephones ringing and people bothering me.”

Patty is a woman after my own heart. “We’re always moving things around,” she said. She also told me of her greenhouse Bird of Paradise plant they’ve had for six years and are waiting for its first bloom. I bought a Paradise plant last fall when Centier Bank had a fundraiser; I had no idea I’ll have to baby it for another five years.

Ron said as far as garden walks, “I can’t take my wife on anything like that because I know what I’d be doing all the rest of the summer.” It’s great to see that someone who, to me, has a fantastic garden, can still see room for improvement.

We in Burns Harbor are served by the Portage AT&T cable system, which finally moved into the 21st century last week and added the 17 cable channels that Chesterton viewers have had for years, even though we paid virtually the same rates.

HGTV has featured a series with landscape architect Gary Alan, who now has a bi-monthly newsletter offering design ideas, illustrations, maintenance tips and step-by-step instructions about gardening. His website says Florida-based Gary also will suggest regional plant selections and ways to increase curb appeal with reader’s before and after photos.

The cost for In The Yard with Gary Alan is $27.95 and can be ordered at or 1-866-400-4279.

Gary has helped me break out of my linear thinking about garden layout; he uses sweeping curves that jump across sidewalks and driveways to give movement and continuity to planting beds. He also prefers planting in drifts of several of the same kind of plant, and often uses smaller ornamental trees as focal points seen from various angles, like from in the house or driving up the driveway.

Turning up everywhere now is lucky bamboo, the darling of the spring Flower and Garden Show in Chicago where one stalk ranged from about $6 to $14 depending on height and whether it had been grown around a ball to spiral it. Sprouting out the top of each segmented green stalk are arching narrow green leaves.

As an example of how bamboo prices are coming down, I got a clump of five, 14-inch stalks for just $10.99 at Town and Country Market last month. Needless to say, they sold out fast. Bamboo appears to be the perfect houseplant: low to bright indirect light, happy above 50 degrees and dirt-free because they live in a water-tight container that has at least one inch of water covering the roots.

Someone told me this bamboo doesn’t like more than two inches of water at its feet, and that chlorinated tap water isn’t best. They recommended using distilled water that is changed every two weeks. I put some of those glass floral pebbles in the bottom of the tall, narrow glass vase just for fun.

Mark your calendars for Sept. 28 for the Taltree Arboretum & Gardens grand opening celebration from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The children’s sunflower village is waiting for visitors, and also on display will be honey production, native American and live animal and insect exhibits. A Cooper’s hawk will be released and a presentation on raptors given. Horticulture will be spotlighted along with storytelling and live music.

I was at Taltree in August for a hosta auction in their gorgeous new stone pavilion. The massive shelter is surrounded by a pond and stepped beds and plantings. For the grand opening, visitors are asked to bring a blanket or lawn chair.

To visit the new 72-acre arboretum, take U.S. 30 to County Road 500W just west of Sedley Road. Turn south on 500W to County Road 100N. Turn east and it’s a half mile to the Taltree entrance on the right.

Two weeks ago Duneland Garden Club members visited Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich. We were fortunate to have head horticulturalist Julie Francke give us an orientation and tour of the temporarily closed woodland walk where at its entrance a new four-acre children’s garden is being built to open in 2004.

Julie also told us how a garden club donated $800 so a Florida plant broker could obtain one huge seed of the rare double coconut. It takes one year to germinate, and there’s no guarantee it will.

A helpful volunteer in the gorgeous tropical greenhouse showed us a Caribbean lignum vitae or tree of life like the ones used to make the self-lubricating hinges still operating on the Erie Canal.

Another volunteer told us how it took 65 semi-truck trailers to bring huge boulders from New York, some weighing 40,000 pounds, to build Meijer’s two waterfalls. Between them are three small Alpine fir trees, thought to be about 250 to 400 years old. They had been growing at 10,000 feet elevation on Mt. Hood in Oregon and grow only 1/4-inch per year.

One place I wanted to spend more time but couldn’t was the Meijer library, which has both a wide selection of unusual horticultural periodicals as well as reference books. Immediately catching my eye was a beautifully embossed 500-page leather volume from 1890 London about orchids describing “all kinds in general cultivation.” The orchid sketches were in black and white.

Some of the newest beauties displayed in Daylily World’s fall 2002 mailing almost look like orchids, especially ‘Isis Unveiled,’ a $150 mauve stunner whose eyezone is said to come closer to the much-sought-after blue. Thirteen different cultivars are listed as its parentage. The $125 red violet ‘Manor Born’ is said to have 30 or more buds per each four- to six-way branched flower stalk or scape.

It makes one wonder: in their frenzy to hybridize the daylights out of the poor little orange ditch lily, will it still even look like a daylily some day?


Posted 9/26/2002