April 2014

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It’s spring in the neighborhood

Crocus forms sea of blue in neighbor's yard. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A walk through the neighborhood reveals that spring has finally emerged from its winter sleep.

Landscapes are filled with the earliest blooming bulbs: species crocus, snow drops, winter aconites and the tiny iris reticulata. The Dutch call these special bulbs, but we usually call them minor bulbs.

Last fall, I planted more than 100 Tommie crocus (Crocus tommasinianus), a species type that is great for naturalizing. It will be quite a few years before my front yard looks like a neighbors, which literally looks like a sea of lavendar blue. Each year, the sea gets larger and larger as these crocus send their seeds flying. Chipmunks and squirrels tend to ignore these tiny bulbs.

Winter aconites. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Not far from the blue is another neighbor whose landscape is filled with winter aconites (Eranthus). These small, daisy-like yellow flowers naturalize, too. They tend to drop seed to form patches of sunny yellow to brighten the landscape. I’ve planted winter aconite a few times, but they have not shown up in great numbers. I’ve had the same touch-and-go relationship with spring anemone (Anemone coronaria) or wood anemone (A. nemerosa).

Also on the spring docket are Iris reticulata, beautiful blooming plants that look like a miniature iris. These come is lots of shades of blue and purple and also yellow and white. These bulbs are extremely hardy and tough. They have naturalized along the hell strip next to the asphalt driveway, where there is a lot of heat bounce and an occasional bit of foot traffic. These tend to spread in clumps as the under ground bulbs multiply.

After years of trying, I’ve finally succeeded in getting a small patch of the snow drops (Galanthus nivalus) to take. They get their name because they frequently bloom in snow, especially if they get good light early in late winter. Here’s hoping their numbers multiply.


Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day March 2013

'Angelina' sedum in winter. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Ok, I’ve been away for a few months. Did you miss me? I have kind of missed being a part of the group, tracking what’s going on in the landscapes and yards of friends far and wide.

Despite the challenges of work, life has been good. I spent four days in Los Angeles recently to work on two commercials for a garden product. I had to make gardens look like June 1 in the Midwest and Northeast. That was a challenge, trying to make that happen with plants that looked an awful lot like California and not too much like Indiana or Massachusetts. But we got it done, scouring garden centers for real lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) and not California lilacs (Ceanothus spp.) and other plants.

Iris reticulata. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


Snow drops. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

And with all the skill of a pseudo trompe l’oeil artist, silk plants were stuck in the ground or wired to shrubs to complete the illusion.

But who can complain about four days of 80-degree days, blue skies and just the right breeze. Accommodations at The Shutters in Santa Monica were first rate, even if a bit quirky. How many hotel rooms have you been in that come equipped with a yo-yo?

Trevi Fountain pulmonaria. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Returning to March’s lion-like entrance March 2, followed by a weekend of 60-degree days, encourages me to think the windy month will go out like a lamb.

The warm days definitely caused plants to pop from the ground. Tommies (Crocus tommasinianus) have formed their seas of blue in one of my neighbors’ lawns and have begun to form blue puddles in my yard. Note to self: Don’t plant yellow crocus in the lawn because they sort of look like dandelions.

Closing following the show of early crocus are the tiny Iris reticulata. There are probably or Iris species planted, but they are all iris reticulata to me. And, I’m grateful that the two new stands of snow drops (Galanthus nivalis) I planted last fall have graced me with their presence this spring.

I give it to ‘Trevi Fountain’ Pulmonariafrom Terra Nova Nurseries for pulling through another droughty summer and chilly winter. The leaves have been there most of the winter and are beginning to brighten in the spring light. Never any

Cinnamon Snow hellebore. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

mildew on this beauty, either. I’ve had this plant since the 1990s.

Crocus forms sea of blue in neighborh's yard. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I also can’t deny my love of ‘Angelina’ Sedum rupestre, which honestly looks as good in winter and it does in summer. I especially like a very large stand of the hardy perennial in another neighbor’s yard.

