Category Archives: Annuals

Too Cold To Be Outside

A Good Time For Planning: Flowers For Pollinators I

Snow came down two days ago accumulating just three inches.  Today the garden is still covered with snow and the temperature dropped down to just above 10°F.  It’s a perfect winter day for bird watching through the patio door.  Since the ground is covered with snow and the sources of water around here have turned to ice, they congregate around our feeders and heated birdbaths.  It’s also a good day to start planning for the next growing season.

The plant catalogs have been piling up. I have picked out a couple of new vegetables I want to try and am now looking for flowers that bees and butterflies will like. A new Cosmos ‘Cupcake’ looks very tempting. I have already put 200 crocus in this autumn. If they haven’t all been dug up by the squirrels and chipmunks they should blossom when spring arrives.  Any new plants I choose I make sure will benefit all pollinators, not just honeybees.  If I have to pick and choose however, flowers for the bees will come first.

Here are some plants that work for our pollinator garden and I start with flowers:

Alyssum comes in white, pink and purple. It blooms until frost and has honey scent
Alyssum comes in white, pink and purple. It blooms until frost and has a honey scent.  It’s great for ground cover too.  The white variety self sows very well
Honeybee seems to like this Aster more than the lavender color
Honeybees seem to like this Aster more than the lavender color.  It’s a good late season food source for pollinators.
Summersweet has a perfect name; its fragrance is really sweet. I grow both the pink and white varieties. But it can be a problem in the garden as it produces a lot of suckers.
Sunflower is also everyone favorite, birds included.
Sunflower is also everyone’s favorite, birds included. I was able to grow sunflowers again last year after I put the deer net up.  Prior to last year, all flowers, in fact everything, became deer food.  Sunflowers are fun to grow as there are many colors and different heights to choose from.  The Maximillian’s sunflower below will also brighten up late summer in the garden
Maximillian's sunflower 'Santa Fe' is a perennial that can grow over 6 feet tall and produce plenty of flowers on each stem
Maximillian’s sunflower ‘Santa Fe’ is a perennial that can grow over 6 feet tall and produce plenty of flowers on each stem.
Echinacea is a must for pollinators garden
Echinacea is a must for a pollinators garden.  There are a variety of colors to choose from: pink, white, yellow, orange.  The native purple (dark pink actually) readily self sows.  I propagate other colors by digging them up and separating them after a couple of years.
Butterfly Bush
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)has a strong fragrance and easily self sows.  I pick off spent flowers before they set seeds which encourages the plant to produce more flowers and no seedlings that I will have to pull next season.
This iris is a re-blooming variety
This iris is a re-blooming variety and fragrant.  I planted more bearded iris last autumn and look forward to seeing them bloom this spring.
Water Jasmine
Water Jasmine is a tropical flower with a mild, soothing fragrance.  In it’s native tropics, it’ll bloom year round but in a cold climate it blooms heavily in summer.  Bees and moths love it. The honeybee in the photo above is covered with hollyhock pollen .

These are just some of the flowers I managed to photograph with honeybees on them.  There are many more flowers that they like- crocus, snowdrop, Black-eyed Susan.  Next post will be on herbs and vegetables that I allow to flower, both as a pollinators food source and as the next season’s seeds.




King Tut Sweet Pea

Worth the Name

The news announcing the cause of King Tutankhamun’s death was published recently.   The new evidence of massive head trauma and multiple broken ribs fit a pattern consistent with falling out of and being run over by a chariot.  Presumably his own.  Hearing his name reminded me of a new plant I grew this past summer.  A Sweet Pea ‘King Tut’ (Lathyrus sativus).  I found this organic King Tut at my favorite stand in the Union Square farmer’s market.  I didn’t care  what the color of the flower would be.  I was drawn to the name and the story behind it.  As the legend goes; the seeds were found in King Tut’s tomb years ago and they continue to grow to this day (but perhaps not those in Tut’s tomb).  Whether it’s true or fantasy is another story.  But as archaeology is one of my areas of interest, Egyptian and Southeast Asian in particular, I’m just drawn to the name of the plant.  If someone came up with a plant named ‘King Suryavarman’ I would probably try growing it as well.

King Tut Sweet Pea is short, reaches only 1.5 to 2  feet tall.  It is much shorter than other variety of Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus).  I grew them in a pot and tied them to bamboo stalks for support.  The flowers, however, are exceptional in color.  It is a bright royal blue with a hint of pale pink in the center and at the petal’s edge.  It is the bluest of all sweet peas.  The blue fades to a pale blue before the petals drop.  I hope the seeds I keep will germinate next year and continue Tut’s ‘agri-lineage’.

