National Color Day – The Garden Way!

”The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.”

– John Ruskin

 

Today is a big day! Not only is it the first day of early voting in Texas but it is also National Color Day! Woo hoo!!! If you know me or have been following this blog, it’s not difficult to see that I’m a lover of color…especially in the garden. When I design a garden I like to apply the same techniques that I use when painting. I decide in my mind where each color should live on each section of the garden canvas. I actually tend to begin more with color than with height, size, shape or flower type. The special key to proper pollinator gardening, as well, is that you should plant in mass. A solid stand of a particular species of flower will be much more effective in attracting butterflies from high above, for instance, than just two or three plants. Each honey bee worker also only collects from one species of flower per flight, so giving her a nice bundle from which to gather lots of pollen is also helpful. What can I say? It’s important to color block.

The funny thing about a good pollinator garden, though…it keeps changing. Like the Mona Lisa, year after year altered by the master, it’s never quite “finished.” This is largely because pollinator gardens beget seeds sown randomly without any thought or order. But that’s kind-of what makes every spring exciting, you never know where some things will pop up next!

In preparation for National Color Day, I spent a little time in my gardens this weekend capturing some of my fall favorites before they fade away to mere memories. So instead of the usual Morbid Monday series, let’s celebrate a little life today through color! I hope you enjoy my color share as you wrap up your Monday, and I suggest that you get out this week for a while and enjoy the beauty of this stunningly pigmented planet that we are blessed to call home. No need to go in search of the rainbow, folks. We’re living right smack dab in the middle of it. Enjoy!

 

All the best,

A. J.

 

RED – Love and Strength

(Blanket Flower, Red Autumn Sage, Ornamental Pepper, Firecracker Penstemon)

 

ORANGE – Creativity and Determination

(Swiss Chard veins, Orange Zest Cestrum, Tall Orange Cosmos)

 

YELLOW – Happiness

(Yellow Cosmos, Goldenrod)

 

GREEN – Relaxation and Growth

(Sweet Potato Vine, Boxwood and sculpture, Oxalis over stone, potted Peppermint in sunshine)

 

BLUE – Imagination

(Common Dayflower)

 

PINK – Sophistication and Sincerity

(Zinnia, Lantana, Balsam Flower, Petunia, Standing Phlox, Pink Autumn Sage)

 

PURPLE – Power and Ambition

(Pincushion Flower, Thai Basil, Gregg’s Mistflower, Indigo Spires, Balsam Flower, Butterfly Bush, Fall Aster)

 

WHITE – Purity

(Frogfruit, Frostweed, Balsam Flower)

 

BROWN – Reliability and Warmth

(Overgrown Path, Brick Backdrop, Pond Basin, Death gives Life)

 

BLACK – Mystery…the absence of all color

(Earth…the promise of color to come)

 

– All content photos by Amanda J. Schulz

 

The Magnificent Seven

“Summer was our best season…it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape… ”

– Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird”

 

When I pull up my WeatherBug® app these days, it shows a sun with cactus. It’s been a sun with cactus for days. It’s predicting a sun with cactus for another straight week. In case you’re a little slow on the uptake, that basically means it’s hot. It’s blazing hot. It’s some kind of near to hell hot. It’s so hot here in North Texas that my Facebook® feed has become a littered highway of automobile dashboard photos depicting 105°, 108°, 112°…you name it. When I walk from the house to the garage, I literally feel like I’m in the movie The Magnificent Seven, only no one is shooting at me. My dad always loved that movie, but as a kid I just remember thinking that all those people looked so hot. It was like the sun was glaring all the time, the landscape was a bunch of sticks and rocks, there were lots of men brandishing firearms and donning pants and vests and long sleeves, and everyone kept falling and rolling around in the dirt. Miserable. That’s pretty much how it is here. At some point, it honestly doesn’t really matter what the dashboard number says, you just don’t care anymore. It’s all the same swelter. You stand and sweat, along with everyone else standing and sweating, longing for the moment when someone posts a photo of the first Pumpkin Spice Latte. Ahhhh…fall.

I have to admit that we have spent precious LITTLE time in the garden these past few weeks, and I have been seriously “momming.” This “momming” thing is not for the birds, people. I’ve been shuttling kids to movies, dropping off and picking up from camps, trekking around water parks, fixing seemingly endless meals and snacks…I was even assigned a part in a YouTube video this weekend by my son…all while still working for my clients and longing for the moment when someone posts a photo of the first day of SCHOOL!!!  LOL. Can we get a “yes” here that, as of July 23, we’re all pretty much ready for this?!?!?

