Friday's Flower: Irish Eyes Black-Eyed Susan

If you like something a little different, take a look at this green-eyed beauty. 

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Like other Rudbeckia Irish Eyes is a daisy with yellow-orange petals and a cone-shaped center, but unlike most of them this flower has a green center.  It is a striking compliment to other flowers in your garden.

Irish grows between 2-3’ tall and needs full sun.  It is drought-tolerant as long as you water it occasionally. 

The 4-5” flowers come out from late spring through mid-fall with fragrant blossoms that attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

They are hardy through zone 5 but may not survive an exceptionally harsh winter.  They make up for it by self-seeding.

If you need a long-blooming plant, this may be the one for you.

Friday's Flower: Santolina

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Santolina’s nickname “Lavender Cotton” comes from its cottony appearance with narrow leaves that resemble lavender.    Its aroma is enhanced when the leaves are bruised, but handling the bruised leaves could irritate your skin.  The scent is reminiscent of pine.

 This small evergreen shrub comes from the western Mediterranean area and is related to chamomile and sunflowers.  It can be as small as 4” and grow up to 2’ in height.  It is admired for its foliage which is usually silvery-grey, but can also be green.  As a bonus, it gets yellow or white flowers during the summer.

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 The beautiful mounds are drought-tolerant and like poor soil, making them easy to grow.  Once they’re established, keep them relatively dry to avoid fungus and rot.  They will root wherever their branches touch the ground, helping them to spread slowly.  This works as a lovely ground-cover.

 It is hardy to zone 6 and tolerant to zone 2.  In the colder regions, it may not retain its foliage through the winter but if the roots survive, the plant will return.  Prune the dead wood and deadhead the flowers for the best appearance.

 When santolina is planted in a dry, sunny and well-ventilated area it will thrive.  It is relatively disease-resistant, repels deer and attracts birds.

 The dried leaves are used in sachets to repel moths from clothing.  Santolina has also been used as a Bonsai plant.  The plant oils have also been used for several medicinal purposes.

 Overall, this is a great plant to add color, texture and a little bit of everything to your garden.

Friday’s Foliage: Ferns

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There are over 10,000 species of ferns worldwide and about 380 in the U.S.  Ferns have been around longer than land animals, dinosaurs and most other plants.

 Ferns vary in size from about 2/10 inch up to about 66 feet in height.  The largest ferns in North America can reach about 6 feet tall.  Most of the larger species grow in tropical climates.

 They are delicate and need to live in a moist environment.

 Ferns reproduce by spores which develop on the underside of their fronds.  The growth stages and physiology of a fern is different from other plants.

 If you have a shady, moist area, ferns would be the perfect landscaping plant.  Some varieties can grow in full sun as long as the soil remains moist.  They add a lovely shade of green as well as texture to their environment.  Since there are so many types, there will always be a variety that has just the right look for you.

 Some are even edible.  In the U.S. we eat the early spring fronds of the Fiddle Head fern.  Fiddle Heads refer to a number of varieties, but the Ostrich fern seems to be the most popular.  If you can’t find them in your local grocery store, you can grow them yourself.  They are called “Fiddle Heads” because the shape of the curled frond resembles the scrolls on the end of a violin or other “fiddle” instrument.

 There are many ways to cook fiddle heads.  Just cook them thoroughly as they contain an enzyme that will reduce your Vitamin B.  This enzyme is destroyed during cooking.

 The Cinnamon fern sends up fertile fronds that turn brown and are very interesting to see.  They are great to use in home crafts.

 Some ferns come in colors other than green, adding an interesting color palate to your garden.  Check out the Rosy Maidenhair Fern, Autumn Fern, Japanese Painted Fern, Ghost Fern or any of the other colorful varieties.


Friday's Flower: Joe Pye Weed

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If you’d like to plant something dramatic and have room for something VERY tall, consider planting Joe Pye Weed.  It’s not elegant or refined but you may fall in love with it regardless.

 This member of the sunflower family can grow to 8 feet tall or more.

 A Native American shaman and herbalist used this plant to stop a typhus epidemic and so settlers named the plant after him.

 If you like it but don’t like the height, there are other varieties such as “Baby Joe” or “Little Joe” (2-1/2’ to 4’ tall.)  There are also varieties with foliage and blooms in different colors, but the standard is a medium green foliage with mauve flowers.

 It is a food source for butterflies and hummingbirds so if you like to keep the winged wildlife around, this is a great option.

Friday's Foliage: Oregano

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When you think of Oregano, you probably think of pizza or some other type of casserole or Italian Food but did you now that it is also a tough perennial?

