August 2013

Quebec City, where everything seems to bloom at once

Simultaneous blooms of purple celosia, pink snapdragons and ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass share space with silvery-blue eucalyptus and dark-leafed cannas at Jardin Jeanne-d’ Arc in Quebec City. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I just returned from six days in beautiful Quebec City. Nearly 400 garden writers gathered in the Canadian province, where French is the predominate language and the streets have a definite European feel.

As a gardener, I made these observations of differences between gardening in Indiana and gardening in Quebec City. Quebec City is in Zone 3, which is much colder than Indiana’s Zones 5 and 6. The growing season there is much shorter, too, basically from late May to early October.


More than 130 kinds of edible plants adorn the main entryway to the 1877 Quebec Parliament Building. Fruit-bearing trees and shrubs grow in large Smart Pots, as do herbs, vegetables and edible flowers. Long, narrow beds in the lawn are planted with tomatoes, cabbages, beans and other food.

Beds of tomatoes, kale, beans, grapes and more replace lawn at Quebec’s Parliament Building. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Students from Laval University keep everything neat and tidy. The plantings are a cooperative project of the National Assembly and Urbainculteurs, a not-for-profit that promotes urban gardening. The harvests are donated to an organization that works with children in need.


The lawns have what many consider weeds, such as white clover. That’s because Canadian law bans the home use of lawn and garden chemicals for purely aesthetic problems, such as weeds or insect damage.

As a result, pollinating insects thrive. And, there was little to no damage on ornamental and food plants because with reduced use of pesticides, natural predators are allowed to do their jobs gobbling up bugs.


The color of flowers is richly saturated. That’s because the sun is not as bright as it is in Indiana, so flowers are not washed out or fried. The temps are cooler, too, which prolongs flower color.

The weather and lack of intense sun also allow many shade-loving plants, such as tuberous begonias, to thrive in sunnier spots.

All of the perennials seem to bloom at the same time. In Quebec, daylilies, phlox, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans and summer annuals, such as celosia and New Guinea impatiens, bloom right along with monkshood and others that bloom in September and October in Indiana.


Naked ladies thrill the late-summer garden


Hosta Curve at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

For an easy, try-this-at-home example of season extenders for garden beds, take a stroll along Hosta Curve at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

That’s what the IMA horticulturists call the curve in the road that takes visitors to Oldfields, the vegetable garden, orchard and greenhouse.

In spring, Hosta Curve is filled with ‘Salome’ daffodils (Narcissus). As the ground warms, big, blue-leaf hostas (H. seiboldiana ‘Elegans’) unfurl to camouflage the ripening foliage on the bulbs. The hostas bloom through July and the flowers are trimmed off late in the month. Within a few weeks, the bed is filled with flowers again, this time from fragrant pink resurrection lilies.

Irvin Etienne and those pink blooming hosta. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

“People sometimes want to know what those pink-blooming hostas are,” said Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the IMA.

Also called naked ladies and surprise lilies, Lycoris squamigera blooms in August and September. Its leaves emerge in late spring and early summer, and then disappear. Several weeks later, the plant resurrects itself, with 2-foot tall sturdy stalks topped with clusters of large, pink trumpet-shaped flowers. The stalks are leafless, giving these lilies the naked lady or surprise monikers.

Lycoris squamigera is the only lycoris that is winter hardy in USDA Zone 5. The lovely red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is hardy in USDA Zone 6. Each can be cut for indoor enjoyment.

Lycoris does well in full sun to part shade and average soil. Water during long dry spells. Fertilizer is not necessary. Remove the flowers and stalks as they fade.

Lycoris squamigera. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

For another try-this-at-home idea, step across the road to the beautiful fern bed that skirts the southern edge of the Oldfields lawn area. In this setting, the lycoris adds its pink blooms to densely planted, native ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). In spring, that area is planted with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

Lycoris may be hard to find at garden centers, so shop around. Or, order it from fall bulb catalogs or online merchants.

