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Dave's Garden Articles: By Audrey Stallsmith

Friday, September 5, 2014

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The Bells of Rehmannia
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Although rehmannia or Chinese foxglove is virtually unknown to U.S. gardeners, it ranks among the top 50 in China—of medicinal herbs, that is! Rehmannia glutinosa, also known as “earth yellow,” is the type used for that purpose. Its furry leaves and flowers remind me of gesneriads such as gloxinia.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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Franklinia: The Curious Case of the Missing Camellia
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

The Franklin tree (Franklinia altamaha) is at the center of one of history’s most baffling horticultural mysteries. (Cue spooky music.) Not actually a camellia but resembling one, it was discovered growing along the banks of Georgia’s Altamaha River in 1765 by two of the New World’s earliest plant explorers--John and William Bartram.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

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Roscoea: The Hardy Ginger
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

In Herbaceous Perennial Plants, Allan Armitage writes that “Roscoea belongs in the almost-impossible-to-grow-but-I-must-have-one’ group of plants, such as Meconopsis.” Roscoea comes, in fact, from the same part of the world that the blue poppy does—the Himalayas.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

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Devilishly Beguiling Spiky Solanums
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)



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Friday, July 25, 2014

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Prickly Panaceas: The Herbs Behind the Hype
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Many plants which become popular healers are thorny ones--perhaps on the theory that if what tastes bad has to be good for you, what feels bad has to be good for you too! All of the following prickly types have been highly touted for medicinal purposes in recent years. I don't know whether or not they really work, and would avoid self-medicating with them until we learn more about their long-term effects. But they are the sort of plants which snag your attention!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

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Nodding Anemonopsis
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

It has been my experience that most shade perennials--such as bleeding hearts, lily of the valley, and columbines--bloom in spring. So I was delighted to come across the more unusual false anemone (Anemonopsis macrophylla), which can brighten those shadowy places from midsummer to early autumn instead.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

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Peculiar Pocketbook Flower
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Do you remember the little leather change purses with snap clasps at the top that our grandmothers or great-aunts used to carry? The shape of calceolaria or pocketbook flowers reminds me of the semi-circular appearance of those pouches.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

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Exquisite Erodiums
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

I finally succeeded in overwintering an erodium in USDA zone 5b this year, though the plants are only supposed to be dependably hardy in zones 6 to 10. Due to the theory that the zones have shifted upward recently, I figured it should be possible for the plants to survive outdoors here now. I suspect, though, that last winter nearly smacked us back into 5a instead!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

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Novel Nolana
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

I somehow ended up with two very similar—if not identical— types of nolana seeds this year, Nolana humifusa and Nolana humifusa “Little Bells.” (That’s what happens when you make out a seed order without checking what you’ve already traded for! ) I was happy to have both, actually, since the South American plants are not well known nor widely available in the U.S. The other species you are most likely to find here are Nolana paradoxa and its cultivars, such as 'Bluebird', 'Snowbird' and 'Cliffhanger'.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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How to Grow Your Own Soursop Tree
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Soursop tree, AKA guanabana or Annona muricata, produces oblong fruits with spiny green rinds and juicy white flesh. Popular in tropical drinks and sherbets, it has a somewhat acidic flavor which some people have compared to a combination of pineapple and bananas. An evergreen that can reach 30 feet and requires temperatures above freezing at all times, soursop will only thrive in USDA zones 10 through 13 or in a warm and humid greenhouse.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

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Fluttery Dove Tree
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

To some people, Davidia involucrata flowers look like a bevy of white handkerchiefs, waving good-bye. To others, they resemble the wings of doves or the fluttering of otherworldly spirits. The genus has, therefore, been known as handkerchief tree, dove tree, or ghost tree.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

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Rock 'n Roses: Cistus and Halimium
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Rock roses aren't actually roses, as is proved by the fact that they lack thorns and require very little water, pruning, or other care. And, being native to the Mediterranean, they actually prefer poor and gritty soils to good ones.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

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Breathtaking Bridal Wreath Spirea
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

In full bloom a bridal wreath spirea looks like a fountain, pouring clusters of white flowers all the way down its arching canes in spring, often before the leaves appear. When cut, those canes can easily be shaped into bridal headdresses, explaining their name. Non-nuptial types of spirea, on the other hand, fashion their clusters at the ends of their stems, bloom in summer and fall, and come in colors other than white.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

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Stellar Starflower
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Although often considered southern belles, spring starflowers (Ipheion or Tristagma spp.) can shine as far north as zone 5. Since that is my own zone, I planted a few bulbs at the front of a flower bed last fall, covering them with an upside-down daisy tray (a flat with a webbed bottom) to prevent our chickens from scratching them up again.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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Flamboyant Flame Peas
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Jacques Labillardiere reportedly performed the 1791 equivalent of a happy dance, when he discovered the flame pea and water at the same time in southwestern Australia. So the name Chorizema supposedly derives from choros (“dance”) and zema (“drink”).