 You could even use it in your lawn instead of grass.  It looks lovely when it’s mowed and kept short and it smells amazing when you mow it or walk on it.

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 Of course, you will need to keep a patch somewhere that grows tall so you will always have some fresh leaves for cooking.  Just don’t let it go to flower until you’re done picking it for cooking as it will affect the flavor.

 Without mowing, it will grow up to two feet tall.  Keeping it short eliminated the tall stems that would make it uncomfortable for bare feet.

 Toward the end of the season, let a bit go to seed to keep a dense patch of plants.

 It loves sun and can be grown from seed or rooted cuttings.  Don’t overwater oregano or it will get root rot.

 The leaves are easy to dry.  Just cut and spread out on a screen or dry surface until you can strip the leaves from the stems.  Oregano – especially oregano oil – is a natural anti-bacterial agent but can cause chemical burns if it is too strong or too much is used.

 Enjoy this useful plant in your garden or in a flower pot.


Friday's "Flower" - Poison Ivy

What better way to avoid your enemy than to know it well?

 Poison Ivy is an attractive plant.  A similar looking plant without the nasty side-effects would most likely be a very popular ground cover.  The appearance will change throughout the season and from plant to plant.

 We’ve been taught to look for a plant with three shiny leaves and notched edges.  Sometimes, it doesn’t quite look like that.

 New growth – both spring and summer – is very shiny and reddish in color.  As the leaves mature, they turn green.  While they are often shiny, that isn’t always the case either.  If there’s a drought or even if there’s a lot of dust or pollen in the air, it could stick to the oils on the leaves to make them look dull.  Finally, not all leaves have notches.  Some are smooth-edged.

 Poison Ivy is ALWAYS “poison.”  It doesn’t matter if it’s new growth or old, alive or dead – even dead for YEARS, the oil doesn’t break down.  Spraying it with weed killer will stop it from spreading (sometimes) but will also make it harder to identify.  The older plants with thick stems may need to be cut down.  The best way – and maybe the only way – to get rid of poison ivy is to put on protective clothing, pull it out and put it in a garbage bag for disposal. 

 Don’t EVER burn it as the oil will be carried by the smoke and inhaling it could be fatal.  Also avoid mowing or weed-whacking it as the bits of plants will spread. 

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A common way to get it is when you walk through it without knowing and get the oil on your clothes.  You could sit on your couch or walk around your home, spreading the oil and when it comes in contact with your skin, you will get the rash.  Another way of picking it up is when your pet runs through it and then you pet it.

 Please check out the photos here.  You’ll see new growth leaves, notched and smooth-edge leaves, berries and a thick root growing up a tree.

 Some people confuse poison ivy with Virginia Creeper.  The easiest way to tell them apart is that Virginia creeper has cluster of five leaves compared to three for poison ivy.  It’s harder to tell aged vines apart when there are no leaves since Virginia Creeper can also appear “hairy” in older plants.

 One note – poison oak is very rare in this area.  Here in Morris County, we are at the northern tip of its range.  It only grows in dry, sandy soil so you’re much more likely to find it in the Pine Barrens.  It looks a lot like poison ivy, so it really doesn’t matter if you can’t tell the two apart.  If you’re allergic, the results will be the same.

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Friday’s Flower - Fire Spinner Ice Plant

If you’ve never heard of Ice Plant, you may really be mssing out.  This groundcover is perfect for those sun-baked corners of your yard.

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 Once established, it thrives well enough to crowd out the weeds.  They hug the ground with a height of 2-3” but spread to cover 12-18” of ground.

 The fleshy foliage is evergreen and lovely by itself, but the true beauty of this plant comes from the striking flowers.  Shaped like asters, the Fire Spinner starts with orange on the outer rim, fading to hot pink, then white surrounding the yellow center.  They are reminiscent of a pinwheel.

 They will carpet your garden in a blaze of color from spring until early summer.

 Deer avoid them but they are popular with pollinators such as butterflies and bees.

Friday's Flower: Birthday Party Sedum

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Plant this sedum in clumps to make the most of its striking fuchsia flowers.  Like most sedum, it loves hot, dry conditions once it’s established.

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 This would be a great companion to the Fire Spinner Ice Plant.  The ice plant blooms in the spring into early summer, and the Birthday Party Sedum will take over in late summer.

 It grows to be 7-11” tall with a spread of 18-20”.

 The plant itself is green with a reddish edge.  It looks great by itself.

 As with most stonecrop, it is deer-resistant and pollinators love the flowers.

This will add a bright cheery color to your landscape.