Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Something Old, Something New

This Spring, our first with our completely new landscape, is teaching me that plants I thought were "goners" were really just hibernating over the winter

Among the plants that I thought had kicked the bucket were my St. Bernard's lilies, an ornamental grasslike clumping plant with delicate little white flowers that gracefully sway with in the breeze. The plants died back severely over the winter, and I was resigned to having to replace them when, lo and behold, they sprang back to life almost overnight! They are now lush, full and flowering again. I love how carefree they are and how great they look planted in a mass.

I recently read on Rick Brown's Florida Friendly Plant website (www. floridafriendlyplants.com) that I should actually cut the St. Bernard's lilies back to the ground every other year. Duh! I guess I need to do a little bit more homework before prematurely writing obits for any more of my plants.

Speaking of homework, I pledged to myself that I would NOT make any more impulse plant purchases once we finished our landscape makeover. After all, it was my impulsive nature that caused all my gardening problems to begin with! Now that I understand and truly appreciate the "right plant, right place" mantra, I swore I would never again buy a strange plant I didn't know anything about just because it was pretty.

Oops. I ignored my own advice.

But, in this case, I think I may have stumbled on a winner.

I intended to buy only a few more bulbine to fill in my bulbine bed during a recent trip to my local independent nursery. Really, I did.

But this lovely fernlike plant with lacelike red blossoms caught my eye. And when the nursery owner told me the plant was extremely hardy and drought-tolerant, I was hopelessly infatuated. I had to buy one.

The nursery owner told me the name and it sounded to me like "Arkillia." Upon returning home and hopping on the Internet, (what did we do before Google?) I finally matched the name with the plant. It's achillea, the Latin name for yarrow plants, and my particular hybrid is called Achillea 'Paprika.'

Apparently common yarrow can be invasive in parts of the country, but the hybrids get high marks for their low-maintenance and vivid, long-lasting blooms.

I planted my Achillea in a container and placed it on my deck in full sun, where it is very happy. I recently dead-headed the spent blooms and more are forming. Looks like it will continue to put on a show. Do any of you have experience with this plant? The nursery told me they would be getting a hybrid with yellow flowers shortly, maybe the one I found online called "Coronation Gold?"

I'd like to find more of the 'Paprika' and plant it in a mixed bed with coneflowers or orange cosmos. I'm a sucker for a pretty face -- though I promise next time I'll do my research before I buy!

What plants have you bought on impulse (come on, admit it, I know you have!) that turned out to be faithful friends? And what impulse buys turned out to be just plain old mistakes?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An Unexpected Gift

While surveying my butterfly garden last weekend to assess where I will place the new plants I hope to buy at the upcoming USF Spring Plant Sale (April 2-3, mark your calendars!), I noticed my remaining milkweed -- which had been rapidly growing after winter -- was looking decidely shorter. Peering at the plants, I was surprised to see a plump monarch caterpillar munching away on the leaves. Then, three more on another milkweed!

I assume that these are the progeny of a monarch that overwintered in Mexico, though it seems a bit early for the migrants to have reached Florida. Have any of you had monarchs in your garden yet?

Checking today, all the caterpillars have crawled off to make their jeweled green chrysalis cases (I haven't found them yet, but I'll keep looking), and all my milkweed has been completely stripped. Sigh. As a flower-lover, I hate seeing the naked stubs, but I love being able to provide for the butterflies even more. Looks like I'll be shopping for milkweed plants too, since I'll be getting more monarchs before these plants recover. 

Hopefully, I'll have some plants flower long enough to bear seeds so I can harvest those for a sustainable supply.

I noticed that my passionvine is just now starting to recover from the winter. Fritillary food in the making!