Just opening up
Just opening up
Fully open
Fully open
Close up
Close up

Before The Frost

Still Standing

Fall is officially here, not just the date but temperature and the color of leaves.  The ground is practically covered with leaves and the branches are becoming more bare everyday.  We start grinding up the leaves for mulching and composting when we have days off.  I don’t cut back much of anything except for the Butterfly bushes (Buddleja davidii).  This lovely, fragrant and food source for butterflies and bees is very invasive if the flowers are allowed to set seed.  I left other plants in the garden stand as they are during winter so birds and insects can have food and some protection from the harsh elements of winter.

As bare as the garden looks now, there are some diehard flowers that are still standing up to the cooling temperature.  Frost will eventually stop them but it’s still a different beauty.


Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) starts flowering in summer and won’t stop until frost.  Its light fragrance draws bumblebees in.


This little flower, tiny, low to the ground but tougher than they look.  They keep going and are good for bees and other insects as a last resource.

Garden Phlox
Garden Phlox

Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) is a real diehard.  It can tolerate drought, wet and cold to some degree.  I have no idea which one this is since I let them grow freely and cross-pollination results in many shades of phlox in the garden.  I only know that the phlox ‘David’ is white.

Ms Doreen Pike
Ms Doreen Pike

Rosa Rugosa ‘Ms Doreen Pike’ is still producing flowers here and there.  This one is soaking wet from the rain.

Antique Caramel
Antique Caramel

Once I pulled some of the Bee balm (Monarda) out to give more space to this rose ‘Antique Caramel’, it seemed to be happier and flowered more than last year.


I don’t remember if I ever mentioned I got this rose ‘Knockout’ for free from the nursery, two of them actually.  They’ve been doing really well and never let me down from early summer to frost.


This is one of the Zinnia that is still flowering.  Most of them have black spots due to an excess of rain lately.  But they are doing well this year.


Spring Is Finally Here

Came back from vacation with hope to see some green and a little more warmth than when we left, but didn’t expect the temperature to be just like the tropics where we vacationed.   It has been in the 70s in the last couple of days and the plants love it.  There wasn’t much of anything above ground when we left, but now everything is sprouting up all over the garden.  Garlic I put in last October has come up pretty nicely.  Hellebores perk up in the morning only to wilt a little under the afternoon sun.  Daffodils, Dutch Iris, Hyacinth and Hellebores are either blooming or just about to unfurl their petals.

I spent hours on my day off pruning and training the roses and haven’t finished yet.  This is a time consuming task as well as a time constraint.  If I don’t do it now when the roses are just starting to push out their little buds, it will be a lot harder to do when they have leafed out fully.  Deer have done a lot of damage to the tips of plants that came up early, including Irises.  Who said deer wont eat Iris?  But the worst damage to our garden is caused by squirrels that dig up the tulips bulbs, eat them and leave us the leaves to rub into our wounds.

Aside from the annoying squirrel problems, I’m glad to see color in the garden and the aerial show from our avian friends again.

The first Daffodil that opened up
The first Daffodil that opened up
Hellebore in deep maroon
Hellebore in deep maroon
Freckled hellebore
Freckled hellebore
Scilla alba produces white flowers instead of blue
Scilla alba produces white flowers instead of blue
Scilla in blue and white
Scilla in blue and white
Columbine captures a dew drop in the morning
Columbine captures a dew drop in the morning

October Garden

Still Some Colors

After uneven temperatures and one rainstorm after another, most of the flowers in our garden have just given up or rotted away.   Only a few of them have kept blooming.  As the years pass, more and more we see pounding rainfall in autumn that frequently strips the trees of what should be their proudly worn, colorful fall coat.  Flowers, being the weaker stalk, fall victim first.

But rather than waste words, I should let the photographs tell the story of their endurance.

Rosa rugosa-‘Doreen Pike’ still blooming non-stop
Never underestimate Alyssum. Tiny, but tough.
Zinnia with Bitter melon entwined between its petals
Aster, the bees have a lot to thank them for.
Garden Phlox-‘David’ got beat up by the rain.
Another Garden Phlox that is still up and blooming
One of a variety of Nasturtium providing bright spots here and there in the garden
The only color of Yarrow that is still flowering

Bitter Melon

Bitterness Can Be Really Good

This year is a great year for Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia).  They cover three quarters of the vegetable garden fence.  The thickness of the leaves and the bright yellow flowers spotted among them look very pleasant.  The sweet scent of the flowers is a plus, especially in the morning when it seems to be strongest.  Cutting leaves and fruits for friends and neighbors has been a pleasure as well.  One good thing about cutting the leaves more often is that the plants will sprout more side shoots which is great for stir-fry or blanching and topping with coconut milk.  More new shoots also mean more flowers and fruits, if I let the shoots grow.

Bright fragrant yellow flowers

The only down side for the Bitter Melon this year are the Stink bugs.  We have more Stink Bugs this year than any past year.   A lot of the young melons turn yellow prematurely because the bugs feed on them.   There is no other pest in this area that is destructive for Bitter Melon, as far as I know.  The deer haven’t touched them.  The chipmunks have chewed one or two of them at the base but mostly left them alone.  I guess the bitterness in every part of the plants provides a good defense.

