Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cooper, my garden companion

Whenever I garden, my trusty watch dog is looking out for me. At the top of our hill, Cooper sits and keeps watch over the goings on of the street below. Now he may be simply looking for squirrels to chase, but I think he is genuinely looking out for me and our homestead while I am busy gardening away.

He sits there, at attention, sometimes for hours. And he always resumes his post in the exact same spot. Occasionally, he will take advantage of my inattentiveness to slip off and play with the neighborhood dogs or chase squirrels. For the most part though, he is my constant garden companion and watch dog.

I was pleased to discover a plant that I thought might be a ‘weed’, turned out to be garden phlox (Phlox paniculata). I had kept several of this tall plant with strap-like leaves in the hope it was something worth keeping and I’m really glad I did. They bloomed bright fuchsia this week, and after passing the ‘phlox test,’ I knew I had something special.

What is the ‘phlox test?’ I believe Dr. Alan Armitage taught me this, but I’m not totally sure. Basically, if you pull the flower petals out of the stem and they remain as one flower unit instead of separate petals, than you have a phlox. Seems elementary (and it is) but I have found this technique very useful in plant identification. After all, there are hundreds of phlox species ranging from groundcovers to 4’ tall perennials, and a wide variety of flower color.

Bright fuchsia is not a color I would have ever picked for my garden, but I love it. It’s so vivid and eye-catching. This phlox is supposed to bloom throughout the summer and into the fall. We’ll see how it looks with the other summer blooming flowers…

The tomatoes and herbs are doing well. The Black Cherry’s are the first tomatoes to start turning a reddish color. My singular jalapeƱo fell off the plant, so picked it up and may try it out soon in some cooking, despite it’s small size (about 1 ½” long). I need to fertilize the veggies again, maybe today. I try and fertilize a few times a week with a liquid fertilizer.

I’m still a little befuddled by the Hollyhocks and Rose of Sharon. The Hollyhocks bloomed well, but only bloomed white. And the Rose of Sharon (there are five plants in total) have had less than three blooms combined. I have neighbors with Rose of Sharon’s that are covered in blooms.

I have found many tips for improving my Hollyhocks next year, like pinching off new growth a few times before flower buds appear. And I can also conceive that since this is the first growing season the Rose of Sharon have been in the ground, maybe they are focusing more on foliage than flowers. Bottom line, these plants may just need more sunlight.

This is an unfortunate conclusion, because I have only one ‘full sun’ planting bed. And it’s getting very crowded as is. But alas, since these Hollyhocks and Rose of Sharon are so important to me, I’m sure I’ll be relocating some to the west side planting bed this fall.

Another Hollyhock issue that has developed is Hollyhock Rust (Puccinia malvacearum). This fungus is characterized by yellow-orange bumps throughout the leaves and stalks of the plant. At this point, there’s not much I can do except remove unsightly foliage.

In the fall I will be sure to cut back the Hollyhocks hard and destroy all foliage instead of composting. I may consider an early spring fungicide application as well as spread the plants out more to improve circulation.

My garden is on the cusp of having lots of blooms and veggies by the end of the month. I hope I can keep up with all of the watering until then. It’s been topping out in the mid-nineties here lately with rain showers few and far between.


  1. I think Cooper is counting the number of clover blooms in your yard.