An Uninvited Guest Spoils the Garden Party

By Michael Leach

His return is as unwelcome as the drop-in visit of a difficult in-law, but instead of a few hours, he hangs around for several months. Still, there’s no keeping him away. Punctual as a Japanese bullet train, the constellation of Orion returns to the pre-dawn sky in late summer.

Ancient myth says this hunter eternally pursues “doves” (the constellation called the Pleiades), who are always just out of Orion’s reach. For me, he’s chasing away summer and dragging in winter.

His ascent in late summer foretells the end of sun-warmed tomatoes, barefoot walks in dewy grass, and idling upon the patio until stars and fireflies twinkle in the almost endless summer twilights. Because summer has been mild, often cloudy and sometimes autumnal in my part of the Midwest, it hardly seems as if there’s been any at all. Thus, spotting Orion on the morning of Aug. 26 made my heart sink farther than usual.

Despite the inevitable, one can live in blissful denial when warm weather lingers after Labor Day, or for that matter, in every warm day between now and Halloween. But the celestial clock ticks on regardless of balmy readings. Winter’s return is only weeks away. In a few months Orion will dominate the icy winter nights with the sparkling brilliance of diamonds scattered upon black velvet.

I try not to think of what lies ahead. Instead, every chance to enjoy the outdoors is taken: eating al fresco meals at the picnic table; reading in a tree-shaded lawn chair, while reveling in the chorus of birds, cicadas and crickets; delighting in bright yellow goldfinches flitting to and fro; and being silly happy with the warmth of sun on chilly afternoons. Soon I’ll be taking walks in woods decorated in colors no paint chip collection rivals.

There are chores — seemingly endless chores — that are part of autumn, too. But those shouldn’t take precedence over savoring what remains of nature’s season of abundance. Ignore the clock and to-do list as often as possible. Steal a few precious moments of warmth to make memories before Orion’s long, chilly stay begins again.


Trendspotting: Greening of Pittsburgh

Green pittsburgh

By Teresa Woodard

Last month, Debra, Michael and I traveled to Pittsburgh for a jam-packed, 4-day conference with the Garden Writers Association.  Here, we met with hundreds of other communicators in the lawn and garden industries and witnessed first-hand many of the Steel City’s green trends.

No-mow lawns – Designed by Hugh Newel Jacobsen, this LEED home features a gravel front “yard” and mixed fescue “no mow” backyard.

Pittsburgh convention center rooftop garden

Rooftop gardens –The south terrace at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center features a rooftop garden that’s both aesthetic for convention events but also functional, acting as a natural insulator and reducing stormwater runoff.


Succulent sod – On the trade show floor, this sedum sod by Great Garden Plants caught our attention for its ease of installation, trial success and beauty.

Edibles in the landscape –  Props to these downtown restaurants (The Porch and Levy Restaurant) for featuring edibles, like chard and basil, in their landscape designs.

Garden at Schenley Plaza

Downtown beautification – Just steps from the University of Pittsburgh, Schenley Plaza was recently renovated by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and today features this All-America Selection Display Garden.

Harvesting water — At the Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainability, all stormwater runoff is captured in a lagoon system and passed through a plant-based treatment process for later use in irrigation and toilet flushing.


Catch Us If You Can

HGH-2014-logo_png_1865074513Leach garden (43)Michael Leach will be part of a garden guru panel Fri., Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. at the 2014 Home & Garden and Holiday Fest at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus, Ohio. Michael and other panelists will answer questions and offer tips for the winter garden.

“Anyone can plant flowers, but if you can make a garden interesting in the wintertime, you’ve really accomplished something,” Michael told the Columbus Dispatch in a show preview story on Sunday.

The panel includes: Larry Burchfield, owner of Cedarbrook Landscaping and Garden Center; Fred Hower, The Ohio Nurseryman and Columbus State Community College instructor; Ellen Gallucci Purcell, co-owner of Riepenhoff Landscape; and Tom Wood, NBC4’s gardening expert and owner of Wood Landscape Services.

On the home side of the show, HGTV’s Jonathan and Drew Scott, aka the Property Brothers, will appear at 2 p.m. Saturday to present “Dream Home 101.”

For more info, visit the show’s website.


