Category Archives: plants


By | plants | No Comments

You can hardly ever plant peas too early in North Carolina (she said, thereby causing a crippling multi-state ice storm) so today I went out, finished dumping garden mix on the sunniest vegetable bed, and planted out peas.

I usually use tomato cages as trellises–I have some beautiful enameled red ones that are just lovely and also absolutely useless for tomatoes, which knock them down and tear them apart. (Live and learn…) They’re okay for mobile pea towers, though. I am also experimenting with some eight-foot poles this year, to see if the peas like those better.

My go-to cultivar here in North Carolina is “Wando” which is a solid, if undistinguished, performer that can take a good amount of heat. I tried “Lincoln” last year and it was so-so, but it was such a demented year for weather that I’m giving it another run, although it’s only getting half the space of Wando. Finally, there’s this year’s experiment–“Blue Podded Blauwschokkers,” which gets two tomato cages. Kevin is a fan of snow peas–we’ll see how MUCH of a fan.

This year’s big engineering trick is going to be with beans–I had superb luck growing them on an archway, much better than on poles, so I’ve got three new archways over the walk alongside the house. I am hoping this leads to a sort of green-tunnel effect. (And if it doesn’t, I’ll put in tomatoes there next year. The tomato I ran up the arch did pretty well, even with our bizarre weather.)

Planting peas has thrown some internal switch in me, thankfully–from “Oh god, we’ll never get to spring!” to “Oh crap, there’s way too much to be done before spring!” I need to go prepare the beet bed tomorrow…


By | plants, Stuff In My Yard | No Comments

Stumbled over this while putting up Redneck Flowerbeds along the fence. (Ingredients–one 2 x 8, two metal stakes, one mallet, one chain link fence. Add dirt and mulch, plant vines along fence line so that you don’t have to keep staring at the @[email protected]#!&! chain link.)

What am I?

My botanical knowledge is pretty extensive in some very specific areas, but “proper names of leaves so you can look them up” is not one of them. So I have no idea what this is. The leaves look a little like plantain and a little like lady’s slipper and are probably something else entirely.

I’m interested because it appears to be coming up RIGHT NOW and it’s January, ergo this is an evergreen or an ephemeral or very very confused.

Seasonally dry woods, hard clay, some leaf litter, North Carolina Piedmont. Nothing else grows in this area except honeysuckle and sweet gum seedlings, so I’m curious as much because that is one tough little bugger as anything else.

Anybody got any ideas?


ETA: Ellen Honeycutt, who is obviously amazing, managed to ID this puppy for me — it’s “Crane-fly Orchid,” a peculiar native orchid that puts up leaves in fall, then flower in summer (after the leaves are dead.) The plant may have been there for years, but it’s so unobtrusive I might never have noticed if I hadn’t been stomping around by the fence line. As each corm puts up a single leaf, there’s clearly a clump of corms here, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for flowers in summer.  Crane-fly orchid is endangered in several parts of its range, but secure in North Carolina.

Seventh Day of Christmas

By | plants | One Comment

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…seven spiky yuccas!

…six types of milkweed!

…fiiiive! naaaative! plaaaaants!

…four hummingbirds!

…three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!


Because it’s the internet, someone somewhere is already typing a comment informing me that the thing in the back is an agave.

Well, yes. I ran out of yuccas. So we’re going with “yuccas and plants sufficiently yucca-like as to make no difference to the layman.” Also, they’re all members of the Agavaceae family.

Yuccas are extraordinarily versatile plants. You’d think they grow only in deserts, but in fact, an extraordinary number grow here in the Southeast, which is about as far from a desert as you can get.

Some unknown yucca, for example, is growing right now on the edge of my pond…in moss. There is moss around the pond. There are yuccas sticking out of the moss. It is very weird and looks wrong, but the yucca seems happy so I am not interfering. (I got them as part of a six pack in the cactus & succulent section of Big Bloomers. It’s definitely some member of Clan Yucca, but I am unclear on the exact variety, since I lost the tag. I think it’s the straight species of Y. filamentosa, but I could be wrong.)

Most of my yuccas are in fact variants on Yucca filamentosa, also known as Adam’s Needle. It is pointy, and also found all up and down the eastern seaboard.  You have to give them pretty good drainage, but they’re not finicky. I also have “Golden Sword” a cultivar of Y. flaccida, which is very pretty, if unfortunately named.

Agaves are a little more touch and go here. I have Agave americana, which is quietly rotting, and A. parryi, which is not entirely sure about all this. I’ve seen enormous ones here, but they need absurdly good drainage and possibly some shelter from pounding rain.

Much happier in this neck of the woods is Manfreda virginica, or “Virginia false-aloe” which has the lovely yucca shape while also being from Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as farther south and west. There’s a marvelous cultivar called “Spot,” which is doing very well in my garden and producing numerous pups.

I am also quite fond of Eryngium yuccifolium, which has the marvelous name “Rattlesnake Master.” It’s not a true yucca but just kinda looks like them. The flower heads are masterpieces.

Finally—rounding out number seven—somewhere on the property is Y. aloifolia, “Spanish bayonet.” It’s native to here. I was happy to find it at the nursery. I planted it and then promptly lost it. It is somewhere on the property. (Is that it, by the frog pond? Or over by the rosemary?) The problem is that all these damn yuccas are pointy and angry and spiky and you tuck the tag under the plant so it’s not an eyesore and if you try to find the tag again, it involves groping around underneath the yucca, who is screaming “I WILL CUT YOU!” and going for your eyes.

Marvelous plants. But very spiky.

Sixth Day of Christmas

By | plants | One Comment

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…six types of milkweed!

…fiiiive! naaaative! plaaaaants!

…four hummingbirds!

…three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!


Milkweed, as most of us probably know by now, is the only thing that monarch butterfly caterpillars will eat. So if you want to help monarchs in their long, perilous migration (and given how badly their numbers are declining, many of us do) you’ve got to plant milkweed.

In my garden, I have tried six different species of Aesclepias. Most of them have failed miserably. Some of them live long enough to get devoured by milkweed beetles. I keep trying, because if you’re not up for Sisyphean tasks, you’re probably not a gardener.

A. tuberosa — “butterfly weed.” Wretched finicky plant. Monarchs actually prefer other milkweeds and aren’t that fond of it, it likes sandy soil and hates having its roots poked, and me trying to grow it is plant abuse. I think I still have one clawing its way out of a hillside.

A. curassivica — “tropical milkweed.” I grow this one as an annual. It does great! Someday a monarch will find it before the milkweed beetles do.

A. exaltata — “poke milkweed.” This one will take part shade, and is absolutely the perfect milkweed for my area. I planted a seed packet. None of them came up. It’s been two years. No one sells transplants. I am sad.

A. purpurascens — “purple milkweed.” I was somewhat daunted by the bit where it died instantly.

A. incarnata — “swamp milkweed.” This plant is my great failure, even more so than the others. Most people will agree that many milkweeds are finicky. Swamp milkweed, however, grows madly. It spreads. People complain about its enthusiasm. I have planted three different plants in three different spots. One still produces one dogged stem, once a year. The others have vanished to wherever sad milkweeds go. To hear people talk, the only way I am accomplishing this is by sowing the fields with salt and watering it with bleach.

A. verticillata — “whorled milkweed.” My one great success! It grows! It flowers! It takes miserable clay! It’s not fast, but boy, it’s hardy! I want to hug this one when it comes back each year. Someday, we may even get a monarch caterpillar!

Until that day, I console myself with the fact that we get many caterpillars every year of other varieties, and that monarchs frequents stop to refuel on nectar, if not to raise a family. Still, I hold out hope.

Fifth Day of Christmas

By | plants | 3 Comments

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

fiiiiive! naaaaative! plaaaaaants!

…four hummingbirds!

..three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!

You all know by now that I’m a native plant junkie, both because I want to support wildlife (and not just the eat-anything-generalists—I am still deeply honored to have had a Stinging Rose Caterpillar in the yard) and because I thinking it really contributes to the sense of place. A garden should be deeply rooted (ha) wherever it is, not as interchangeable as a McDonald’s.

My garden runs about sixty percent native—a much higher percentage in the shrub and tree department, where my non-natives consist of things like hardy pomegranate and a potted Daphne odora. This has worked out as the best proportion for me, since it means I can still fall madly in love with random perennials and keep old favorites like Walker’s Low catmint, while still being majority native for all the little critters.

Five native plants that have done really well for me this year:

Hypericium buckleyii — “Appalachian Sun”  A cultivar of our rare native prostrate St. John’s Wort, this made a very satisfying ground cover over the summer. Not entirely evergreen, so the chickweed is starting to overrun it now, but I am quite optimistic for its return.

Asplenium platyneuron — “Ebony Spleenwort” Picked up recently on a whim, and has established very vigorously for a wee little fern in a less than hospitable spot.

Iris virginica — “Contraband Girl” A cultivar of our native Louisiana iris, this sucker gets to be six feet tall. If the thought of a six foot iris does not excite you, you may already be dead. One of the few plants plugged into my proto-wetland that could hold its own against the late season Japanese stiltgrass assault.

Lycopus virginicus — “Virginia Water Horehound”  This one is related to the mint family and thus should probably not be set loose in just any garden bed, although it’s not as weedy as some of its relatives. It takes just about any soil and part shade. I am growing it with trepidation and pull out a substantial portion. Next year I may transplant some to the proto-wetland. Nevertheless, it’s largely idiot-proof and hosts the hermit sphinx moth, a gorgeous hummingbird-mimic moth with big, liquid eyes, like a small insectile muppet.