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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The Blue Crocus and Its Kin
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

The blue crocus is not really a crocus, but it is true-blue -- a color you see in flowers only once in a blue moon! Native to the mountains of Chile, Tecophilaea cyanocrocus blooms in October or November there, which is springtime in South America. In North America the plant generally flowers in February or March.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

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Free-flowering Yellow Flax
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Yellow flax was one of the first houseplants I grew back in the dark ages when I was a young and beginning gardener. Being such an amiable and free-flowering species, it bloomed its head off under my grow lights in the dead of winter, feeding my delusion that I had a green thumb. It was, in fact, one of the few species I’ve ever seen that bloomed as well in person -- er, in plant -- as it did in the catalog photo. I would learn shortly that not all flowers are as easy to please!

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Friday, February 7, 2014

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Sparkling Sparmannia
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Sparmannia africana, also known as cape stock rose, is one of those plants that bristles when touched. Actually, only the showy stamens of the flowers move, expanding when something brushes against them. But, if you grow the cape stock rose as a houseplant, it could cause your guests to jump back and squeal, “It’s alive!”

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

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Burnished and Burning Burbidgea
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

“Some gingers are fussy or fail to blossom until they reach a ripe old age, thus testing your patience,” Tovah Martin writes in The Unexpected Houseplant. I've experienced such recalcitrance on the part of the Zingiber family myself, probably because I too have to grow gingers as houseplants here in USDA zone 5. Therefore, I hope that she is going to mention an exception to the rule. I am not disappointed.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

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Magnificent Medinilla
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Medinilla is one of those plants so striking that smitten gardeners like me rush out and acquire one whether or not we actually have the conditions for growing it. In the wild, the most popular type -- showy medinilla (Medinilla magnifica) -- can grow to 8 feet with 1-foot leathery leaves and dangly pink flower clusters up to 18 inches long.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

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Lachenalia Soldiers On
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

I originally became interested in lachenalia -- also known as soldiers, soldier boys, or cape cowslip -- after seeing a photo of the viridiflora type. Its almost startling shade of turquoise aroused all my acquisitive instincts! That type is endangered in its native country of South Africa and tends to be one of the most expensive species, since it is so much in demand.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

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Victorian Veltheimia
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

At first glance, veltheimia is one of those flowers that might be called more interesting-looking than beautiful. But, hey, any blooms that appear during the winter seem spectacular to me! And, as you can confirm from Kelley's photos below, veltheimia flowers are truly exquisite close-up. They were popular parlor plants during the Victorian era, when parlors were on the chilly side.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

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Untamed Tiger Lotus
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Years ago I purchased some bulbs of an aquarium plant from a department store. After sticking them in the gravel at the bottom of my then very bare-looking goldfish tank, I waited. . .and waited. . .and waited. . . Those bulbs never did sprout. I'm not sure whether they eventually rotted or whether my two fish ate them. They eat about everything else in there!

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

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Pandan for the Pantry
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

True to the “pan” in its name, pandan is a culinary herb commonly added to southeast Asian cuisine. Also known as dwarf or fragrant screw pine, the plant reportedly has an earthy scent similar to hay, while the cooked leaves smell like caramel corn. The flavor has been described as akin to roasted breadfruit or hazelnut.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

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The Max of Perennial Sunflowers
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

The Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) used to be the last perennial, with the exception of monkshood, blooming in my garden in October. Admittedly, it can grow to 10 feet and holds most of its flowers very close to its stalk, for a decidedly gangly look. In my flowerbed, the lanky latecomer also tended to slouch against nearby plants or sprawl at somewhat drunken angles, since I never got around to staking it.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

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The Greater Glory of the Fringed Gentian
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Like the lady’s slipper about which I wrote earlier, the greater fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) is one of those wildflowers which should, theoretically, grow in my region. I say "should" because I’ve never seen one! With lovely blue to blue-violet petals edged with long fringes, this wildling frequently succumbs to people’s urge to pick it, and has become endangered in many states.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

