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Gail's Gardens - September 2015

Gail's Gardens - September 2015

by Gail Fanning

September is time for harvesting all those great veggies we have spent so much time tending: so eat a fresh tomato, fry up those zucchini, and chow down on the sweet corn: it’s a great time to be a vegetarian! I can’t get corn to grow here in our foggy coastal weather, so I’m really looking forward to my upcoming trip to Wisconsin, where I can get sweet corn fresh picked from the farm: I have lovely Midwestern childhood memories of that juicy corn so fresh it only has to be cooked for 2 minutes: perfection!

Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena)Some drought gardening suggestions from Vesta: when eliminating water hungry plants in your yard, consider ground cover plants rather than gravel to cover the bare spaces. Many people mistakenly assume that gravel will eliminate the need for weeding: sorry, but weed seeds love to grow in gravel! If you don’t keep after them, they will overgrow your gravel in a year, and you will be left with a mess that you can’t even mow to clean up! Additionally, gravel is expensive, difficult to move without heavy equipment or strong backs, and it absorbs heat in the summer, making your yard hotter than ever. 

A good alternative to expanses of gravel (or mulch) are some of the drought tolerant groundcover plants: Manzanita (Arctostaphylos), Lantana (Lantana sellowiana), Ground morning glory (Convolvulus mauritanicus), Junipers, Thymes, ‘Centennial ‘Ceanothus, and ivy.

All of these tough plants will provide color and interest in the garden with very low water usage, while providing food for pollinators and habitat for ground nesting birds.

I had the good fortune to befriend a generous gardener in Tomales, who kindly shared with me lots of ripe seed pods from her Love-in-a-mist: yummy! If you aren’t familiar with this delightful annual which is just as pretty as its name, let me tell you a little about it. Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) is an annual native to the Mediterranean region which blooms in spring and early summer. Love-in-a-mist is a medium-sized plant that grows 15 to 24 inches high and about one foot wide, with finely cut leaves that resemble dill. Light-green, lacy bracts form the “mist” surrounding the plant’s jewel-like flowers. Love-in-a-mist flowers are usually bright blue, but may be white, pink, or lavender. They are followed by oddly attractive balloon-shaped seedpods with purple stripes. 

There are several named cultivars of love-in-a-mist. The cultivars have larger flowers than the species (often with double flowers), and come in a wider range of colors.

• ’Miss Jekyll’ has soft blue, semi-double flowers.

• ’Miss Jekyll Alba’ has pure white semi-double flowers.

• ’Mulberry Rose’ has deep pink flowers.

• ’Oxford Blue’ is a taller variety with deep blue flowers 

• The Persian Jewels series has double flowers in mauve, lavender, purple, rose, light blue and white.

Love-in-a-mist does best in full sun and well-drained soil. Sow seeds about 1/4-inch deep wherever you want the plants to grow. Planting may be done in the spring or fall. Once established, love-in-a-mist readily self-sows. If you don’t like plants that spread out, this is not for you! Summer bloom usually lasts only a month, but you can do successive plantings every three weeks to lengthen the season. Cut plants back to the ground when they dry out and are no longer attractive. You can save the dried seed pods for winter decorations: hang them upside down in the garage. And of course save some seed to pass along to your gardening friends!

Here’s a link to a fun website: lots of do-it-yourself garden ideas: