Autumn Jewels

Late Season Gifts from Nature

Autumn Jewels callicarpa 10-2-15Debra Knapke

Teresa, Michael and I meet periodically to talk about the blog: its direction and ideas for posts. We always take a walk in the garden before we sit with our coffee (Michael and Teresa) and tea (me) and plan. This time I couldn’t resist taking quick pics of what I think of as “jewel-moments” in the garden. Yes, winter is coming, but fall is my favorite time of the year, and I revel in what the garden has to offer as it moves toward sleep.

Anyone who has seen beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) seldom forgets it. The bright purple fruit clusters truly look like jewels as they float above the branches.

Michael’s has several crabapples (Malus) in his garden. Here are two that not only offer a visual treat, but feed the birds as well. Professor Sprenger crabapple (left) is covered in orange-red fruits. Candied Apple (right) crabapple has a weeping form. The branches of glossy red fruits are suspended between other plants.  Imagine beautiful streamers of soft pink to white flowers in the spring.

I have always loved the seedheads of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). Here goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) provides a lovely contrasting background. I have recreated this combination in my home for fall arrangements.  Add some purple asters and the effect is stunning.

Autumn Jewels Queen Annes lace 10-2-15


Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is a native grass that loves to self-seed all over the garden. It, too, is a good addition to fall arrangements. Be forewarned: they are short-lived in dried arrangements as the “oats” shatter in 2-4 weeks when in a warm home.Autumn Jewels sea oats 10-2-15

This heirloom seed strain zinnia is a jewel left over from summer.  This week’s cold spell may end their reign in the garden. As a native of Mexico, zinnias quickly decline when temperatures go below 40°F.Autumn Jewels zinnia 10-2-15

Brown is a beautiful color when contrasted with the sagey-green leaves of false blue indigo (Baptisia australis). The seedpods develop in July and persist into mid-fall.  An added bonus: they softly rattle on windy days and add an auditory experience to a garden. Cherry tomatoes are another last jewel of the summer.  The cooler temperatures have already slowed fruit maturation and tomato flowers are only a memory.

My blogmates discussing how Michael’s garden is senescing and what may change for next year’s garden. As autumn develops and I watch my own garden, I hear the echo of the famous line from Gone with the Wind: “Tomorrow is another day.”

Autumn Jewels Teresa Michael 10-2-15


Prolonging Summer 2015

butterflyDose of denial keeps summer around no matter what calendar says 

By Michael Leach

The calendar shows autumn officially arrived September 23. Well excuse me, but I’m not ready to give up summer just yet.

Granted this summer is a doozie. (Note the use of the present tense, I’m firmly in denial.) This  summer is extremely hard to love, even for one who rarely complains about the heat, humidity and insects. (This apparent content is hardly a virtue. My venom is reserved to carp about winter from the first to last frost.)

We’ve had all three summer issues in 2015 but the insects were especially horrific. First came legions of chiggers. As their wounds slowly healed, I began donating several pints of blood a week to vicious clouds of ravenous mosquitoes.

Avoiding some sort of fungal infection wasn’t easy during the monsoon season of early summer when record rain fell in June and July in our  part of the Midwest. Another hard to resist temptation was taking antidepressants while those soggy clouds lumbered overhead for weeks on end. Seeing moon and stars — or the sun — became cause for celebration. (We had few celebrations until mid-August.)

Then came September with a mini drought that is forcing me to irrigate, a loathsome task in my book. At least mosquitoes are down for the count allowing almost pest-free patio sitting. While a sweatshirt or jacket is required for morning coffee, I realize this summer patio pleasure was sorely missed.

The other evening, nature almost made up for all the ills. As I gazed at the top of the sycamore warmly suffused with the amber sunset, four or five Monarch butterflies fluttered and swooped among the high maple branches. They alit and stayed, apparently roosting for the night. As this amazing fact sank in, I glanced to the tree tops again and spotted the moon, a pearl against the clear blue sky.

Such a memory will be an even greater treasure when the most ardent of the lovers of summer sits housebound, waiting for spring


Hello, Fall!