Favorite Flora: Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus 'Robert Fleming'

Hibiscus ‘Robert Fleming’

Buds of Hibiscus 'Robert Fleming'

Buds of Hibiscus ‘Robert Fleming’

Hardy Hibiscus for the Midwest

It’s hard to believe – a tropical-looking hibiscus with plate-size flowers is hardy for Midwest gardens!  In fact, the showy flowers are now in bloom in area gardens.  Heartland  Gardening recently talked with Linda Johnson, co-owner of Scioto Gardens (a must-visit nursery and specialty plant supplier  in Delaware, Ohio) about these crowd pleasers.

She recommends this group of perennials for great, mid- to late-summer WOW! She says the super-sized flowers come in a range of colors from pure white to pink to bright red. Plus, they’re deer resistant and tolerate wet soils. Even though some Hibiscus are tropical, there are many cultivars that are cold hardy in the Midwest. Two species are even native to Ohio.

Linda says the plants range in size from three to six feet tall. Most have green leaves, but some have purple or reddish foliage. They grow best in full sun with average to wet soil. The stems are somewhat woody and can be cut back in the fall after the plant is dormant. Linda suggests leaving a four- to six-inch stem to mark the late emerging plant’s location. Check out her favorites:

  • ‘Robert Fleming’ is a dwarf Hibiscus getting only three feet tall. The buds emerge dark purple and then open into a deep, rich red. Known for its striking flower, this cultivar is named after one of the Fleming Brothers who were famous for their hybridizing of Hibiscus plants.

    Hibiscus 'Kopper King'

    Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’

  • ‘Kopper King’ has coppery-colored foliage that’s quite attractive throughout the season. The flowers are light pink with a dark pink center. The plants grow three to four feet.
  • ‘Plum Crazy’ Flowers are rose-purple with darker purple veining and a very dark purple central eye.
    Hibiscus 'Plum-Crazy'

    Hibiscus ‘Plum-Crazy’

    Foliage is deeply dissected, purplish green and the plants grow about three to four feet.

  • Hibiscus moscheutos is one of the species native to Ohio. It usually has flowers that are white with a dark pink center, but sometimes the flowers are pink. The flowers are conical and a bit smaller than the wide-open dinner plate flowers of the cultivars. It is typically found in marshy areas. The plants can grow three- to six-feet tall, depending on moisture and soil fertility.



Gardening in Tight Spaces

Schrader garden 001 - CopyBy Teresa Woodard

Today’s gardeners are getting more efficient when it comes to gardening in tight quarters. Whether they’re city dwellers planting a garden on a balcony or empty nesters tending a small patio garden, these gardeners are finding savvy solutions for their limited real estate.

Here are few tips:

Go dwarf – Growers are introducing many space-saving perennials and shrubs. Check out the dwarf conifers and hydrangeas and miniature hostas. IMG_1611Even edible plants are now available in pint-sized versions. Try BrazelBerry dwarf berry bushes, columnar fruit trees, espaliered (grown vertically along a trellis) trees and grafted tomato plants.

Grow up–Chose upright and vining plants to take advantage of vertical space. Columnar hornbeams create a narrow privacy screen along a walkway. IMG_5344 - CopyFlowering vines like clematis, hydrangea and honeysuckle climb trellises, patio walls and fences.

Repeat details – Details count in not-so-big spaces. Invest in quality stone or ceramic containers or architectural features like window boxes or an eye-catching arbor.

Create illusions — Mirrors can be added to garage windows and garden walls to bring more light to shaded areas and reflect the space to increase its apparent size.IMG_2678

Cluster containers – Maximize patio space with clusters of container gardens. Even vegetables, dwarf trees and shrubs can be grown in containers.


All-Star Asters That Brighten Autumn

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

By Debra Knapke

Autumn is the time of golden, scarlet, and maroon leaves and shortened days. It is the time for picking apples and harvesting vegetables. We watch our gardens slowly decline, and yet there is one perennial that says “Wait, my time is now!” Enter the asters, the late summer to fall-blooming plants so loved by bees and butterflies.

We often overlook the flowers of autumn as we fill out our gardens with spring and summer blooms. Many of us buy plants in April, May and June when the spring and summer flowering plants proudly show their colors.   But we overlook the asters which are just emerging: green leaves and no flowers.