In the tropics, it grows as a short lived vegetable that provides fruit for a year or two.  It’s grown as an annual in the Northern hemisphere.  I’ve been growing it every summer because I love the distinctive bitter taste and the fragrant flowers.  It grows pretty much the same way as beans do.  I usually start the seedlings inside near the end of March and plant them when the weather is warm enough, but the seeds can be planted directly in the soil.  Soaking the seeds for a couple of hours before planting helps soften the hard shell, making it easier for them to germinate.

It is one vegetable that has great medicinal benefits.  For those who are diabetic, it helps to regulate blood sugar since it promotes insulin production in the body.  Eat the fruit, cooked of course.  Drink the tea made from its leaves or fruit.  Or, if you’re tough, have a shot of fresh juice extracted from the fruit and leaves with a juicer.  Those who have no problem with blood sugar levels and consume too much of this melon may have a problem with their sugar level dropping too low.  I’m living proof.  I love eating it but have to remind myself to stop if I don’t want to faint.

Don’t eat the ripe one either.  It’s a beautiful bright yellow with bright red seeds and has a vicious laxative propensity.

It’s an ‘acquired taste’ as my neighbor put it.  She loves it now and grew it this year for the first time.  If not for the fruit, the fragrance alone makes it worth growing.  Well, according to the book ‘Flowers and Herbs of Early America‘ by Lawrence D. Griffith, the plant came to Europe from the tropics in the 1500’s and later to the US in the early years of the Republic.  Nothing new.

Here are some recipes.

Cover the whole fence with spotted of flowers
Female flower

Salvia ‘Black and Blue’

Couldn’t Help Myself

I grow Salvia in the garden for their color and for the bees.  The ones in the garden are compact with small leaves and either blue or pink in color.  Their colors make up for lack of scent, flower scent.  I can smell them only when I brush against them, then the spicy, sage (S. officinalis) like scent, emanates upward.  Another good trait is that they are not invasive like bee balm which creeps everywhere.  They stay where I put them, upright in full sun but a little wobbly in the shade.  I wasn’t thinking of adding anymore in the garden until mental lightening struck.

I first saw a photo of Salvia ‘black and blue’ (S. guaranitica) in the “pbmGarden blog.” I became obsessed with the color combination, black and deep blues.  I hate the term “must have” when I see one in advertising and always object to it but the “must have” wouldn’t leave my head regarding the Salvia ‘black and blue’.

I spent a couple of weeks with my eyes darting from vendor to vendor at the farmer’s market.  If I couldn’t find it there, I would look on line.  Luck was on my side.  I found two vendors that carried it so I bought one from each of them.  Why?  They look different; one with darker green leaves and bushier, the other with lighter green leaves already producing flowers.  One vendor claimed it was a perennial, the other claimed it’s an annual.  I will know next year whether they are perennial or annual for USDA zone 5.

The flower combination is really lovely and the vibrant blue changes according to the light.   In sunlight, it is a beautiful deep blue with a hint of purple under artificial light.  It looks great next to the Pineapple sage (S. elegans).  What I need now are plants in the same family with white flowers so I can have a row of red, white and blue.  After all, July fourth is imminent.

Such a great combination
Up close
Leaves actually smell like pineapple
More Salvia, but don’t remember the name

Growing Moonflower

Moonflower seedlings

Moonflower opens at dusk

Though it’s still cold and windy outside, it’s time to start germinating flowers and vegetables inside and get them ready for planting next month.  Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is one of them.  I have been growing Moonflowers for years.  Both of us love to have fragrant flowers in the garden, merely beautiful flowers just won’t do.  A flower without a scent is like a woman who dresses nicely but has nothing else to offer beyond that.  So, 95% of the flowers in our garden are fragrant, differing only in a matter of degrees.

We grow flowers that  perfume our garden all day, but during the work week we are only able to enjoy them in the evening.  That’s when the Moonflowers come into the picture.  The flowers start to unfurl like a beach umbrella at dusk.  You can literately see them opening.  The pure white, six inch in diameter flower is equipped with a sweet, soothing perfume.  The flowers look even more magical under the moonlight.
Moonflower seeds sprouting on a paper towel

I soak the hard seeds for 3 to 4 hours then put them between damp paper towels.  A couple layers of towel at the bottom and cover them with two layers on top.  Make sure the papers stay damp but not soaked.  Their little roots will start to come out in two days.  Once the root comes out you can put them in the soil in individual containers or right in the ground if it is warm enough outside.  The seedlings will push themselves above the soil in a few days.  For us, we’ll have to wait for the weather to warm up outside.

I start all the beans and peas this way, they germinate faster than just putting them right in the soil.  It saves time and doesn’t waste any space for the non-germinating seeds.  The Moonflowers below are on our kitchen counter now, waiting to be transplanted or adopted by our friends.

Three days after being given their own space to germinate