By Rebecca Kolls
For me a great year in the garden takes nothing more than a few stunning plant combos, unsuspecting surprises or an abundant harvest—it all feeds my soul. This last year I was eating my heart out! It was a great year.
My season starts way before the snow melts. By February I am getting my hands dirty inside, starting my gardens from seed. Oh sure, it’s work, like babysitting, but I can try out new varieties of plants I won’t find in any garden center. And there’s the cost. I figure with my zinnias alone I save about $60 just on the plants. And there are the free backyard bouquets that adorn my home and my neighbors’—a win-win.
Sowing the Season
As the season takes off and summer nears, bearded irises come into the fold. These instantly take me back to my grandmother’s garden. She grew rows of these beauties. I remember tickling the velvet inside. As a kid I was amazed at the magic hidden within the unfurled petals. These timeless gems are stunning, and the array of varieties can make your head spin. But ‘Autumn Circus’ took my breath away when I first saw it in Monet’s garden in Giverny, France. I knew I had to have it in my garden, and so I do. I must say it’s spectacular.
Fall is the best time to plant irises, although you can find them already potted in the spring. Give them sun and good soil (however, bearded irises are not terribly finicky about soil) and they’ll dazzle you with their elegance. If you don’t prefer this cultivar, pick another. There’s one with your name on it.
The Art of Reclamation
I love that I turn a broken swing that rocked many babies into an interesting trellis that nurtures peas and beans. (Next year I’m going to try cukes.) The lines are anchored with twine and tent stakes, and ready for beans to venture vertically. Young kids love using it as a fort with living walls.
Who says you can’t grow Japanese maples in the Upper Midwest? OK, it’s a gamble. But considering how mild our winters have been lately, with protection some can survive. This brilliant-red-leaf maple lives up to its name, ‘Bloodgood’. If you like this but are afraid of the weather, try growing Korean maple (Acer pseudosieboldianum). It’s a hardy, small tree (USDA Zone 4) that mimics true Japanese maples.
And then there was this . . .
I discovered castor bean years ago and am now constantly looking for new varieties. In our area it grows as an annual. You can sow seeds directly into the soil in late spring after frost. Some grow in inches, while others tower upwards of 15 feet. This year I tried this smaller version, ‘Carmencita’, and to say it was stunning is an understatement. The deep-red maplelike leaves are a yummy backdrop for the hot-pinkish/red-spiked flower pods. No matter which variety I grow, people stop, stare and always ask what it is.
Truly this plant is a no-brainer to grow. Give it sun and room and stand back. It grows quickly. As the name implies, castor oil comes from this plant. Deer don’t like these plants, and for good reason—they are toxic, and the seeds can be deadly. Those with curious children and pets might want to pass on this one.
But as you can see from the photo, the seeds reside in a thorny covered shell. Trust me: They are not easy to get to. At the end of the season I cut the pods and dry them out. I place them in a bag and hammer the pods to crack them open. I save the seeds and replant the next season. Ah, the circle of life. It keeps me coming back, year after year. I can’t wait for opening season 2013!