Agarista populifolia — “Florida hobblebush”  A shrub native from Florida to the Carolinas, also known as Pipestem and Florida Leucothoe. Tough, will take the shade and root competition under pines, and so far one of the few shrubs I’ve planted in multiples where I haven’t lost a single one.  Supposed to be a good screening shrub, but we’ll see how it goes.


By | My Garden, plants | One Comment will be the death of me. Also, they have their new seed catalog out.

After several very pleasant evenings spent laying in bed and circling things, I finally narrowed it down to about a dozen.

Ask me if I have room for a dozen new vegetables. Ask me. Go on.

No. Obviously not.

But I did manage to score a half-dozen half-whiskey barrels for $10 a pop at an end of season thing, so I have someplace to grow some of the veggies. I am terribly smug. They had dried out and looked ratty and loose, but you soak ’em and the wood swells and they’re happy again.

My list:

Good Mother Stallard beans — Oh my god, will you LOOK at these things?

Hidatsa Red beans — It says they’re rugged and 3 feet tall. We will see.

Rattlesnake Pole bean — Good for hot humid areas, apparently.

Miniature White cucumber — says it’ll work in containers. I am skeptical, but I can try. My Mexican miniature sour gherkins got et by worms last year and mostly scrambled without producing a lot of fruit, so I’m auditioning another cucumber. The Parisian pickling cuke remains a staple.

“Tigger” melon — It’s so PRETTY!

Lincoln pea — “Wando” is my go-to at the moment, since it gets hot fast here, but I’ll give Lincoln a shot. Fourscore and seven peas ago…

Fish Pepper — This one looked too interesting to pass up, and Kevin wanted a hot pepper. (Not that we won’t wind up buying Anaheim and jalapeno starts next spring anyway.)

Jewel Peach nasturtium — I learn from my mistakes occasionally. These are supposed to be dwarf nasturtiums!

Tall trailing nasturtium — I don’t learn that well.


And I’ve got a Parisian carrot and a white beet and “Bull’s Blood” beets and a couple others hanging out from a previous order, and some carrots and sweet peas from a trade, plus scarlet runner beans and “Wando” peas I saved myself so…uh…five whiskey barrels just need to hold…err…three types of plant apiece…and the one pot that was going to hold the pepper when the annual coreopsis died, except it’s not dying, so, uh….and I need to be able to plant about ten basil plants because we had such a lousy harvest last year…

Yeah, I’m screwed.


By | My Garden, plants | 2 Comments

The hapless young gardener is often warned against excessively fertilizing nasturtiums, because (so the books say) the plant will engage in excessive leaf production, at the expense of flowers. Nasturtiums, they say, want a poor, somewhat dry soil, in order to achieve maximum flower production.

But words like “overly rich soil” can mean all sorts of things. What counts as overly? They did very well last year in the vegetable garden, so this year I put on an inch of mushroom compost and planted nasturtiums again.



Ah. Yes. Hmm. Apparently an inch of mushroom compost is the bit that turns “rich” into “overly rich.” This is the nasturtiums, AFTER I cut them back (they were vining wildly across the pathway) where they have entirely eaten my herb-mound. They are knee-high everywhere and nearly thigh-high in places. There are bits of basil sticking up through the carnage, but I had to plant another row of basil (after taking out the spent peas) and if Kevin ever needs any fresh sage, I’m going to have to go in with a machete. It forced the also-highly-crazed cilantro back against the deck railing, requiring me to do a rescue-and-extraction operation on the lemon verbena.

I grow nasturtiums for no reason except that they say “garden” to me—the flowers are edible but we hardly ever use them, certainly not in the quantities they are produced. I love them simply because they are one of the quintessential garden plants and they grow extremely easily from seed (which for ME is very important. I’m not good at it.)

I have no idea how I am supposed to edge my vegetable garden with these in the future, if they’re going to do this in my improved garden soil…

Like Rugs, They Lie

By | plants | 4 Comments

So last year, I planted a cultivar of Agastache foeniculum, called “Snow Spike.” It has white flowers. Pollinators like it. (A. foeniculum, for the record, is our native giant blue hyssop, growing up to five feet tall.)

I have looked through various grower information, and it’s either 18″, 24″, 36″ or 40″ tall, depending on who you ask, lauded for its extremely good behavior, compact form, and general elegance by gardening sites the web over.

I would like to register the following objection.

At the time of this writing, “Snow Spike” is eight feet tall. I had to lash its somewhat smaller brother (a mere five and a half feet!) to a trellis, since it was leaning into the walkway, but the eight-footer is as upright and sturdy as a sequoia. There is no legginess, no phototropic lean towards the sun. It is the tallest thing in the back garden. The crabapple I planted last fall doesn’t even compete. The ginormous tomatoes top out at six feet. You have to get out of the flowerbeds and into the treeline before you find taller members of the plant kingdom, and when you do, it’s an oak tree.