Each of these plant combinations is very easy to grow and maintain, said Etienne. And with the inclusion of spring and late-season bulbs, many beds will have multiple seasons of flowers.

Lycoris and ostrich ferns. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


Purdue detects late blight disease on tomatoes

Late blight on tomato. Photo courtesy Purdue University/Janna Beckerman

Late blight disease was confirmed this week on several tomato samples from Tippecanoe County in west-central Indiana, leading the Purdue University Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory to urge growers to inspect their plants for the destructive disease.

Symptoms of late blight, caused by the fungal-like organism Phytophthora infestans, include olive green to brown spots on leaves with slightly fuzzy-white fungal growth on the underside. Humid conditions, such as in the early morning or after rain, is a primary contributing factor.

The lesion border sometimes is yellow or has a water-soaked appearance. Brown to blackish lesions also develop on upper stems, and brown spots develop on tomato fruit.

The disease can spread quickly in tomato and potato plantings in cool and wet conditions. The spread is slowed by hot, sunny weather.

“All growers should assume their crops may eventually be affected and thus should be on a weekly schedule to both thoroughly inspect their potato and tomato plantings and apply fungicides if the weather remains cool and cloudy,” said Tom Creswell, lab director, and Gail Ruhl, senior plant disease diagnostician, on the PPDL’s website.

They said infected plants in home gardens should be removed immediately and either burned or put in a plastic bag for disposal. “Do not compost affected plants, as spores will spread from this infected debris to other healthy tomato plants,” they said.

Because there are many similar diseases on tomato leaves, identification of late blight requires examination by microscope. Samples can be submitted for analysis to Plant and Pest Diagnostic Laboratory.

More information on late blight is available in the Purdue Extension publication Late Blight on Tomato and Potato.


Visit Garfield Park and vote for your favorite plant

(C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you’ve always wanted to have your voice heard in all those “best plants” categories, here’s your chance.

At the top of the hill at the Garfield Park Arts Center sit the four nominees for this year’s American Garden Award, the public’s chance to vote for their favorites.

Zinnia Zahara Cherry. Photo courtesy

This is the third year Garfield Park has participated in the five-year-old program. There are 30 gardens in the United States and one in Canada enrolled this year.

“We launched the American Garden Award as a way to give the general public a voice in naming their favorite flower,” said Diane Blazek, director of All-America Selections, which oversees the program. “We get new entries each fall, so it’s an ongoing competition with yearly winners determined by audience participation.”

The garden at the arts center is designed, planted and maintained by Garfield Park Master Gardener volunteers. American Garden Award supplies seeds or small plants, which are grown at no charge by Heidenreich Greenhouses on Indianapolis’ southside.

The project is not without its challenges, said Master Gardener volunteer Thomas Graham, on a recent warm, sunny afternoon at the garden.

Petunia Surfinia Summer Double Pink. Photo courtesy

The first two years, the flowers were planted on the hill, where soil erosion was a constant battle despite copious amounts of planting mix and shredded mulch. This year, the flowering candidates are planted at the top of the hill. Soil erosion is much less of a problem and the sun is better.

Graham said it takes him and Marci Phillips about three hours a week to deadhead, weed and tidy up the beds. The Friends of Garfield Park, Inc., purchases supplies, such as soaker hoses, mulch and planting mix.

“They water, weed and fertilize our four beds and keep them blooming for visitors to the center to enjoy,” said Lesley Meier, director of the Garfield Park Arts Center. Garfield Park is about 10 minutes from Downtown, just south of Fountain Square and along the Indianapolis Greenways’ Pleasant Run Trail.

“People talk about the garden as they walk by,” asking questions about the plants or commenting on them, Graham said.

Verbena Lanai Candy Cane. Photo courtesy

This year’s candidates: Impatiens SunPatiens Compact Electric Orange; Petunia Surfinia Summer Double Pink; Verbena Lanai Candy Cane; Zinnia Zahara Cherry.

