Jennifer Nelson (Schultz)
Extension Educator, Horticulture
June 26, 2005
Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold'
I've recently faced some tough, but pleasant decisions. Given a yard with absolutely nothing in it, what trees should I plant? I made a list of all my favorites, and selected those that best fit my yard of sandy clay soil, blazing sun, and wind. Gingko biloba made the final cut, and a fine specimen of the 'Autumn Gold' cultivar is happily adjusting to my yard.
The Ginkgo biloba, or gingko, is the oldest living species of tree. The fossil record shows they were around at the time of dinosaurs, at least 270 million years ago. Gingkos were largely wiped out by the ice ages, except for a few regions of China. Thanks to some Buddist monks, ginkgos were propagated and grown by monasteries for centuries. Without the monks' efforts, scientists hypothesize that gingkos would have become extinct.
Despite its brush with extinction, gingkos are very resilient trees, and are a great choice for urban environments. Gingkos have little, if any problems with insects and disease. They tolerate drought and heat well, which is a particularly great trait this summer! They prefer well-drained soil, but can adapt to less than ideal soil quite readily. Gingkos grow fairly slowly to a mature height of 50 to 80 feet.
Gingkos are dioecious plant species, which means that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. It may be tempting to purchase trees grown by seed to save money, but if that tree turns out to be female, you'll regret it (so will your neighbors!) The female gingko bears fruit that has been described as having a "disagreeable" odor, much like rancid butter or vomit. Despite the fruit's aroma, many Asian cultures value the seed inside the odiferous fruit for traditional medicines.
Nurseries do offer guaranteed male gingkos, and 'Autumn Gold' is one of them. Guaranteed males are propagated by cuttings or grafting. 'Autumn Gold' gets its name from its brilliant yellow fall color.
June 19, 2005
Wave™ petunias have been around since 1995, when Purple Wave™ was introduced as an All-America Selections winner. I remember being very curious about them until I saw the price. They were, and still are substantially more expensive than the average petunia. But are they worth the premium price?
I debated year in, year out, but didn't finally buy some until about 4 years ago. The local garden center had a huge rack of 6-inch pots marked down to $1 apiece. It was an inexpensive chance to see if they really were better than the petunias I had grown in the past. I bought several plants to test in my window boxes, plus some for my mom. My mom never did believe that I only spent $1 apiece on them, and she doubted they were any better than other petunias, but I planted them for her anyway and hoped for the best.
I was pleasantly surprised with the results, both in my window boxes and my mom's garden. In both cases, I filled the available space with about half the number of petunias I would have used in the past. Plus, they filled the space very quickly, and bloomed more profusely than other petunias. Even my mom the skeptic was impressed. We were both convinced Wave™ petunias are definitely better performers than older varieties of petunias. My mom still thinks they're too expensive, but I think they're worth the money. I still jump at Wave™ petunias I find on sale, but now I'm much more likely to seriously consider them at full price.Since the Purple Wave™ petunias were introduced, many more colors have been added to the series, plus Double Wave™, a series of double-flowered colors. There are also two additional Wave™ "styles" available, the Easy Wave™, which spreads but has more vertical height than the original Wave™, and Tidal Wave™ which grows even taller and more hedge-like. Given restricted space and support, it grows much like a vine.
June 12, 2005
One of the first flowers I remember planting from seed are zinnias. Showy and long-lasting, they were great both in the garden and as cut flowers on our kitchen table when I was growing up. Having just purchased a house with absolutely no landscaping or lawn, zinnias came to mind as one way to get some vibrant color this summer without spending much money.
I would have normally grown zinnias from seed, but since I didn't move until recently, and lacked sufficient space to start seeds (plus the plants would be one more thing to move!) I came upon some plants labeled Profusion® Cherry Zinnias at a local nursery. The label said they had been an All-America Selections winner, so I had confidence that they were a good choice. All-America Selections tests new varieties of flowers and vegetables in replicated trials across the country to select the best new releases. The closest trial garden to us is in Urbana, at the Hartley Gardens on Lincoln Avenue.
It turns out that the Profusion® series of zinnias is a great choice for the landscape for several reasons. For one, they are resistant to powdery mildew, so they will look good all season, rather than a whitish ragged mess like some other zinnias turn into by late summer. Also, the 3 inch flowers are extremely durable and long lasting. The plants themselves are very low maintenance, and tolerate hot dry conditions well. They grow to be about twelve inches high and up to eighteen inches wide. Branches form from the base of the plant, so it maintains a pleasing bushy shape throughout the season.
In 1999, Profusion® Cherry and Orange were named Gold Medal All-America Selection Winners, the highest award in the All-America Selections program. Since then, Profusion® White was introduced as an All-America Selection, and Profusion® Fire and Apricot were released in 2004.
June 5, 2005
Just when I thought I had seen every Gaillardia there is, I spied 'Fanfare' in a woman's cart at a local garden center. I had seen 'Fanfare' in a couple of presentations last winter, but the pictures were the glossy marketing pictures common to the introduction of a new cultivar.
Sometimes a flower will look a lot different than the advertisement, but 'Fanfare' was just as striking in person, if not more so than the picture. The woman probably thought I was crazy, but I told her where I worked and asked if she minded if I snapped a picture.
'Fanfare' has all the bright dazzling color of other Gaillardias, but the unique feature is the petal shape. Each bright orange petal is fused into a cone shape tipped with brilliant yellow and flared at the end, resembling a tiny trumpet.
Although it only achieves a height of twelve to sixteen inches and a spread of twelve to eighteen inches, 'Fanfare' makes an excellent cut flower. It will tolerate just about any soil condition, and prefers full sun, making it an easy perennial for beginners.
If you have trouble with deer and rabbits eating their way through your garden, 'Fanfare' is resistant to both these critters. But the gorgeous flowers attract both butterflies and hummingbirds, which most people would consider a plus.
Having a background in plant breeding, I am always interested in how new cultivars are developed. As with many new flower cultivars, 'Fanfare' was an accidental mutation, or "sport" among other Gaillardias. The person who noted the unique flower shape was not a plant breeder, but a garden center owner in England.
He saw the potential for the unique petal form and patented the new cultivar he named 'Fanfare'. Without a doubt 'Fanfare' is very popular here–I went back to find some plants of my own after taking a picture of the one in the stranger's cart, only to find she had bought the last ones! Maybe next year.....