Garden Talk: June 2, 2011

From NGA Editors

Gorgeous Gryphon Begonia

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Plants that were once considered denizens of indoor windowsills are making a break and heading outside. A wide range of tender perennials are shedding their houseplant image and are being offered at garden stores for use as annuals in the outdoor garden.

A great choice for adding color and texture to beds or containers in shade to part shade is the new hybrid begonia 'Gryphon'. Named after a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle, Begonia x hybrid 'Gryphon' is both eye-catching and durable. Its large, maple-like leaves are deep green splashed with silver and hints of purple. It's similar to a rex begonia, but more tolerant of dry soil and easier to grow.

This fast grower will eventually reach 10-24 inches tall and wide. While it can be planted out directly in the garden, it makes an especially dramatic statement in a container, either as a solo show or combined with other shade lovers. Imagine it combined with the bold colors of coleus or a silvery waterfall of 'Silver Falls' dichondra. And you can double your pleasure by bringing in your container before frost and returning it to an indoor windowsill for the winter.

'Gryphon' begonia is available as started plants at many garden stores. You can also grow it yourself from seed.

For more information on 'Gryphon' begonia, go to: National Garden Bureau. For an on-line seed source, visit: Summerhill Seeds.

Healthful Maple Syrup

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Maple syrup is good for you. This is the kind of nutritional news we need to hear more often!

University of Rhode Island researcher Navindra Seeram, who specializes in studying medicinal plants, found more than 20 compounds in maple syrup that have been linked to human health, some of them newly discovered in the maple family for the first time. Among these new antioxidants are compounds that have been reported to have anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, and anti-diabetic properties.

Seeram notes that although these beneficial compounds are probably found in low concentrations in the tree's sap, they are likely to be concentrated when the sap is boiled down to make maple syrup. Some of the antioxidants found, called phenolics, are in the same class of healthful compounds as are found in berries. He speculates that phenolics may be formed as a defense mechanism by the maple tree in response to being wounded when a tap is inserted to gather the sap.

More research is planned to study and quantify the beneficial properties of maple syrup. In the meantime, you can feel good about dousing your breakfast pancakes and waffles with the sweet stuff. And if you're really ambitious, plant some sugar maples and make your own!

For more about the research into the beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup, go to: URI News.

Superior Shastas

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Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) have long been garden favorites, valued for their cheerful white flowers that bloom for a long period. Besides the classic, yellow-eyed daisy form, there are cultivars with crested, frilly, double, and semi-double blossoms. In recent years, a number of new cultivars have come on the market with improved flower production.

To help gardeners select the best ones from among the many choices available, the Chicago Botanic Garden evaluated 25 cultivars of Shasta daisies, along with two cultivars of the related oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), over a seven year period in their zone 5 gardens. Plants were given minimal maintenance in line with what they might receive in home gardens. They were cut back at the end of the summer to rejuvenate the foliage and were mulched over the summer growing season, but received no protective mulch in the winter. Plants were evaluated for traits such as flower production and durability of bloom, the health and vigor of the plants, and resistance to insects, disease, and winter injury.

Many cultivars performed well, but two Shasta daisies were five-star "excellent" standouts: 'Becky', with 3 1/2-inch, single flowers from early July to early September on a 40 inch tall plant and 'Amelia', a seed-grown cultivar with 5-inch flowers and strong stems that bloomes from mid-June to early August. Quite a few other cultivars received a four-star "good" rating, including 'Snowcap', 'Snowdrift', 'White Knight', and 'Switzerland'.

Both of the oxeye daisy cultivars evaluated received the top, five-star rating: 'Filigran', 26 inches tall with 2-inch flowers in bloom from mid-May to early July, and 'Maikonigin', 36 inches tall with 3-inch flowers in bloom from late May to late July.

Shasta daisies do best in full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. They won't tolerate wet feet, especially in winter, and are likely to develop crown rot if buried under a heavy winter mulch. Some of the tall varieties may need staking, especially if grown in part sun. Deadheading will prolong bloom; when bloom finishes, cut flower stalks down to the basal cluster of leaves.

To see the entire daisy evaluation report, go: Chicago Botanic Garden.

New Garden Books from Taunton Press

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Two new gardening books from The Taunton Press, the publishers of Fine Gardening magazine, provide plenty of inspiration and good advice for both beginning and seasoned flower and food gardeners.

Lavish with illustrations and drawings, Taunton's Complete Guide to Growing Vegetables and Herbs, edited by Ruth Lively (2011; $29.95), covers everything from designing a food garden; constructing paths, raised beds, and support structures; soil building, fertilizing, and composting to planting; crop rotation; and dealing with insect, disease, and weed problems. Added to this is a Gallery of Vegetables and Herbs section with advice on growing and harvesting specific crops, along with variety recommendations. This is a great reference that you'll return to throughout the growing season and year after year.

If you are planning on growing either ornamental plants, vegetables, or herbs in containers, some of the 300 tips in Tips for Container Gardening, by the Editors and Contributors of Fine Gardening, (2011; $19.95) are sure to help. All aspects of container growing are covered, including design principles relating to color, foliage, pot choice, and season of bloom; selecting edible, drought-tolerant, or water plants that thrive in containers; choosing and using window boxes, hanging baskets, and unusual containers; and planting and maintenance, including suggestions on overwintering container plants. The numerous, gorgeous photographs make dipping anywhere into this book a delightful and edifying experience.

For more information on these and other books from Taunton, go to Taunton Store.

 
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