Graham’s favorite: Candy Cane verbena, which does resemble the colors of candy canes. Mine: Impatiens SunPatiens Compact Electric Orange. You can vote for your favorite by keying in the numbers on plant signs into your smartphone or by visiting Voting ends Aug. 31.

Impatiens SunPatiens Compact Electric Orange. Photo courtesy


Tropicals at their peak in the Hoosier Garden

Pineapple lily gets its name because the flower resembles the fruit. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Tropical plants cast just the right spell that gardeners need to weather the dog days of summer.

By August, plants that thrive in the tropics are reaching their seasonal peak — the cannas and pineapple lilies are blooming, banana leaves seem to unfurl daily and then there are the surprises.

This year, the surprise is the orange fruit on Duranta erecta ‘Sapphire Showers’. A local garden center has been carrying this plant for years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen it bear fruit.

Native through the West Indies and into Brazil, this woody shrub is considered a broadleaf evergreen. It reaches 25 feet tall and wide in its natural habitat, where it fruits in fall. I’m guessing the cooler than normal spring and summer temps triggered duranta’s fruiting mechanism.

Sometimes called pigeon berry, golden dewdrop or sky flower, ‘Sapphire Blue’ stays in the 4-foot range in colder climates, where its growing season is cut short by temperatures below 25 degrees. Duranta can be moved indoors to a sunny window for winter.

Sapphire Showers duranta. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Sapphire Showers’ has long, arched branches laden with clusters of white-edged, violet-blue flowers, which attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Grow it in a pot with high quality potting mix and drainage. Use duranta as a focal in the landscape, patio or flower bed in full sun. Allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings.

Certainly as showy as the flowers are the grape-size orange berries, called golden dewdrops. Be cautious. The fruit and foliage is considered poisonous to humans and pets.

The unusual pineapple lily (Eucomis) does well in full sun to part shade. Purchase bulbs at garden centers in spring, or from online or mail order bulb merchants. I grow mine in a container, which I move to the basement to winter over in its dormant phase. The common name comes from the pineapple-like flowers.


Sapphire Showers duranta fruit. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘South Pacific Scarlet’ canna, a 2013 All-America Selections, adds striking architecture, form and texture. It goes from seed to 24 inches tall in the growing season. Grow in full sun to part shade. You can see this plant at the Marion County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The garden, which is filled with All-America Selections plants, is on the north end of the fairgrounds near the Department of Natural Resources buildings.

South Pacific Scarlet canna. Photo courtesy


You Can Grow That! August 2013: Annual ornamental grasses

Wind Dancer love grass. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

We usually think of ornamental grasses as hardy perennials, which many of them are. But, there are some fabulous ornamental grasses that are annuals or tender perennials grown like annuals because they will be killed by Indiana’s winters.

Jester ornamental millet. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture.

Upright seasonal grasses can be used as the centerpiece in containers. Those that form soft mounds look great cascading over the rims of pots or the edges of window boxes. Most of these upright and mounding grasses also work well in the ground.

Don’t shy away from these grasses just because they are marketed for summer use. Many of the tender grasses keep on giving in the winter just like their hardy counterparts. Their seed heads dry and the foliage changes color, adding movement, sound and natural look in the dreary winter landscape.

Here’s a sampling of some tender grasses:

If you liked the All-America Selection ‘Purple Majesty’, a 5-foot tall ornamental millet (Pennisetum glaucum), you’ll love the smaller version called ‘Jester’.

Jade Princess ornamental millet. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture.

‘Jester,’ at about 40 inches tall, is shorter than its majestic cousin and its color also is different. ‘Jester’ foliage starts out almost chartreuse. It takes on purple highlights and by the end of the season, it is a deep bronze. ‘Jester’ can be grown in sun or shade. The flower will get about 12 inches tall; however, this plant is grown for its foliage.