Asters are not difficult to grow. Here are a few cultivation and maintenance guidelines:

  • Asters prefer full sun, 6+ hours of light; most tolerate part sun, four to five hours of light.
  • Most asters are drought-tolerant if you keep the soil moist during the first year in the garden.
  • Asters love compost, but excessive fertilization will cause them to grow quickly and ungainly; an aster lying on the ground is not attractive!
  • The taller asters should be cut back by 1/3 in early to mid-June to promote stronger stems and to avoid the need for staking.
  • Asters are best divided in the spring.

It’s not too late to add these late bloomers to your garden, but don’t wait too long. After late August, asters may not have enough time to grow their roots into the soil and acclimate to your garden before winter arrives. If you miss the planting window this year, buy the green, leafy aster next spring.

Here are some species that are native to most of the Midwest. Many of the cultivars listed have been selected for their compact habits and richly colored flowers.

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

  • Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) – has aromatic foliage; height 18-36”, width 12-18”; blooms Sept. to Oct.; sky blue to lavender-blue flowers;   Look for: ‘October Skies’ (compact: ht. 18”); ‘Raydon’s Favorite’
  • Blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) – height 2-4’, width 2-3’; performs best in part sun, but tolerates sun to shady conditions, blooms Aug. to Sept.; small light blue flowers
  • Heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) – height 1-2’, width 12-18”; blooms Aug. to Oct.; white to light pink flowers; look for ‘Pink Cloud’ ‘Snow Flurry’: both are more compact selections
  • New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) – height 3-6’, width 2-3’; blooms Sept. to October; light lavender or pink to deep purple or pink flowers; if the soils dries out, this species will lose the lower leaves on their stems; look for: ‘Purple Dome’ (compact: 24-30” tall) ‘Vibrant Dome’ (compact: 18-24” tall)   ‘September Ruby’
  • Smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) – height 2-4’, width 18-24”; blooms Sept. to Oct.; striking blue-violet flowers; look for: ‘Bluebird’
  • White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) – the exception: prefers part sun to full shade; height 12”, width 18-24”; bloom Aug. to Sept.; white flowers; ‘Eastern Star’ is a more compact selection

Side Note:  The Aster Name

Not only do our native asters suffer because they lack early flowers, but they have been separated into new genera with difficult names. One of my horticulturist friends calls it the “aster disaster”. If a garden center has arranged the perennials by their botanical names, the asters will be spread across several locations on the nursery shelves. Fortunately, in most garden centers, asters still hold a place at the beginning of the alphabet instead of being scattered throughout the benches. For those who are interested the new botanical names are listed with the common names.

Gardening in the Shade

Dry Shade? Don’t Despair – Plants that thrive under shade trees

By Debra Knapke

Dry Shade – words that strike fear in amateur as well as seasoned gardeners. Some gardeners camouflage these areas with nicely fluffed, dark-colored mulch. Others opt for the dry stream bed “look” which is achieved by spreading river stone of various sizes in an artful, river-like pattern.

Even though dry shade is a challenging site, it can be enhanced by using good garden practices that work in any garden situation. It all comes down to amending the soil, choosing your plants wisely and watering them to get them established in their first year.

A dry streambed in Debra’s garden with Allegheny spurge on the right.  Notice the large silver maple trunk in the upper right.  Tree roots are much more efficient at taking up water and nutrients than shrubs and perennials.

A dry streambed in Debra’s garden with Allegheny spurge on the right. Notice the large silver maple trunk in the upper right. Tree roots are much more efficient at taking up water and nutrients than shrubs and perennials.

You’ve heard it before: amend the soil. This means incorporating organic matter in the form of leaf, mushroom or homemade compost into the existing soil. In open garden areas, you can till in organic matter without a thought to damaging existing roots. Under trees, a different technique is needed. As you plant, amend the pockets of soil that are between the roots and then cover the whole area with two to three inches of compost or hardwood mulch.