20140927_092612_AndroidLooking for some fall gardening inspiration?  Well, check out some of the season’s best posts on Heartland Gardening:



Embracing the Bug


IPM’s Pro-Active Pest Control Approach

For years, I battled with insects – wasps, Japanese beetles, bean beetles, stink bugs, aphids and more.  Like the woman in the garden store line this weekend, I used to buy the most powerful insecticide to wipe out pests even if my cause was hopeless. After learning the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach in a Master Gardening class, I’ve banished such revenge spraying and adopted new ways that support a balanced ecosystem.  You see, my trigger-happy approach was killing off beneficial bugs such as pollinating bees and aphid-eating ladybugs.  So, now I resolve to the IPM ways, and my garden thanks me.

In the simplest terms, IPM is a pro-active approach of first preventing disease by managing a healthy garden then staying in tune with the garden through the growing season and managing pest problems with the most effective control that has the least impact on the environment.

Tolerating this sweet potato vine leaf damage

Tolerating this sweet potato vine leaf damage

Here are the IPM steps:

  • Prevention: Begin by buying healthy plants and planting them in the right location to minimize stress. Choose pest-resistant varieties, rotate crops and remove dead or diseased material from the garden.
  • Tolerance: Know what level of pest damage you can tolerate and consider modifying those standards in exchange for a more balanced ecosystem.
  • Monitor: Be on the lookout for insect damage. Learn to identify various garden pests and options for treating them. Early on, they often can be removed by hand or shot with a stream of water.
  • Control:  When the damage is potentially too great, select a control that will best get the job done without impacting innocent bystanders.
    Considering row covers to protect next season's chard

    Considering row covers to protect next season’s chard

      IPM teaches three types of control: 1) cultural (e.g., hand removal, row covers and barriers) , 2) biological (e.g., attracting pests natural enemies to the garden) and 3) selective pesticides to reduce but not eliminate pest populations Evaluate: Take a look at what works and make notes for the next growing season.  This season in my garden, I had minimal success with delaying cucumber planting to avoid cucumber beetles; I’m taking great care to clean up the garden and remove weeds before seeding to help next season; and my heavier layer of mulching seems to help with this year’s tomato crop.  Perhaps next year, I need to try fellow blogger Deb Knapke’s overhead netting to keep the birds from damaging my tomatoes and Michael Leach’s row covers to protect my cucumber plants and leafy greens.

To learn more about IPM, see the National Pesticide Information Center
The Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio is hosting David Rogers’ Big Bugs exhibition with 10 installations including an 18-foot tall praying mantis, a spider’s web that’s four yards wide, and a butterfly with a wingspan broader than average human height.  The exhibit runs through Sept. 27.


The Power of Annuals

Each year, 15,000 annuals are planted at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Here, Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ and Coleus ‘Keystone Kopper’ dress up the Reptile House.

Winning Plants for Summer Color

 By Teresa Woodard

In the gardening world, annual plants are often the step-child to the perennial darlings.  But Scott Beuerlein, horticulturalist at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, opened my eyes to the virtues of annuals at the recent Plant Trials Day hosted at the beautifully landscaped zoo.

He says the colorful flowers can’t be beat for their “50 MPH wow”. They may only last for a season, but their color is nonstop for several months.  Plus, they pack a lot of punch in container gardens,  add traffic-stopping curb appeal to the landscape, build community pride in public spaces, bring joy to senior centers and hospitals, offer nectar and pollen to several pollinators, and even minimize weeds when densely planted.

Here are ten favorites at the zoo.

Pennisetum 'Rubrum' (purple fountain grass) and Flame Thrower Coleus 'Spiced Curry'

Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ (purple fountain grass) and Flame Thrower Coleus ‘Spiced Curry’

Coleus 'Premium Sun Crimson Gold with Sedum 'Lemon Coral' and gazania.

Coleus ‘Premium Sun Crimson Gold’ with Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ and gazania.