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The Great Dahlia Experiment
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

I hate to admit that I completely forgot about my dahlia tubers until early July of this summer. They were stored in the cold room in the basement and, by that time, the new shoots had pushed the taped lids of their cardboard boxes open. Usually, however, even dahlias that are planted right after the last spring frost here in Zone 5 don’t have time to do much blooming before the first autumn frost.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

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Spidery and Spectacular Aztec Lilies and Peruvian Daffodils
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

A cousin stopped by in mid-July to give me a very generous amount of Aztec liliy and Peruvian daffodil bulbs she hadn’t gotten around to planting earlier in the summer, due to the death of her mother. Despite it being so late, I was highly optimistic about those bulbs, because I knew from previous experience that they bloom very rapidly.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

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Satisfying Salsify
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Being an insatiable flower fiend, I traded for salsify seeds because I liked photos I’d seen of the purple blooms. I was disappointed to discover that they don’t appear until the plant’s second year, making it officially a biennial, though you can harvest the roots after its first summer.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

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Sumptuous Salpiglossis
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Salpiglossis resembles a gangly petunia, but one whose blooms have been fashioned from gilded and highly-embroidered velvet brocade. Those spectacular flowers are its fortune, as its foliage tends to be floppy and sticky. Alas, the plant is also more temperamental than petunia, which may explain why it isn’t as widely popular as its “cousin.”

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Monday, July 29, 2013

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Reducing the Glare in Your Summer Garden Photos
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Summer should be one of the best times of the year for taking garden photos. We've got more flowers to photograph during this season than at other times of year, after all, and plenty of daylight in which to do it.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

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The Drip that Keeps on Giving: Water for the Birds
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

This is probably the wrong year to talk about providing water for the birds here in Pennsylvania, since they can find plenty of it in puddles following our recent deluge! In more normal summers, however, our weather often begins to turn hot and dry in July.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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Little Green Menaces: Slugging It Out with Rose Slugs
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Someone once told me that I couldn't have rose slugs because western Pennsylvania was too far north for them. I responded with a hollow laugh. Rose slugs are my second gardening nemesis, after the four-lined plant bug about which I wrote earlier.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

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Rose Rustling: Rounding Up Old Roses
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

No, we rose rustlers don't make a practice of stealing other people's roses, as if they were so many mavericks! We just root cuttings of heirloom types--usually found on abandoned farms or in old cemeteries--that may be in danger of dying out. Often their names have gotten lost somewhere along the way.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

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The Fiendish Four-Lined Plant Bug
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

As luck would have it, the bug that does the most damage to my garden is also one of the hardest to kill. The four-lined plant bug (Poecilocapsus lineatus) is especially fond of members of the mint family, and shows up most heavily on my lemon balm and spearmint plants.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

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Growing Japanese Morning Glories
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

I use the term Japanese morning glory somewhat loosely to refer to exotic varieties, usually Ipomoea nil cultivars, as opposed to the more common Ipomoea purpurea types . The blooms of Japanese morning glories are usually larger, but produced--in my climate at least--in much lower numbers than what purpurea can manage. Fortunately, we gardeners tend to have a weakness for difficult plants!

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Monday, April 29, 2013

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Lady's Slippers Slipping Away
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Among the most exotic of wildflowers, pouched lady's slipper orchids are also now among the most rare wildflowers in some parts of the country. I don't recall ever seeing one here in western Pennsylvania. My dad remembers his older sisters sighting some when they were girls walking a wooded road home from school, but the only one of those "girls" still living today is in her 90s.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

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Creating Your Own Rose
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Do you love adding the latest roses to your garden at this time of year? If so, why not try creating a completely new one that is all your own? Just cross two existing roses and plant the seeds which result from that cross. Like you and your siblings, seedlings from the same parents will all be different, with some more attractive than others!

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

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Smoke, Gibberellic Acid, and Ethylene: Strange Ways of Treating Your Seeds
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

These three substances sound nasty and the latter two somewhat chemical. They are all natural, however--as well as inexpensive--and can do wonders for your seed germination rates.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

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Rugged Roseroot: Staying Strong Between a Rock and a Hard Place
By Audrey Stallsmith (Audrey)

Although we all welcome the arrival of spring, the new season can bring new sneezin' as well--and not just from allergies! Change stresses our bodies, making us more vulnerable to viruses, especially if we try to hurry our winter-sluggish bags of bones into sudden gardening activity. That's when the herbs called adaptogens reportedly come in handy.

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