Many of the plants recommended for dry shade plants are tolerant of a wide range of garden situations. In loamy, evenly moist soils, many of these same plants can become aggressive; so, consider yourself forewarned. The below list is a sampling of plants. Don’t hesitate to ask for suggestions from personnel at your favorite garden



  • Spicebush (Lindera) – native; edible berries
  • Chokeberries (Aronia) – native; edible berries
  • Oregon grapeholly (Berberis) – semi-evergreen

Herbaceous plants (perennials)

  • Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra) – groundcover; initially a slow-grower, then takes off in third to fourth year
  • Barrenworts (Epimedium) – flowers early in spring; beautiful leaves the rest of the season
  • Bugleweed (Ajuga) – groundcover; look for the larger bronzy cultivar ‘Catlin’s Giant’ and the diminutive, maroon-leaved ‘Chocolate Chip’
  • Hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen) – a tuber; slow to establish, but worth the wait; beautiful leaves in the winter; dormant in the summer
  • Wood Ferns (Dryopteris) – once established are relatively drought tolerant
  • Hellebores (Helleborus) – great winter effect; long bloom time; hardy self-seeder
  • Crested iris (Iris) – native plant; slow spreader, but very cute!
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema) – native plant; a conversation starter in the spring garden
  • Lilyturf (Liriope) – a vigorous and tenacious grass-look-alike groundcover
  • Lily-of- the-Valley (Convallaria) – groundcover, fragrant flowers
  • Robb’s euphorbia (Euphorbia) – another assertive and tenacious groundcover

A note on “establishing” your plants in their first year in your garden: A garden rule is that newly planted gardens should receive about one inch of water per week. A rain gauge can help keep track of the rain amounts in your yard. If Mother Nature sends less rain, get out your garden hose. Water your garden in the early morning as you drink your coffee or tea. And, it is better to water two to three times a week, deeply, rather than every day with a light sprinkle.


Catch Us If You Can

bloggers picThis summer’s been a busy one for Heartland Gardening bloggers.  Congratulations to Debra — named the honorary president of the Herb Society of America for 2014-16!  She just returned from the Perennial Plant Symposium in Cincinnati where she saw a lot of new perennials and brought a new perennial sage home to plant in the garden.

This month, Michael and Teresa have been hawking the 2014 Parade of Homes with articles in the BIA Planbook and Columbus Monthly Home & Gardens. This year’s tour in Delaware County was an impressive one with several million-dollar homes.

The three bloggers also participated in the Cultivate 2014, a leading horticulture industry trade show at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.  The trio attended insider sessions and scouted the trade show for gardening ideas to share here.  Michael and Debra represented Garden Writers Association (GWA) on the trade show floor, and Teresa served on a social media panel with other GWA members.

The bloggers also are busy in their backyards trialing new plants, products and techniques to share with readers.  Teresa’s delighted to achieve success in growing heirloom tomatoes and find her heirloom Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate has self-sown from last year’s purchased plant. Debra has been entranced with the blooms of two day lilies from Walter’s Gardens:  ‘Midnight Raider’ and ‘Mighty Chestnut’.  ‘Lava Lamp’ Heuchera has been a winner, too, with its dusky burgundy leaves.  With her latest lavender – ‘Platinum Blonde’ –  a trial from  Creek Hill Nursery, she can now say she has three beautiful “blondes” in the garden.  Michael’s enjoying “the generally cool, moist (sometimes soggy) weather pattern that has persisted since May, instead of the typical dry to drought  we normally have.”  He’s thankful lawns are April green and flowers are lingering for weeks. “Is this my part of the Midwest or a dream?,” he says.

In the August issue of Country Living  published by electric cooperatives in Ohio and West Virginia, Michael has an article focusing on how hospitals are using healing gardens to help patients. Teresa’s been producing magazine stories for 2015.  Check out her latest stories in the current issues of Country Gardens (“50 years and Counting”), Ohio Gardener (“Annual Attraction”) and Columbus Monthly Home & Garden (“Within the Garden Walls”).

Finally, our blog is being featured this summer in the Columbus Dispatch Real Estate section (print and online versions).  Check out recent posts on dry shade gardening and fall veggies.



Fall Veggie Crops

By Michael Leach

If you want fresh vegetables for Thanksgiving and perhaps New Year’s Day, start planting.


Most of the vegetables typically planted in spring are equally adept at producing in fall and sometimes into winter, if weather is mild. They prefer cool growing conditions, not the tropical, summer warmth that prompts tomatoes and peppers to flourish. (I’ve found peas are more prolific in fall because temps keep ebbing rather than rising.)


