Monday, September 10, 2012

I Hope it's Like Riding a Bike (and, Five Plant Favorites from Summer 2012)

I haven't posted in so long, I think I've forgotten how.  (Whether I ever knew how is debatable!)

The day after I wrote this post, I got sick.  For nearly six weeks!  In spite of multiple doctor visits and medical tests, no diagnosis was confirmed, but, thankfully, I'm feeling much better.  I have a depressing lack of confidence in the medical profession, but a new enthusiasm for taking better care of myself.

As far as gardening and garden blogging (and, really, everything else as well), getting back to old routines has taken much longer than I would have thought.  I'm glad to have scarcely noticed August which I do not care for much; the heat and bugs barely entered into my awareness at all this year.  And hurray for September, which always feels like a chance to start fresh -- especially on this day of perfect fall-like weather!

Is it just me, or does it seem particularly appropriate at a time like this to make a list?  I love to make lists and to read them, too; here's one that came to mind this morning as I thought about what survived and thrived in my garden this year during my absence.

Five Plant Favorites from Summer 2012

Sungold Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Sungold')

Success, finally, with a tomato!  I planted just one of these in a spot with about 3 or 4 hours of direct sun.  That hasn't been enough for most other tomatoes, but, even with more than a quarter of the tomatoes splitting when ripe (boo!),  'Sungold' produced so fast we couldn't keep up (yay!).  The one inch fruits never turn red, instead deepening orange-gold when mature.  The color is a pretty contrast to other tomatoes and looks great in your salads.  They're a perfect combination of sweet and tart, so they taste great, too.

Sweetleaf (Stevia rebaudiana)

Sweetleaf is not just a clever name; the leaves are intensely sweet, many times sweeter than sugar.   I think the fresh leaves have a honeysuckle taste that's not noticeable in the dried.  A fresh leaf or two will sweeten a cup of tea without the calories of sugar.  But then, you probably already know this about sweetleaf (a.k.a. stevia).  In the garden, it is grown as an annual here in North Carolina, but, like lemon verbena, sweetleaf will become a woody shrub if you keep it in a pot, prevent it from freezing during the winter, and take it back out into the garden after any danger of frost has passed.  Sweetleaf stayed healthy for me even in a hot dry part of the garden with only afternoon sun.  It did sprawl and flop a little, but no creatures seemed to bother it at all.  Tiny white flowers tip the stems regularly throughout the summer.

Boxwood Basil (Ocimum basilicum 'Boxwood')

Boxwood basil was a lucky find at Lowe's one day last spring.  I went there to buy paint, but my legs only know how to get into the store from the garden center, so they walked me past some boxwood basil on the way in.  Suddenly, I realized I needed another basil -- preferably one with a compact habit, that could grow in a narrow bed with my short Dianthus.  How wonderfully serendipitous that I ran into this particular basil that day, huh?  The growth habit of boxwood basil is particularly pleasant because it makes nicely rounded mounds in the garden of about a foot tall and wide.   And, in spite of the tiny leaves, the flavor of this basil is intense.  It is every bit as useful in the kitchen as the larger basils; in fact it's easier to use because you don't need to bother with chopping the leaves!  I imagine it will be a good one to take indoors this fall because it won't need much room on the windowsill.

Chocolate Eupatorium (Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate')

What's chocolate about this Eupatorium?  Well, I suppose the dark color...but it's a stretch, if you ask me.  Maybe it's cynical to conclude it has more to do with the fact that marketers know we can't resist anything with chocolate in the name?  Whatever you call this plant, it has been very satisfying to grow.  Mine is planted in an area of dappled shade even though the recommendation is for full sun, and it has remained in flower, growing well, all summer.  Like its relative joe pye weed, butterflies like it and deer avoid it.  Unlike joe pye, it stays smallish (under 3' for me), compact, and far less weedy looking.  Eupatorium rugosum is a native plant that reseeds readily, but 'Chocolate' will not come true from seed.

River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

I knew I would have to have river oats in my garden when I first saw these pendant seed heads years ago.  I just love how they hang like jewelry and move in the slightest breeze.  Chasmanthium is a wonderful native plant, but it can spread itself around quite a bit.  I think you have to consider where you might like it to do that before you decide to plant it, but don't worry too much about it.  Enjoy the fact that it will grow in shade since not many grasses will.  Appreciate the movement it adds to your garden and its long season of beauty.  Spray the seed heads with a coat of hairspray (so they don't shatter) and take the long stems inside to enjoy in fall arrangements.  It is as lovely in fall brown as in spring green.