December 2014

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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

Popular fountain grass earns weed of the month moniker

Hameln fountain grass with Russian sage in the background. Photo courtesy

A popular ornamental grass planted in thousands of Indiana landscapes was named Purdue University’s Weed of the Month in June.

Fountain grass (Pennisetum) has escaped our garden beds and spread to the lawn, say Purdue turf specialists. ‘Hameln’ and ‘Little Bunny’ are two popular cultivars.

After years of planting in the landscape, “we now realize that this species produces many viable seeds that drop onto the adjacent turf and then become tough-to-control perennial grassy weeds. Although most of the ornamental grasses cannot withstand short mowing, fountain grass does,” the professors wrote in the Weed of the Month bulletin.

Fountain grass’ ability to withstand being mowed shows up as ragged, tan blades in the lawn, making it easy to spot. Even sharp mower blades cannot make a clean cut on this plant.

Native to Africa, Asia and Australia, pennisetums are prized for their fountain form, foxtail-like plumes, multiple seasons of interest and compact size.

The annual, red fountain grass (P. setaceum ‘Rubrum’), a staple in summer containers, is not considered a problem here because neither the plant or the seed are apt to survivewinter. Howeverin warmer climates, it is an invasive weed.

The perennial fountain grass (P. alopecuroides) has spread into natural areas, called naturalizing, in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Arkansas. The National Park Service’s National Capital Region Exotic Plant Management Team has issued an alert on the perennial species, identifying it “as a potential or emerging threat to natural areas in the mid-Atlantic region.”

Prairie dropseed and purple coneflower are planted together in downtown Chicago's Lurie Gardens (C) Photo courtesy Lurie Gardens

Although perennial fountain grass is not on Indiana’s invasive species list, some gardeners may want to plant alternatives if only to keep pennisetum from spreading into the lawn.

At the top of my list would be prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). This 3 feet tall and wide native grass has a fountain form, frothy flowers and turns a beautiful golden orange/red in fall. It does not freely self sow.

Prairie dropseed flower. Photo courtesy of

Prairie dropseed. Photo courtesy

Pink Zazzle gomphrena dazzles

Pink Zazzle gomphrena. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I’m just back from the country’s largest horticulture trade show in Columbus, Ohio, and am full of plant lust.

In the annual category, the showstopper this year was the sun-loving Pink Zazzle (Gomphrena), which at first glance looks like a dahlia, mum or perhaps a Stokes’ aster (Stokesia).

Pink Zazzle gets up to 16 inches tall and has some of the fuzziest leaves you’ll find on any plant. The flowers are about 3 inches wide and reportedly hold their form well.

Pink Zazzle gomphrena has gold flecks at the tops of petals.. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The tips of the petals have just a hint of gold. The long-lasting flowers turn to a soft pink as they age and develop creamy petal tips. Like all gomphrenas, Pink Zazzle, from Euro American/Proven Winners, has long enough stems to use as a cut flower.

This will probably be a premium annual, available in the next couple of years in individual pots, rather than as a bedding plant. I can hardly wait to try it.

Always the fashion plate in its marketing schemes, Hort Couture’s Glamouflage Grape petunia shows promise. This sun-loving annual will get about 8 inches tall with a 12 inch spread, making it ideal for containers or in the ground.


Glamouflage Grape petunia from Hort Couture. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The flowers are various tones of purple with dark veins and a touch of white throat. The flowers pop against variegated green and cream foliage.

Babuda Yellow marigold. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Marigolds are making a strong come back, primarily as a bedding plant, if the trial gardens at Ohio State University are an indication. These annuals add a bit of cheer in sunny locations.

Those in the trial garden were very clean — no signs of spider mites, a plague on marigolds — and the flowers were much larger that what we’re used to seeing. And even though the flowers are larger, the plants held their shape nicely. Some of the best marigolds (Tagetes) in the trial gardens were in the Alumia and Babuda series.


Rain pushes growth and roots struggle to keep up

A branch of ‘Limelight’ hydrangea (H. paniculata) grew about 7 inches and exhibits a bit of chlorosis. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Compared to last year, when crispy and brown defined the landscape, this year’s weather has created a lush, tropical jungle.

Trees, shrubs, perennials and vegetables have been growing rapidly. Aphids love this fresh new growth. They are slow moving insects that take on the color of the plant they are eating, such as brown, green, red, yellow or white.

Aphids suck the juices out of flowers, leaves and their buds, stunting them or causing them to be malformed. A strong spray of the hose will knock aphids off plants.

Some plants may have a yellow cast to them or their leaves are chlorotic, where the veins are greenbut the tissue between them is yellow or mottled. This could be from all of the rain washing nitrogen from the soil. Or it could be the plant’s roots trying to catch up with all of the rain.