Salvia 'Golden Delicious' and Zinnia 'Sahara Double Fire'

Salvia ‘Golden Delicious’ and Zinnia ‘Sahara Double Fire’

Coleus 'Lime Time' and Lantana 'Luscious Citrus Blend'

Coleus ‘Lime Time’ and Lantana ‘Luscious Citrus Blend’

Coleus 'Colorblaze Kingswood Torch', Dwarf Morning Glory 'Blue My Mind' and Lantana 'Little Lucky Pot of Gold'

Coleus ‘Colorblaze Kingswood Torch’, Dwarf Morning Glory ‘Blue My Mind’ and Lantana ‘Little Lucky Pot of Gold’

Colocasia, Lantana 'Luscious Marmalade' and Ipomoea 'Sweet Caroline Light Green' (sweet potato vine)

Colocasia, Lantana ‘Luscious Marmalade’ and Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline Light Green’ (sweet potato vine)


Impatiens 'Bounce Cherry' and Verbena 'Lanai Candy Cane'

Impatiens ‘Bounce Cherry’ and Verbena ‘Lanai Candy Cane’

Dahlia 'Mystic Illusion'

Dahlia ‘Mystic Illusion’

Coleus 'Dipt in Wine' and Euphorbia 'Glitz' with red begonias

Coleus ‘Dipt in Wine’ and Euphorbia ‘Glitz’ with red begonias

Pennisetum 'Vertigo' and Coleus 'Alabama' and dahlias.

Pennisetum ‘Vertigo’ and Coleus ‘Alabama’ with dahlias.

House And Garden Fight Over Paint Colors

By Michael Leach

When it comes to choosing house paint colors, a gardener must satisfy personal tastes and those of the plants. This seems a snap, considering one generally grows plants with blooms in colors that please one’s eye.

Not so fast.

My decision to paint the house is resulting in a brain freeze of indecision. Those 50 shades of gray represent only dab of what awaits in the Sherwin Williams color “fan”. The company takes all the strips of color chips found on a paint store wall and condenses them into a holder that suggests a lady’s fan of yesteryear. Open this at your own risk.

Some might say I’m stalling or being overly obsessive, which is saying a lot for a particularly picky sort. Whatever, I defy anyone — including the most laid back and colorblind — to decide how to redo a white house into a pale yellow one with white trim and some third accent color to highlight  its few crumbs of Victorian gingerbread.

Will the colors enhance or spoil the garden? The house, after all, is a mere accessory that must flatter the flowers. This should be easy for me, given the three primary colors of red, blue and yellow are represented but generally only in their softest shades. Pink, burgundy, lavender, navy, butter, lemon and such colors blossom here.  

Looking at paint with flower names seems a good starting point. Daffodil, Daisy, African Violet and Gladioli don’t work.



Move to another part of the color wheel.

Radish and Cherries Jubilee, not quite in my range. I almost turn Heart Throb red when looking at pinks called Hot, Eros and Desire. These might please the naked ladies (Lycoris) but what about the sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and my demure chaste tree (Vitex)?

In desperation I thumb through shades of orange. Aggressive, rather than lusty tendencies await. There are Stinging, Forceful, Raucous and Laughing oranges. I presume the laughter is derisive, not a friendly chuckle for a gardener perhaps a bit too concerned with a suitable backdrop for his flowery performers.

Blues. Can’t get beyond Undercool and Pulsating. If one combines Pulsating Blue and Forceful Orange, would this be construed as a pro-Florida Gator stance and so bring a horde of rabid Ohio State Buckeye fans posing as an “environmental cleanup” posse? Can’t risk this. 

Green should be a soothing place to seek inspiration. Alas, no. 

Witty and Humorous greens promise a jocund note —on someone else’s house. Certainly these are better than Nervy Hue or Impetuous. Does Kermit the Frog realize that being green is more difficult than ever?

Some of the “Fundamentally Neutral” shades bring clandestine operations to mind with Secret Garden and Shade Grown. These almost black greens might compliment the camo gear of a survivalist gardener but not me. Meanwhile, Sagey, Clary Sage, Dried Thyme, Rosemary and Basil make me hungry and think of kitchen duty, hardly the thing to enhance garden zen time.