Now, my original plant did not actually survive the winter, but it reseeded with the enthusiasm of an Old Testament patriarch and I have been yanking babies out of my vegetable bed and cracks in the walkway for weeks. (None of them actually landed in the flowerbed where they would be welcome, naturally.) This is one of those babies. I left several in the tiny little corner bed between the house and the sidewalk, where it receives brutal sun and not that much rain. It presumably goes without saying that I cannot be arsed to water it. It is just coming in to flower now. I fear it.

The other various Agastaches in the front yard, meanwhile, are all being well-behaved normal plants five feet tall and bringing in lots of bees and generally acting like the plant labels said they would. Apparently “Snow Spike” did not get the memo about it’s compactness.. I like a monstrous structural perennial as much as the next person, but I like to be warned in advance, so I can plant them in a space more than a foot wide where they will not systematical devour my nasturtiums.  (Is it possible that I have, through some peculiar hazard of genes, acquired an enormous mutant? Hmm. Maybe I should save those seeds. If it bred true, I would name it “Yeti.”)

So. Quite a plant. Little frightening. Plant with caution.

Unknown Weed

By | My Garden, plants | 5 Comments

O internet brain trust, you found me the caterpillar in record time! Can you do the same with a weed?

There's a lot of it, anyhow...

Never seen this one in the yard before, but it popped up everywhere after I mulched a large bed in the backyard, leading me to believe that the seeds may have come in on the mulch (although it’s a low and unobtrusive thing, so it may just have gotten lost in the crabgrass and I only noticed it because it was the first thing to show up in the mulch.) I haven’t caught it flowering. It’s not smothering anything, it pulls easily enough, but it is entirely too vigorous, and I suspect it on principle.

It is found only in the shaded areas of the yard and does not venture into sun. My attempts to locate it in lawn weed ID systems fail utterly. The leaves are really genuinely lance-shaped, with the little flare to keep it from going all the way through your enemy’s torso and everything, but I don’t know if that falls under the “lance-shaped” leaf category, so…y’know.

Advice on whether this is a delightful native that honors me with its presence, a scourge that I shall curse from the bottom of my heart, or whether I must now nuke my garden from orbit would be grateful appreciated!

June, June, June!

By | Animals, My Garden, plants | One Comment

The garden is glorious, so of course I am going out of town for a week at the height of its glory. On the one hand, I am sorry to miss it, on the other hand, I can pretend that was the one week when it all came together and looked totally magnificent, and I just happened to come back when the wild quinine has fallen down on the verbena and the salvia needs deadheading.

Ah, annuals...

The steps off the back deck are being engulfed by basil and nasturtiums. I have finally succeeded in growing nasturtiums from seed this year, in a couple of places. (In other places, they are a spindly spray of sad little pallid leaves, but by god, some of ’em are the sea of foaming variegated leaves and glorious flowers that they OUGHT to be.)

The bee balm redeemed itself this year, and has reminded me why I planted it.

Most of the flowers are just on the cusp of opening, so of course I’ll probably miss the one glorious week that they were all open at once. Damn these June cons…! But the hummingbird is happy with what we’ve got.

I luuuuuv you, flower...

The shrubby St. John’s wort bloomed really FAST this year–instead of one flower a day for a month, it was like ten flowers a day for two weeks. But it made the bugs happy while it lasted.

Meanwhile, the Giant Joe Pye Weed has lived up to its name–two ten foot stalks and one that’s got to be pushing fourteen feet tall. I have had to tie multiple tomato stakes together to keep it anything like upright, as it wilts madly and photo-tropes aggressively. It is an ungainly, ridiculous, completely unaesthetic addition to the bed. Needless to say, I love it madly.

Having the pond in the backyard is marvelous. I just watched an enormous black beetle swim from the horsetail to the gravel slope. It seemed to be quite a good swimmer for a beetle, and it obvious knew where it was going—made straight for the beach, no flailing or swimming in circles.

Except there was a frog in the way.

Frog was about half again the size of the beetle—small frog, large beetle, obviously. The frog freaked out and lunged at the beetle, biting at it. The beetle was knocked back, but continued on, undaunted. The frog attacked it again. (I don’t think it was trying to eat it—it’d be like me trying to eat a German shepherd in one gulp.) The beetle did not seem particularly injured by this assault, but clearly it was pissed, because the frog’s next assault met a savage pincer attack that knocked the frog back. The frog leapt into the water and went to sulk in the horsetails, while the beetle finally reached the shore, climbed out, and trundled off into the woods.

Kevin says he wants me to dig a pond visible for HIS window now, because it’s so damn cool out that. I can’t blame him, but that’s a heckuva lot of digging…