And, where would we be without hellebores? I can’t say enough good things about ‘Cinnamon Snow’ (Helleborus ballardai), one of the Helleborus Gold Collection, which has been blooming since December and it still going strong, albeit a little ratty from some of the harsh winds and snow.

Spring and the plants that emerge nourish hope in the gardener. I’m ready. (Should I mention the winter annual purple henbit (Lamium purpureum) is blooming? Hoe, hoe, hoe.

Winter annual (Lamium purpurea)



Listen up! Low- no-chemical lawn and garden advice

March 16, 2013
7:30 AMto8:00 AM
10:30 AMto11:00 AM
March 17, 2013
6:00 AMto6:30 AM

The Hoosier Gardener joins Eric Halvorson on his occasional radio program this coming weekend in Indianapolis:

10:30 a.m., Saturday, March 16, WXNT-AM (1430)

6 a.m., Sunday, March 17, MY1079, (WNTR–FM 107.9)

7:30 a.m., Sunday, March 17, WZPL-FM (99.5)n


Spring arrives at the 55th Indiana Flower & Patio Show


HIttle Landscape Reclaim Your Backyard. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Urban living takes center state in the 55th annual Indiana Flower & Patio, which continues at the Indiana State Fairgrounds through Sunday, March 17, 2013.

Girly Steel sculpture. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

There’s 10,000 square foot urban homestead home and garden, which includes chickens, a large rain barrel and well-planted vegetable beds.

The landscape display gardens seem to rely on hardscape to attract visitors rather than plants. Like all garden shows, there is a lot of eye candy, especially the blue flowering hydrangeas, the envy of Hoosiers everywhere.

Other things to look for:

JP Parker Flowers moves out of the shadows and into a center island display called Die Moldau, complete with a grand piano. The island is full of buckets of cut flowers so visitors can take home a little spring.

The Forested Retreat by Gardens of Growth has a fascinating display with a large root ball of a downed tree, which was decorated with moss and other plants.

Twisted roots. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Hittle Landscaping’s Reclaim Your Backyard uses recycled doors to mark the entry to the garden and to provide a lovely screen.

Noblesville’s Girly Steel (Joan Drizin) sculpture appears in Stoneycreek Farm, Nursery & Landscaping’s Earth Friendly garden. The tops of wine bottles were turned into lanterns and the bottoms encased in a metal grid.

Be sure to stop by the Purdue Extension-Marion County Master Gardener booth and Purdue University’s statewide Master Gardener’s booth to get all of your gardening questions answered.


Urban homestead garden. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp



Daylight Saving Time = mornings plunged into darkness

Daylight Saving Time makes mornings disappear. And, it messes with our body clocks. Scientists say we never recover.

Here in Indianapolis, the sun sets later than any of the 50 largest metro areas. That’s because we’re on Eastern time instead of Central. If we have to have DST, put me in Central Time.



Making gardens, Hollywood style

A workman wires flowers to a shrub rose for a television commercial in California. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I recently spent four days in Los Angeles working on television commercials for a garden product.

The goal was to create six gardens that resembled Main Street America in the Midwest and Northeast and what the landscapes would look like on June 1.

Talk about Hollywood make believe.

We needed annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs for the job, and a lot of the common plants we grow in the Eastern United States are not found in California. I developed several plant lists for the folks in California to find, but, understandable, there was a lot of confusion about terminology, such as what were hardy plants and what were perennials and annuals, so we relied on botanical names to find the right props.

For instance, lantana (Lantana) is a tender perennial here in the Midwest, where we use it as a summer annual. In California, lantana is a hardy perennial and a staple for plantings in landscapes and streetscapes. What’s called a lilac in California is Ceanothus, which looks nothing like our common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), a completely different species.

The list for the shoots specified lots of plants that would work, but they were behind in their blooms in February because the Golden State’s winter has been particularly cool.

Enter stage left: silk flowers.

Planting silk flowers and wiring them to live plants to make gardens full, lush and blooming are common practices when shooting landscape scenes for magazines, commercials, television shows and movies.

