The Garden Tour (or, how I talked about plants for four hours)

Huzzah! The Irvington Garden Tour today was a resounding success. I'm not sure how many people came through, but I made about 200 maps (see previous post) and we went through all of them. Despite the occasional threatening cloud, we had gorgeous weather: blue skies, light breeze, and temps in the mid-70s. CAS and son came over to help out; Calvin spent a goodly part of the afternoon mowing my sidewalk with his plastic mower. Amy F. volunteered for ticket taking, along with a couple of other lovely women. And the people were wonderful.

I spent almost all four hours in the back garden expounding on my garden, gardening in general, and cultivation of some specific plants. I answered lots of questions, and several plants came up over and over. So here's the Irvington Garden Tour FAQ, Fraudulent Farmstead edition:
Spiderwort (Tradescantia andersoniana 'Caerulea Plena')
This unassuming shade plant was an object of intense interest by visitors, partly because it's one of the few plants that flowers well in shade this time of year. It has long, strappy leaves and a scrambling habit. The blue flowers bloom in clusters in the morning, but close up by late afternoon into buds that resemble bunches of grapes. In my garden, it blooms from late spring through mid-summer. It can't handle sun, so give it full or part shade and ample moisture. Wikipedia has this to say about spiderwort.

Anabelle hydreangea (Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle')

This old-fashioned hydrangea sports giant clusters of white blooms that dry well. It's best in a part-shade setting, since full sun can fry it, but full shade inhibits its growth. Anabelle generally gets about 4 feet tall and equally wide. Best of all, it loves Midwestern humidity. It blooms on new growth, so in late February or early March, whack it back to the ground. You'll get stronger, less floppy stems and more blooms. Here's the Wayside Gardens entry for Annabelle.

Endless Summer Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer)

This relatively new mophead hydrangea blooms on both old and new wood, so you are guaranteed blooms even in the event of a late frost. Don't prune it at all, unless a branch breaks off or something. Full size is about 5 feet tall by 4 feet wide, but my four-year-old plants are still at about 2.5' x 2.5'. These hydrangeas do best with protection from the afternoon sun and a lot of moisture. They'll be pink in alkaline soil, which is what most of us in central Indiana have. If you want them to be blue, you need to acidify the soil. You can use aluminum sulfate, elemental sulfur, or the old-fashioned method, burying rusty nails in the soil. I only need to correct soil pH every two or three years. Here's more about Endless Summer from Wayside Gardens.  

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia and Lavendula x intermedia)
Lavender is my favorite plant; contrary to what you've heard, you can grow it in Indiana. The trick is to find plants well adapted to Zone 5. My favorites are Lavendula angustifolia (which is narrow-leafed or English lavender) 'Hidcote' and 'Mustead' for their dark purple blooms and intense fragrance. Lavindin (Lavendula x intermedia) varieties 'Grosso' and 'Provence' have long stems ideal for crafts and are particularly good for Indiana. Plant them in full sun in little hills amended with some sand to improve the drainage; they don't like wet feet or rich soil. At the end of the summer, cut off the flower stems to shape the bush into a globe. In late February or early March, cut them back by about 1/3. Don't cut into the brown, woody part, though; they won't releaf from the woody stems. Expect about a five-year life span for each plant. Wikipedia has more info about lavender here.
Caryopteris (aka Blue Mist Shrub, Blue Beard, Blue Mist Spirea)
This shrub sports small purple flowers when it starts blooming in August, and it keeps blooming through frost. Butterflies love it. I can't remember the specific variety I have, but the mature size is about 3' x 3'. Cut it back in late February to early March to between 6 and 12 inches; it flowers on new growth. It roots easily too; after a few years, you may have little shrublets for your pals. It likes full sun; in my garden it gets eastern light. It will tolerate less-than-stellar soils. This Bluestone Perennials link is for Caryopteris Longwood Blue.
Love in a Mist (Nigella damascena)
This full-sun annual fills in among the perennials in my rose border. It self-seeds like crazy, but any unwanted plants are easy to pull up. Its flowers look like bachelor buttons, but the ferny foliage is soft. The white, blue, and purple flowers are followed by seed pods that look like little lanterns. I think my Nigella is the Miss Jekyll Blend, so that's what I'm linking to. 
It was a fabulous day, and I loved talking with people about my favorite plants. Thanks to all who visited!

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