At least these quieter hues have soothed me enough to consider stopping for lunch.  That Basil is making me think of a sandwich with a sun-warmed tomato from the garden as a star attraction.




Garden Editing: Tomato Renovation and Basil Triage

tomatoes fungal lesions Knapke garden 8-10-15 resizeBy Debra Knapke

Late summer: the time of year when I look at the abundance of my garden and start taking away what is too much: pruning, thinning and removing diseased plants. I call this simplifying the garden and opening up space for ideas gleaned from seminars, trade shows and garden tours.

But first, I have to deal with nature’s effects on the edibles.

We can all agree that this has been another challenging growing year. Mother Nature has muddled the spring and summer seasons with excessive rain and unseasonable lower temperatures. By the last week in June, my tomato plants were gorgeous; loaded with blossoms and fruit… all green. We had lots of rain and little sun in May and June. The temperatures – while delightful for humans – were not hot enough to develop colorful and tasty fruit. By the second week of July early blight plus Septoria leaf spot showed up on tomato leaves – see above.

We finally had some hot, sunny days in July, but this generated severe sunscald on the tomatoes. They were not accustomed to sunny days. Low temperatures caused most of my tomatoes to ripen unevenly resulting in irregular coloration, white spotting, mealy texture and little true tomato flavor. To add insult to injury, anthracnose lesions developed on the tomatoes that were ripening well.

Left to right: Black Krim tomato with sunscald, middle Black Krim and Gold Medal tomatoes show mottled coloration that indicates low temperature conditions and lastly, an undersized Brandywine tomato with anthracnose.

Left to right: Black Krim tomato with sunscald, middle Black Krim and Gold Medal tomatoes show mottled coloration that indicates low temperature conditions and lastly, an undersized Brandywine tomato with anthracnose.

Are these tomatoes safe to eat? Yes, but after you remove all the diseased sections, there isn’t much left. What does one do with tomatoes such as these? Make tomato sauce.

Now, I have plants that are covered with disease. This calls for an experiment. I removed all diseased portions of each plant, rinsing my pruners and fingers in 91% alcohol as I moved from plant to plant. I cleaned up the area under the plants and then watered in a low nitrogen organic fertilizer. These are my Charley Brown tomato plants, and I wonder if they will be able to rebound from all of the above.

tomatoes leaves removed Knapke garden 8-10-15 resizeNext sad story concerns basil. I started my own plants this year in an effort to bypass the downy mildew disease that has plagued my favorite pesto herb. My 32 plants started off great. I kept them evenly moist and healthy with compost tea. Just as I was thinking to plant them out – late May – I noticed my plants had downy mildew.

Here, it is important to explain what downy mildew is. First, it is not a fungus. Therefore, a fungicide will not be effective on this pathogen. It is a water “mold” in the Kingdom Protista. TMI? Maybe, but if you are going to try to defeat it, you have to understand its nature. This is not a post about downy mildew, but it is important to understand that it is a difficult disease to control. We do not have a cure, instead we have to prevent it with cultural and mechanical practices:

  • Clean up all plant debris and remove infected leaves
  • Sterilize your tools and fingers frequently with alcohol when removing diseased parts from plants
  • Keep the plants healthy by side-dressing with compost
  • Do not allow the soil to dry out – avoid water stress.

Below are three infected leaves. On the left is the top of the leaf. Notice the blotchy yellowing. The other two leaves show the “gray” infected areas under the leaf.

basil downy mildew 2 Knapke garden 8-10-15 cropTake a closer look and you can see the spores; the carriers of downy mildew to the next leaf or plant.

basil downy mildew Knapke garden 8-10-15 cropThe below plant was doing well, but I was at a conference for a week and this is what I found when I returned.

Downy mildew has returned.  I missed my pesto-making window. This plant has been moved to the “bad” compost pile.

