I’ve had to take a few months off from writing my weekly column, recovering from the loss of The Indianapolis Star outlet. Since then, my website has been redesigned, I post a Hoosier Gardener tip or seasonal reminder on Facebook on Wednesdays, and the first of each month, I send out a free newsletter.
With the New Year, I resolve to do better and will write at least once a week about gardening, what’s going on in nature and our area. I feel like I need the structure in my life.
First up is recognition of the 100th anniversary of the National Garden Bureau. Congrats! And here’s to 100 more. Back when I started writing about gardening, the NGB and its office mate, All-America Selections, provided me with a wealth of information, knowledgeable resources and fantastic photos.
NGB’s wealth of info
The photos were 35mm slides back then, but they were beautiful and could easily be worked into slide presentations. Today of course, everything is digital with high-resolution images worthy of inclusion in PowerPoint or Keynote presentations, as well as print or electronic media publication. The NGB website is rich with information, including plant size, horticulture requirements and recommendations for uses.
In 2020, its 100th year, NGB’s Year of includes plants from just about every group: Perennial, annual, edible, herb and shrub.
We may think of corn as a vegetable and serve it as such, but it is a grain, grown as a food crop. When at a GardenComm meeting in Tucson, Arizona, I was at a research institute and saw what native corn looks. Let’s just say it looks like a grass plant. This crop has been vastly improved and no matter what you hear, the seeds you buy are not GMO. Home gardeners successively sow corn to extend the season. Usually corn is grown in blocks to ensure good pollination.
Whether you plant bulbs, corms or rhizomes, there’s an iris for about any garden. Crested iris (Iris cristata) is a native species. The dwarf early bloomers are I. reticulata and I. danfordiae. German iris (I. germanica), sometimes call flag or bearded iris, blooms early to mid summer, depending on the variety. Dutch iris (I. hollandica) are not winter hardy here, but are favored for cut flowers. There’s also Japanese iris (I. ensata) and my favorite, Siberian iris (I. sibirica). Lots to choose from.
There are tons of lantanas to choose from. I love these plants. Their flowers are usually multi-colored, but there are some varieties with solid-color blooms. Some grow upright and some sprawl. These are just about unbeatable for any hot dry area. Butterflies, bees, hummers and other wildlife like the flowers. They work well in pots or in the ground.
Whether it’s an herb, wand, cut flower or flavor for ice cream, lemonade or shortbread cookies, lavender (Lavandula spp.) is one of the more useful plants in the garden. A few years ago, the Chicago Botanic Garden evaluated lavenders and some of the older varieties still scored well.
Of course, we all want those stunning blue flowering hydrangeas, but wise gardeners know our soil doesn’t provide that color for big leaf hydrangeas without amendments. Most Hoosiers have alkaline soil. The blue-blooming hydrangea (H. macrophylla) wants an acidic soil. Without any soil amendments, these big leaf hydrangeas have pink flowers. And, sadly, this type of hydrangea is one of the less reliable varieties we can plant.
I say if you want a challenge go for the big leafs. If you want a sure thing, opt for the native oak leaf (H. quercifolia) or native smooth leave hydrangea (H. arborescens). These are very reliable and come in several sizes. The smooth leaf hydrangeas also come in pink hues. Another reliable one is the panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata). These flowers have a tendency to turn pink as they mature. Usually a rather larger shrub, breeders have reined in the size to make varieties more suitable for smaller gardens.
There also are climbing hydrangeas (H. petiolaris), which are lovely, but a bit slow to establish and bloom. Well worth the wait.