The illusion fools the eye. This is just one more reason not to beat yourself up if your garden doesn’t look like the one in the magazine or tv show. A lot of it is make believe.


You Can Grow That! March 2013: Geraniums

Vining geraniums, such as 'Pink Blizzard', are an under used plant for hanging baskets in summer. Photo courtesy Fischer.

Sometimes I think we’re plant snobs.

Geraniums (Pelargonium) seem to be at the bottom of the wish list for many gardeners because, well, they are geraniums — ordinary, old fashion, boring. Throw in reliable, easy and rewarding and you wonder why they are shunned.

For the common geranium, sometimes called zonal, you can buy plants grown from seed or made from cuttings. I opt for the more expensive cutting geraniums because they are so much showier that their seed-grown siblings. Seed geranium flowers are loose and a bit spindly, but work well in a mass planting.

Zonal geraniums are tough and do fine in full to part sun. Drought tolerant, they prefer good drainage, whether planted in the ground or in containers. Water when the first inch of soil feels dry to the touch.

Remove spent flowers, called deadheading, to keep geraniums blooming. They do best with regular applications of a balanced liquid fertilizer. Follow the label directions.

One of the best plants for containers is the under used ivy or vining geranium (P. peltatum). This plant has waxy leaves and the flowers tend to be a bit looser than zonals. Vining geraniums do best in part shade. They tolerate full sun.

Martha Washington geraniums (P. x domesticum), with their large, frequently frilly flowers, are popular in spring here in Indiana, but they tend to wimp out when it starts to heat up.

Scented geraniums are used as herbs and for their oils. Their foliage is aromatic, ranging in scents from rose, peppermint, apple, lemon and more. These do not have showy flowers. Plant where you brush against their leaves when you walk.

There’s also are many true geraniums (Geranium), which is winter hardy in Indiana. ‘Rozanne’, ‘Wargrave Pink’ and ‘Johnson’s Blue’ are popular cultivars.

Shade-loving plants for the Indiana garden

The native, spring-blooming crested iris is an under-used perennial that does well in shady gardens. © S.B. Goodwin/Fotolia

A couple of weeks ago, the Indianapolis Museum of Art held Shade Savvy, a horticulture symposium. Culling some of the best from the speakers, last week we covered epimedium and today, we’ll look at a sampler of other plants for the shade garden.

On Brian Jorg’s list are a mostly native spring ephemerals, including Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica) and shooting star (Dodecatheon maedia).

Overlooked shade plants include wild bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), American bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa syn. Actaea racemosa) and dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), said Jorg, a horticulturist at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, where he specializes in propagating native plants, including illusive Trillium.

Gene Bush, owner of Munchkin Nursery & Garden in Depauw, Ind., not far from the Ohio River, broke out his list of shade-loving plants by the month. Some to consider: yellow blooming merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) with Virginia bluebells for April. Bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliate) has almost stemless white, star-like flowers in June and olive green leaves that turn red in fall.

Dogwoods received good coverage from Paul Cappiello, executive director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Crestwood, Ky., about 25 miles northeast of Louisville.

He’s particular fond of the native pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), which he says is under used in the landscape. Like a lot of dogwoods, this one has strong horizontal growth. White lace cap flowers in spring are followed by berries in late summer and fall.

Tropical and tender plants were a focus of Dan Benarcik’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark talk. A horticulturist at Chanticleer, a public garden in Wayne, Pa., Benarcik is responsible for incorporating tropical plants in the landscape in the garden, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Some of his favorites: gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica), bromeliad (Bromeliaceae) and rex begonia vine (Cissus discolor). The challenge, of course, is wintering them over. Dig and pot plants and them to a basement or a garage that stays about 40 degrees, Benarcik said.








March 2013 HortusScope

HortusScope is a calendar of garden and nature related events and activities in Indiana. It is compiled as a public service by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies.

Please click on the highlighted link to download your copy.

HortusScope March 2013

March garden checklist posted

The checklist of things to do in the garden in March is posted.