When we WERE out, here and there, in the garden this last week, I honestly couldn’t help but marvel at some of my tried and true favorites still pushing on through, despite the perpetual sun with cactus. I surmised, though, that some of you might be blankly staring out a window, somewhere right about now, and disheartenedly wondering, “What the heck can I plant NEXT spring so that my July flower bed doesn’t look like a Mexican village taken over by the Calvera?” Have no fear. The Magnificent Seven are here. I snapped these photos Saturday when it was 109º at my house, and ALL of these beauties were bloomin’ hot (total pun intended)! I guarantee, with a little planning this coming spring, these can be surefire color-slinging saviors for your garden next summer. Here they are, riding into town to the rescue!

 

You:  “I want ZERO maintenance. I mean…I want to throw out some seeds, watch some plants come up and not do anything but water twice a week.”

Me:  “I hear ya. I’ve got ya covered.”

 

BLACK-EYED SUSAN and BLANKET FLOWER

Both of these specimens are in their second round of blooms right now, the first having been a spring bloom. If they can grow from seed on a Texas roadside, they can certainly grow in your garden!

 

ZINNIAS and ORANGE COSMOS

These are old-fashioned garden favorites! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Zinnias for their variety. From the tiny Thumbelina blooms to the giant doubles, they come in a palette of color in all shapes and sizes. I tend to love the giant doubles in pink, seen above. Your basic Orange Cosmos is also a winner, standing up to all kinds of heat with continued green foliage, AND attracting bees! The best part…all you have to do is scatter seed and watch them come up!!!

 

You: “But I’m okay with a LITTLE work. I don’t mind using a few tools.”

Me: “Then I’ve got the two for you!”

 

AUTUMN SAGE and ORANGE ZEST CESTRUM

If you need to “feel” like you’re gardening, then these two choices might be perfect for you. Autumn Sage is a super tolerant plant to grow and it comes in a variety of colors. It’s a medium-height clumping grower that will provide continuous color from spring until frost. I have it growing in red, pale pink and deep purple in my garden. You’ll need to have hand pruners in the spring to cut back all of the old, dead stems and help shape the plant as it begins to sprout. Want something bigger? Orange Zest Cestrum might be my most favorite shrub right now. We have this planted adjacent to our pond, and it provides lush, dark green foliage and continuous orange-yellow clustered blooms, again, from spring through frost. It attracts a multitude of interesting insects as well, but not really pests that harm the plant. In fact, it’s known for being relatively pest resistant. Once it begins to sprout in the spring, you will need a good set of loppers to trim off branches that you don’t want in order to begin to shape the shrub upward for the blooming season. This shrub gets big. Ours is easily between 5 to 6 feet tall right now and about 4 feet wide, so allow some space for this girl.

 

You: “These are all great options, but what about a plant I can easily get a start of from a friend?”

Me: “Oh, so you want to #plantsharenow? I like your style!”

 

STANDING PHLOX

 

This, ladies and gentleman, is the Yul Brynner of the Magnificent Seven. The leader, the champion, the one J. and I just said this week that, “We need a LOT more of.” If you want something big and showy to really add major pizzazz to your beds, I cannot recommend Phlox enough. Now, this is definitely an example of a plant that is easier to grow from cuttings or transplants, rather than seed, but that’s the best part! If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I like sustainability through the concept of using and sharing what you have, whether through seeds or starts. We transplanted shoots dug from the clumps of my mother-in-law’s Phlox into our garden last fall. They went dormant in the winter, then re-sprouted this last spring and REALLY started blooming when the heat cranked up…so, you can see, this plant species checks a lot of boxes! I’ve loved this so much that I would have it in every bed, if possible. And, hey, anything’s possible, right?

 

I hope these suggestions might help you feel a little bit better when you look out your window next July. These plantings truly will liberate any struggling, sun-filled summer bed. So don’t be dismayed by your swelter! I say, “Own it!” Well, at least own it in your flower beds. I have no control over the efficiency of your air conditioning or how many times a day you have to shower.

 

All the best,

A. J.

– All content photos by Amanda J. Schulz

Seeds of Sustainability – Vol. I

– Featured Image photo by: Nathaniel R. Schulz

“Inside of the seed is an entire forest.”

– R. A. Delmonico

 

I have a goal of better honoring sustainability in 2018. To speak these words, though, is to also commit to thinking several moves ahead, which sometimes proves difficult when balancing a career, volunteer hours, managing a household with two little ones and, now, tackling coursework for a Master Gardener’s certification. I mean, I’m decent at chess, but I’m no Bobby Fischer.