Downy mildew has returned. I missed my pesto-making window. This plant has been moved to the “bad” compost pile.

I have since destroyed my most affected plants – the triage – and then removed affected leaves from the healthier plants. I am trying a product: BioSafe Disease Control. It is based on hydrogen peroxide which has been shown to have a preventative effect on water molds. I will let you know.

There are other tales of woe, like swamped lavenders, and tales of joy: having the best summer phlox bloom ever. But that is for the next post.

Wishing you excellent pesto and tomatoes…

The Bee Conundrum


Beleaguered bees attacked by drugs, diet and deadly sprays 

By Michael Leach

I went to the workshop hoping for a simple explanation of honey bee problems caused by pesticides called neonicotinoids, a relatively new class that’s blamed for bee deaths.

Turns out, there’s no sound bite or even a half dozen. Explaining honey bee problems is only slightly less complicated than charting the latest Greek financial bailout or hedge funds.

There is, however, an easy way to reduce insecticide dangers — don’t spray while plants are flowering.

This is the only simple take away from an update by Luis Canas, associate professor of entomology at The Ohio State University. In July, he spoke at “Cultivate 15” in Columbus. Produced by AmericanHort (a horticulture and landscape industry association), the event is one of the nation’s premiere floriculture trade shows. It incorporates OSU short courses, such as the one presented by Professor Canas.

As an “apprentice” beekeeper for the past couple years, I was vaguely aware of ills facing honey bees. The workshop expanded the gloomy horizon of colony collapse disorder (the term used for the sudden disappearance of honey bees) which is a worldwide problem.

For instance, one of the biggest problems is varroa mites (which have the perfect scientific name Varroa destructor). These tiny parasites deform wings and other body parts. Add more challenges: 1) tracheal mites that affect the bee’s ability to breathe; 2) negative side effects of drugs given to bees to protect them against bacterial diseases; 3) gut parasites; 4) poor nutrition; and 5) habitat loss.

Here in the Midwest we can also add Arctic vortex to the honey bee on aster pollen sacs 10-3-05list. The past two frigid winters decimated hives, about half died in my hometown region this winter.

Despite these woes, there are an estimated 2.6 million hives in the U.S. Sounds pretty good until compared to 6 million hives tallied in 1945.

What’s to be done? Following label directions and precautions are obvious ways to cut pesticide dangers. But even the best safety intentions can be thwarted with toxic substances.

Bees forage in a 6-mile diameter circle from their hive. A lot can happen in that much territory. Wind carries agricultural dust from chemicals used on corn and soybean seeds to nearby plants.

Systemic insecticides, which are absorbed by the plant, eliminate the air-borne dangers of drift  but may still cause problems. If applied to greenhouse plants early in the season, they will probably dissipate before transplanting into fields or flower beds.  But such products used before shipment to retailers are likely to harm pollinators because the insects will be gathering freshly tainted nectar and pollen. 

Systemics used as soil drenches to protect home landscape plants endanger bees. The pesticide’s toxic ingredients can move through the soil and be absorbed by non-target plants. Pollen is tainted.

Some types of chemicals disorient bees, causing them to be confused and unable to return to the hive.

Biological pest management techniques and fine horticultural oils that have no lingering effects, are being used by some growers. As a budding beekeeper and supporter of pollinators in general, I’m hoping for breakthroughs here. Perhaps such approaches are the future for large-scale growers, too. Let’s hope something much less toxic comes along soon.

Until then, pesticide applicators please use extreme care or better yet, find alternatives. In our inter-related world, we all live down stream — or down wind.  If it hurts bees, what about us?


Tips to make your outdoor space pollinator (and wildlife) friendly

You can help pollinators whether your “backyard” is an estate or an apartment balcony. Here are two helpful links:





App My Garden Fitness

By Teresa Woodard

I wish I had a garden fitness app.  You know, one that tracks the number of weeds pulled, the pounds of soil turned, the yards of mulch spread, the linear feet of shrubs trimmed or the number of branches pruned.  Call it MapMyGarden, DigMyMuscles or WeedtoWin.

