Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
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
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
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
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
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
www.garyalan.com 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
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
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