The fine, hair-like roots on trees and shrubs seek out water. However, these roots have likely taken a hit from the last three years of low rainfall and droughtand they are trying to catch up. Or it could be the pH of the soil. Too alkaline or too acidic, and plants may not be able to take up nutrients.

The first step to learn what’s going on is to get a soil test. Purdue University has a good publication to tell you how.

Hot weather precautions

When gardening in hot weather, be sure to drink lots of water and protect yourself from sunburn and bug bites. © Jeff Wasserman/Dreamstime

When the weather is hot and humid, gardeners need to make sure they are not overcome by the heat. Here are some tips:

  • Drink lots of water before, during and after working in the garden.
  • Work outdoors in early morning and evening.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing and a hat. Use sunscreen and bug repellent.
  • Work in pairs for big jobs, such as tree or shrub removal or creating a new garden bed.



Blueberry harvest just sweet enough

Northsky lueberry harvest. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Ok, the blueberry harvest did not fill a bushel, but it did provide just enough of the sweet fruit in a green salad for a family dinner.

This is year three of ‘Northsky’ and it’s the first real harvest. I bought this plant four falls ago just because of the gorgeous, red leaves. The fact that it might produce blueberries was sort of a bonus.

BrazelBerries Jelly Bean blueberry. Photo courtesy BrazelBerries

Consumer interest in the anti-oxidant fruit powerhouse is high  and the breeders have responded with dwarf plants and those that are self-pollinating.

The dwarf ‘Northsky’ (Vaccinium) gets up to 3 ½ feet tall and 3 feet wide. Mine grows in a 20-inch wide and deep all-weather container. By growing it in a container, I’m able to control the soil  environment the blueberry needs to survive and thrive. That means regular doses of Espoma’s Holly-Tone, an acidic fertilizer. Blueberry plants require an acidic soil in order be able to take up the nutrients they need to survive.

BrazelBerries Peach Sorbet blueberry. Photo courtesy of Brazelberries

Last summer and this spring I was vigilant about fertilizing the shrub. Too late for this spring, I learned the plant should be pruned to encourage better fruit production along main branches.

‘Northsky’ produces the most fruit when it has a companion, such as ‘Northblue’ or ‘Northcountry’.

Last year I added three more dwarf blueberries to trial from BrazelBerries: two Peach Sorbet and one Jelly Bean. The new blueberries are bred to be grown in containers and are self-pollinating, but there was no fruit this year. I think it’s because they were tiny when I planted them last fall. Peach Sorbet gets its name because of the foliage color in  fall. It gets 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Jelly Bean is even smaller at 1 to 2 feet tall and wide.

Although there was no fruit, these new blueberries are growing well. And, as most gardeners say, it will be better next year.



You Can Grow That! July 2013: Fireworks in the garden

Fireworks mix allium is planted in fall.

If you’re looking to spark up the landscape, consider some plants with fireworks.

‘Fireworks’ (Pennesetum setaceum rubrum) is a variegated fountain grass that is a great substitute to the popular plain red one. This annual ornamental grass is not winter hardy in Indiana, but it is beautiful all summer and into fall.

‘Fireworks’ grass gets about 30 inches tall and has a spread of 24 inches. In mid-summer, wispy, purple tassels bloom above leaves with pink, creamy white, green and burgundy stripes.

Use as a center piece in a container or as a specimen plant in the landscape. Plant in full sun. It was developed by ItSaul Plants, which also introduced the popular Big Sky series of coneflowers (Echinacea). Look for ‘Fireworks’ ornamental grass in garden centers.

‘Fireworks’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena) is an easy-to-grow annual from seed. Balls of hot pink flowers with gold-tipped petals top sturdy stems all summer long, making it an excellent cut flower.

'Fireworks' gomphrena has pink flowers tipped in gold sparks. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Fireworks’ globe amaranth gets 36 inches tall with a 12-inch spread. Use as the center piece in a container or as a showy mass planting in the landscape. Plant in full sun.

This globe amaranth may be a little hard to find at garden centers, but should be available through mail-order or online retailers. Introduced by Ball Horticulture, its sister company, Burpee, offers seeds and plants.

'Fireworks,' an annual ornamental grass, sparks up the landscape in summer. Photo courtesy

Allium Fireworks mix is a collection of three perennial ornamental onions. Clusters of fragrant rose, yellow or white flowers bloom in summer, giving the impression of fireworks. They get  about 12 inches tall and can be cut for indoor arrangements.

Grow in full sun in the front of the perennial garden. Winter hardy alliums are planted in fall, so look for this mix in bulb catalogs.