‘Purple Baron’ has the deepest, richest color of the ornamental millets. This one has shiny, purple foliage and gets about 3 feet tall. ‘Jade Princess’ has almost chartreuse foliage with large brown inflorescens on 3-foot tall plants. One of the neat things about this species is its molasses fragrance.

‘Wind Dancer’ (Eragrostis elliottii)  is at the top of my favorites list. A billowy North American native grass, ‘Wind Dancer’ has bluish-green foliage and buff-colored flowers that bloomed all summer.

And although this grass looks beautiful in summer, it is gorgeous in winter, retaining most of its seed heads and overall form. ‘Wind Dancer’ gets about 3 feet tall and wide and does best in full sun to part shade.

Toffee Twist carex, Peachy Keen verbena and Sweet Caroline Sweetheart sweet potato vine. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

‘Toffee Twist’ (Carex flagellifera) is a sedge that really does best in a container. Because of its toffee brown color, it can look dead in the landscape. However, it looks terrific with chartreuse, pink or purple companion plants in a container. Technically, not a grass, this sedge gets about 15 inches tall and 24 inches wide and does best in part shade.

Fiber optic grass. Photo courtesy Proven Winners


Pink Crystals melinis. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

‘Pink Crystals’ ruby grass (Melinus nerviglumis) was picked as a winner by Illinois Master Gardeners, praised for its showy pink flowers. Nicely mounded, ‘Pink Crystals’ gets about 3 feet tall and wide and does best in full sun to part shade.

Fiber optic grass (Isolepsis cernus, formerly Scirpus) looks a lot like a long turf grass, which is why it doesn’t work so well in a flower bed. It has about a 12-inch height and spread. Plant this in a pot or window box so that it cascades over the edge.

Annuals earn top marks in summer trials

Summer trial plants Kong Jr. Scarlet coleus, Arrabona celosia and Zahara Sunburst zinnia. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Even though I was quite late getting them potted up in containers, several new annuals have earned more than passing grades in their summer trials.

Plant breeders have definitely improved verbena (V. x hybrida). Spectacular this year is Proven Winners’ Violet Ice Superbena. The 3-inch wide balls of violet flowers have white eyes.

Violet Ice Superbena verbena. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Sun loving and vigorous, Violet Ice gets about 12 inches tall. It has about a 24-inch trail in a container or a 30-inch spread when planted in the ground. Although some of my other trial verbenas have been bitten by spider mites, Violet Ice seems to have been spared. It does not require deadheading.

Double Take Pink geranium (Pelargonium interspecific) from Ball Horticulture is a strong performer, with about a dozen flowers on three plants in a pot. The double flowers with two tones of pink are planted with Sungelonia White, Deep Pink and Blue (Angelonia), a new series from Suntory Collection. Together, they present quite a show. Geraniums should be deadheaded.

Double Take Pink geranium and Sungelonia White, Deep Pink and Blue. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you like the Kong coleus series (Plectranthus scutellariodes, formerly Solenostemom), you’ll love Kong Jr., from Ball. Kong Jr. Scarlet is planted with Zahara Zinnia Sunburst and Arrabona Celosia. The celosia gets about 14 inches tall and wide.

Although the coleus is labeled for shade, I planted it in the pot that gets full sun. Its heart shaped leaves are about 1/3 smaller than Kong. The mounded plant gets up to 24 inches tall and 35 inches wide.

I have done nothing to this pot except water and fertilize on an irregular basis. Still this sunny container is a spectacular, no maintenance beauty.

Sunburst is the latest outstanding introduction in the Zahara series, which is resistant to powdery mildew, a common disease on zinnias. It is a neat and tidy 18 inch mounded plant that can be deadheaded or not — as the plant grows, it covers up the spent flowers.



HortusScope for August 2013

Here’s HortusScope for August 2013, a checklist of garden and nature related events compiled as a public service by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies. Please click on the link below to download your copy.

HortusScope August 2013