Garden Talk: March 3, 2005

From NGA Editors

Short, Colorful Mullein

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Most gardeners know mullein as a large, velvety-leaved perennial that self sows in your garden and produces a 5-foot-tall, yellow flower stalk in midsummer. The English have taken a liking to this common North American weed and have been breeding new varieties that are more colorful, more floriferous, and shorter in stature.

The newest variety to hit our shores is Verbascum ‘Dark Eyes’, with spikes of peach-colored flowers with red eyes. It grows only 12 inches tall, so it can even be planted as a ground cover. If you deadhead it soon after flowering, not only will you prevent it from self-sowing throughout your garden, it will send up a second flush of blossoms, as well. The blooms make excellent cut flowers; butterflies and hummingbirds love them; and better yet, deer don’t seem to like mulleins.

Mullein grows best in full sun in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9, on well-drained soils with below average fertility.

For more information about Verbascum ‘Dark Eyes’, go to the Terra Nova Nurseries Web site at http://www.terranovanurseries.com/pages/plantsT3.html.

New Everbearing Blackberries

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For years gardeners have enjoyed everbearing raspberry varieties, such as ‘Heritage’. These varieties fruit twice a year -- in summer and fall. Now from the University of Arkansas comes a breeding breakthrough with another small fruit. ‘Prime-Jim’ and Prime-Jan’ are the first everbearing blackberry varieties to become commercially available.

Unlike other blackberries, ‘Prime-Jim’ and ‘Prime-Jan’ fruit on the first-year canes (primocanes) in early fall and then again on the same canes (floricanes) the next summer. This allows for two blackberry crops a year. Since the canes of these new varieties are only hardy to USDA zone 7 (roots are hardy to zone 4), gardeners in colder areas should mow down the old canes in spring and allow the new canes that grow to produce a fall crop.

‘Prime-Jim’ is slightly more vigorous than ‘Prime-Jan’, but the latter produces sweeter berries. Both are thorny varieties that produce large fruits.

For more information, contact berry nurseries, such as the Indiana Plant Farm (http://www.inberry.com).

Star Search for New Plants

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Ever wonder if that unusual flower that sprang up in your yard is a new variety that might be worth millions? Even though plant-breeding companies spend thousands of dollars to develop new varieties each year, some new varieties are discovered by chance. ‘Purple Majesty’ ornamental millet (see photo), a 2003 All-America Selections award-winning plant, was found growing in an agricultural field trial at the University of Nebraska. Some discoveries are even made by home gardeners.

To help gardeners like you evaluate a potential new variety, one of the largest plant-breeding companies, Ball Horticultural, has announced a new program called Ball Discoveries. Through this program, the company will work with you and your new plant to determine its uniqueness and potential to be bred and introduced into the floriculture trade. They will grow it in trials, and if it's deemed a worthy plant, they will work with you on a licensing agreement.

To find out more about the Ball Discoveries program, go to their Web site at: http://www.balldiscoveries.com.

Biodegradable Cell Phones

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The latest recycling challenge involves the bevy of discarded electronic equipment, and one of the biggest culprits are cell phones. As people change phone plans and upgrade the quality and style of their cell phones, more and more of these phones are ending up in landfills.

In looking for a more environmentally friendly way to discard cell phones, researchers at the University of Warwick in England devised not only a phone exterior made from biodegradable plastic, but one that grows flowers as well.

Working in conjunction with the PVAXX Research and Development Company and Motorola, the researchers created a cell phone cover made from a polymer that will decompose in the compost pile. What's more, they also imbedded a flower seed in the case, so once the case breaks down, the seed can germinate and grow. After investigating various flowers, they found that a dwarf sunflower performed the best.

As an added feature, the sunflower seed is visible through a transparent window in the case, but it won’t germinate until the cell phone is “planted.”

For more information on this research, go to the University of Warwick Web site at: www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/NE1000000097300/

 
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