Don’t forget, growing your own food is trendy. Cold weather harvests will keep you stylishly ahead of the mere zucchini growers on the block.


Besides being nutritious, the bodacious foliage of kale, collards and chard play well with asters, mums and other fall flowers. ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard even sports colorful stems.


For best chances of success in having fresh veggies in the Thanksgiving cornucopia, keep the following in mind:


* Look at seed packets for the maturity date (time from sowing to harvest) and subtract from the first frost date, usually about mid-October in central Ohio. The longer the time to maturity, the sooner you need to sow for best chances of success. You may want to add a week or two to that maturity date to allow for slower growth due to lower temps and shorter days.


* Don’t worry about frosts or even some freezing for cold-tolerant kale, collards and Brussels sprouts. The flavor improves after a few frosts.


* Check garden centers for small broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants. Direct sowing seeds of these plants probably won’t beat the clock.


* Prep the soil before planting. Spread an inch or two of compost or other organic amendments. Scatter organic or other fertilizer at package-given rates. Till all this into the top two or three inches of soil.


* Use floating row cover after sowing seeds. This lightweight agricultural fabric keeps bugs off plants, yet it’s so lightweight, seedlings easily push it up as they grow.


I leave it on all winter for wind protection. Despite the infamous polar vortex, I harvested a few greens for bragging rights on St. Patrick’s Day. In mild winters, some greens can be picked almost every week.


* Plant only what you like to eat and enough to meet your family’s needs. If there is excess, donate it to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank or a local soup kitchen.

House and garden ideas to steal from Thomas Jefferson

Monticello flowerwalkBy Michael Leach


Many Americans are mixed up when it comes to their home landscapes.


Too often we put all the emphasis on an attractive border across the front and give scant (if any) attention to the patio. Little wonder the back 40 is rarely used.


Ideally, house and garden ought to be of one piece, with windows framing views and doors opening into al fresco “rooms” as appealing in their natural way as those under the roof. Our landscapes should be a part of – not walled off from – our interiors.


Thomas Jefferson can inspire us in domestic design. He was ahead of his time in creating Monticello, the elegant, hilltop mansion that invited the outside in. It’s been about 20 years since I last visited, but some impressions remain fresh.


Where others of his day and ours put all the emphasis on decorating interiors to wow visitors and make themselves feel good, Jefferson looked beyond the walls literally. Monticello diningroom


For instance, the tea room on the west side of the house probably cost a king’s ransom in the amount of glass used. Those windows were a luxury, yes, but the mountain view to the west is spectacular. No doubt sunlight pouring in during winter was almost as welcome as the scenery.


Few homes boast such vast, magnificent vistas, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have something lovely to look upon outside a window or patio doors. A variety of landscape elements, from fountains and bird baths, to specimen plants and sculpture, can be framed by a window. This is especially important for windows we frequently gaze through, such as the one over the kitchen sink.


The greenhouse that opens off his study is an early version of a three-season room. Nothing wrong with copying this, except you probably should plan on heat to make it a four-season room. Walls of glass that protect tropical plants and offer views of a pleasing natural scene beyond will tempt you out of the house year around. Sunny winter days spent in such confines make that long, difficult season much easier to bear.


This I know to be true. At my house, a tiny enclosed porch with large windows faces south. Napping there on a winter afternoon is a delight. The garden beyond was planted to become a living landscape mural with visual appeal in all seasons.Monticello westlawn_tulips


He welcomed natural light and imported the concept of skylights, a new architectural device he saw in France. The soft, diffuse natural light flatters everything it touches and cuts lighting costs, whether it be candles or electric bulbs.


An avid gardener, he apparently put most effort into the back 40, rather than a front garden. The capacious parlor opens onto a covered terrace (technically the West Portico). This glorious porch overlooks the curving, flowery walk that rings the west lawn at the rear of the house. (This is the side depicted on the nickel.)


One can imagine string quartets playing Mozart and guests in silky finery gliding from inside to outside, laughter and music mingling with the fragrance of flowers on a summer breeze.


Your backyard may never equal this, but creating appealing outdoor space will enhance your life each day your are at home.


For more, please visit Monticello’s website.




Photos included with permission and copyright of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.




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