In doing some research on sustainability, I came across a great summary of what it means to garden sustainably. Planet Natural Resource Center defines the concept by saying:

“Sustainable gardening is one of the most important and effective sustainability practices that we can follow. Its practice and benefits include respecting, and improving the soils, using native plants, shrubs and trees to create beautiful landscapes, feeding one’s family fresh, organically-grown fruits, berries and vegetables and utilizing every renewable resource that nature provides, from rain water to gravel.”

Being that it’s finally winter, so-to-speak, here in North Texas, we can begin to sustain with a relatively easy task…harvesting seeds. If you are concerned that maybe the seed ship has sailed, bundle up and do a little outdoor exploring. I harvested several varieties last weekend, as some of the final seeds had not yet fallen. Fall/winter harvest on all of the species highlighted in this post can really stretch from October through January, depending on the brutality of the North Texas weather.  Old Man Winter has been pleasantly kind this year (excluding his somewhat irritable demeanor this past week). I collected eleven different varieties of seed from our pollinator garden, intent on expansion to new spaces and also to further my commitment to #plantsharenow with other enthusiasts. These eleven, I’ve categorized into four basic groups:  (1) the clusters, (2) the pom rockets, (3) the paratroopers and (4) the k-dots (kids doing their own thing).  I’ll discuss the first three in this post and follow up with category #4 next week. In terms of supplies for harvesting, I prefer to collect in brown paper lunch bags versus plastic bags, as plastic tends to promote condensation and mold. Once seeds are harvested and cured, dried out for a bit, we use Proterra Seed Envelopes for dividing, labeling and sharing our treasure.

You can understand how best to collect seed by first understanding the differences in plant varieties.  Pollinator gardens are full of what I call “clustered” flowers, such as our purple Celestial Mistflower, yellow Fennel and white Frostweed, shown below.  Being clustered blooms, their seeds will also cluster into quite a bounty, solidifying the truth that sometimes a little does, indeed, “go a long way.”

As these flowers cycle through their blooms and begin to dry, you will want to harvest when you see the color black.  You can easily see the black whorl of Celestial Mistflower seeds, ready for collection, in the center of the photo below (left). Notice directly below that, however, is a completely empty casing void of black. That’s when you say, “Bon voyage!” That ship has definitely sailed. Similarly, the Frostweed clusters in the second image (right) are full of nestled black seeds, and you can again notice the difference in the fully open and empty casings, further along the stem, in the lower right section of the photo.

Fennel clusters are a little different in that each tiny flower on the cluster produces one seed.  The seeds are ready when they appear as little dried footballs with black stripes (again black being key). If only nubs remain at the end of the stems, the seeds have already fallen.

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The next category I’ve cutely coined the pom rockets due to how the flowers dry and how the seeds emerge. Once all petals wilt and fall away from blooms like the Blanket Flower (left) and Mexican Sunflower (right), shown below, you are left with a pom pom-like ball, housing dozens of seeds. But harvesting these seeds requires a little more effort and can be prickly, so slip on your gloves.

The pointed tip of the seed is wedged down toward the center of the ball, and the flat, butt-end is what you see from the outside when looking down into the casing. Note the butt-end of the Mexican Sunflower above (lower right) has a distinguishable black spot in the center to help you better “spot” the seed. I find that if you take the tip of a paring knife or the end of the blade on a good pair of hand pruners, I love the tool below by Cutco, you can pop the seeds right out. Line them up, and they look like little rockets shooting off into outer space, or preferably your soil, to work their magic.

Finally, there are those flower varieties that I place into the paratrooper category.  Examples of these might be Tropical Milkweed and Milk Thistle, below.

“Why paratroopers,” you ask? These seeds detach using lovely silken threads, like parachutes, to be carried by the winds to their final landing sites.  I absolutely love the paratroopers.  The Tropical Milkweed seed, shown lifting in the breeze below, is simply nothing short of poetry in motion.

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It is worth noting, though, that paratroopers can be prolific. So if you don’t want ten thousand Milk Thistle popping up around your yard, I’d keep some of the jumpers in the plane. Just clip the blooms immediately after they flower, before the silk appears, and only selectively allow a few blooms to go to seed.

With a little effort and forward-thinking, we can all adopt some sustainable practices. Get out in your winter garden today and see which seeds you can still find hanging around for harvest. Keep some for your own spring garden, #plantsharenow with a friend and join me in a few days as we wrap up with tips on our final seed collection category…the k-dots.  Happy hunting everyone!

All the best,

A. J.

– All Content Images by: A. J. Schulz

Have any great tips on seed collection? Reply and share below.

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