In spring, my charts would climb as I eagerly dive into a new growing season.  The numbers would likely peak in May, when I, like so many other gardeners, work double-time to keep up with never-ending chore lists.  This summer’s rains certainly made it tougher to stay ahead of the vigorous, multiplying weeds.

However, the stats this time of year would likely take a big drop when my enthusiasm wanes.   As the temperatures soar and mosquitos swarm, I definitely could use a fitness app’s pep talk to stay the course and finish the season strong. And maybe a on-line coupon for repellant.

Perhaps, the app could translate all my gardening activities into calories burned or muscles built.  I might even reward my efforts with an extra scoop of ice cream on a bowl of cherry crisp or not feel so bad about slathering a fresh ear of corn with a layer of butter.

App or no app, I do know the garden is a “free gym” that offers the benefits of exercise plus beautiful foliage and flowers, fresh air, a dose of the sunshine’s vitamin D and stress relief by connecting with the great outdoors. Besides, it’s in my own backyard.

In the Garden: Teresa’s Haven

IMG_6893By Debra Knapke

In between light rain showers Michael and I visited Teresa’s garden. Nestled in a conservation area along the scenic Little Darby Creek, Teresa created a haven for wildlife and for herself and her family. Her design is a continuum: formal elements by the house; semi-formal beds further out, culminating in prairie areas by the road. Her gardens reflect not only the natural areas that were along the Little Darby before humans settled here, but also of the food and cutting gardens that came after.

in garden formal 7-9-15

The Midwest is experiencing a record-setting amount of rain for June and July, so Teresa’s gardens are lush. The long prairie areas that line the road are full of bloom as we move into high summer color.

in garden prairie long view 7-9-15We are greeted at the front door by one of Teresa’s many colorful containers. Her gardens are lovely contrasts of textural foliage punctuated by well-placed blooming plants and artful placements of garden accents.

In the garden begonia container 7-9-15 in garden container vignette 7-9-15

The vegetable-cutting garden is perfectly placed within easy access to Teresa’s workroom. The mass of crocosmia that you see below provided the flowers for a simple arrangement in the kitchen. The garden itself is an interesting interpretation a four-square design. Instead of opting for the traditional, Teresa created a more modern zig-zag design.

We can’t always control where our plants will roam. A volunteer pumpkin has escaped and entwined with butterflyweed. On the other side of the garden, Teresa purposely inter-planted potatoes with asparagus, purple coneflower and kiwi. The sacred Datura (right image; lower left) self-seeds as it will.

in garden escaping pumpkin 7-9-15 in garden intermingling 7-9-15

Onto the prairie – A personal favorite is false sunflower (Heliopsis sp.) which has spread along one portion of the prairie area. A close-up of another section reveals the intermingling of other prairie species. The patterns ebb and flow over the years depending on environmental conditions. Because of the rain, there were fewer pollinators present, but I have visited on a sunny day and the prairie was buzzing with a myriad of insects. The goldfinches are already harvesting the purple coneflowers.

in garden prairie vignette 7-9-15 in garden prairie heliopsis 7-9-15

Next stop: visiting Teresa’s woods. Her son Mark installed a zip line and built a small treehouse and has made this part of the yard his own. We decided not to venture into this natural area because the mosquitoes were – quite literally – out for our blood! It was easier to avoid them by staying out in the open, breezy areas.

in garden Marks woods 7-9-15

Just off the woods is the backyard terrace area where texture rules. In the lower area, we visited “the girls”. They often roam with Teresa as she works in the garden. I’m thinking how this might be a good addition to my own garden. Where else do you find an insecticide (insects are one of their favorite foods), a fertilizer, a tractor and a food provider wrapped up in one attractive package?


in garden back walkway 7-9-15

in garden the girls 7-9-15

Coming out of the backyard into a semi-formal woodland garden, the rain started again. Time to say goodbye, accept some beautiful eggs, go home and bake.

in garden T and M 7-9-15 resize

Wishing you beautiful moments in a garden…


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