Renee’s Garden Flowers in my Piedmont Garden: Part 2

Nasturtium ‘Spitfire’

If you have not had an opportunity to enjoy the delightful rose-like fragrance of nasturtium flowers, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible. They smell just like old-fashioned roses to my nose — without all the fuss of pruning, thorns, and battling diseases and insects. And the colors are rose-lovely too — as long as you like warmer oranges, reds, and golds.

I continue to adore the two nasturtium varieties I grew from seeds from Renee’s Garden. As I explained in my last entry, this seed company offered me the chance to try out a few seeds as a benefit of my membership in the Garden Writers Association. I will gladly use my own money to grow these nasturtiums again.

The gorgeous, fragrant climbing nasturtium above is Spitfire. I interplanted it with my Fortex pole beans, and they climbed their way to the top of the trellis almost as quickly as the beans. As I had hoped, they offer pops of color to what would otherwise be a monotonous wall of green beans. The nectar that delights my nose with its perfume must also be very tasty, because the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds defend this trellis as enthusiastically as the feeder near my front door. I am routinely scolded for intruding when I harvest beans in the morning.

Spitfire has continued to bloom nonstop despite our record string of 100+-degree days and moderate drought. Of course, they have benefitted from the bit of extra water I’ve been giving the pole beans, since they grow intermingled with them.  When temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for two weeks, some of the tender leaves of Spitfire were damaged, but because the vines continue to produce new growth, the setback was temporary.

I am equally enthusiastic about the mounding nasturtium variety I acquired from Renee’s Garden. ‘Cup of Sun’ has produced a gorgeous mix of deeply fragrant flowers in sunny shades of gold tinged with varying amounts of orange, as you can see from the close-up at the top of my last blog entry. Before the heat wave, their mounds of constantly blooming flowers floating above the leaves were quite eye-catching. Because I was unable to spare much well water for them, they suffered during the heat wave and persistent drought, but the recent slight moderation in temperature and the addition of a bit of rain has them rapidly on the mend. Here’s what they looked like in June before the heat heat:

Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun’ creates flowing mounds of loveliness.

As gourmet salad lovers know, the flowers make beautiful, peppery additions to salads, but I confess we haven’t taken advantage of this fact. They are just too pretty to eat. I direct-sowed the Spitfires, which germinated a day or two behind the beans. I sowed Cup of Sun seeds in my greenhouse and transplanted the happy plants after I got the veggies settled in.

Cosmos ‘Dancing Petticoats’

I’ve also enjoyed the two varieties of Cosmos that I tried. A speciality mix of several colors and forms called ‘Dancing Petticoats’ is still producing abundant flowers in shades of magenta, pink, and white. The plants surrounding a shallow tray of water in my garden have been healthier than the ones growing in another bed, because they receive more water. By dead-heading spent blooms, I have been rewarded with a constant parade of new, large, colorful Cosmos beauties. The down side to larger Cosmos for me is always their floppiness. I started with sturdy transplants grown from seed in my greenhouse, but as soon as they settled in their beds, they shot up stems too spindly to support their weight without staking. As they’ve grown, I’ve just let them flop and drape as they please, as you can see here:

The weight of the large flowers of ‘Dancing Petticoats’ makes them tend to droop over time, but they still look lovely.

The flowers attract a constant parade of bumblebees and solitary bees. When we finally got a prolonged, heavy rain last weekend (hallelujah!), the Cosmos plants became quite bedraggled, as you can see here:

Cosmos ‘Dancing Petticoats’ after a hard rain

After they dried a bit, the stems were able to lift the flowers off the ground again — mostly. The flowers of this variety look great for several days, which makes them useful for short-term flower arrangements indoors.

I also grew Cosmos ‘Little Ladybirds’ — a mix of warm orange, yellow, and gold flowers growing on sturdy plants that topped out at about 1.5 feet. They are spectacularly floriferous, as you can see here:

Cosmos ‘Little Ladybirds’ lighten any spot they occupy.

As much as I like this variety, I feel obliged to warn you that the flowers are prone to petal shatter — a condition characterized by the rapid dropping of petals not long after the flowers fully open. I haven’t seen quite such a severe case before. The petals of Little Ladybirds start falling less than 6-8 hours after the flowers open. I have ensured a constant parade of color by meticulously dead-heading the spent flowers every single day. Because they are growing in my vegetable garden, I’m there anyway to harvest veggies, and my patch of these flowers is not large. But if you are unwilling to do this, your plants will likely not be as persistently floriferous as mine have been.  Even though the plants are much shorter than ‘Dancing Petticoats,’ the rain beat them down severely too, as you can see here:

Their shorter stature helped ‘Little Ladybirds’ recover from the heavy rain within 24 hours.

The Renee’s Garden catalog describes Little Ladybirds flowers as excellent butterfly attractors. This has not been the case for me. However, the bumblebees and solitary bees work these flowers from dawn to dusk.

The last annual I tried from Renee’s Garden was also marketed as a butterfly magnet, and because I’ve grown this variety before, I knew that Monarch butterflies and swallowtails would be frequent visitors. Torch Tithonia, also called Mexican Sunflower, produces large, bushy plants with velvety leaves and large, bright orange flowers that persist for most of a week in my garden, despite the heat and drought. I love them as cut flowers for that reason, although I hate to deprive the butterflies of one of their favorite flowers.

Torch Tithonia

Finally, a quick word about the one perennial variety I tried: Rudbeckia ‘Cappuccino.’ I love Rudbeckias. They persist well in my landscape despite total neglect, they multiply without any help from me, they flourish in hot, dry sunny spots after they are established, pollinators from butterflies to every species of local bee visit them constantly, and goldfinches consider their seeds haute cuisine.

So when I read the description in the Renee’s Garden catalog for Cappuccino, I knew I had to try it. I sowed the seeds early in my greenhouse, where germination was a tad low — maybe 60%. I ended up with about a dozen plants to trial in my garden. I transplanted these later than I would have liked. It took me a while to make room for them, and veggies are always top priority during spring planting season. After that, they were barely watered, never mulched, and subjected to record heat and moderate drought.

Despite all that abuse, one plant managed to produce two flowers. Although these flowers were not perfect (they were chewed on by something), I’ve seen enough to persuade me that these will be lovely additions in future growing seasons. I expect them to be as persistent as other Rudbeckias I grow, so I’m looking forward to the rich, warm shades of their flowers contrasting with the standard solid golds of my current forms.  Here are the two flowers that showed me the potential of this variety:

Rudbeckia ‘Cappuccino’: Next year, I expect great things from what should then be well-established plants.

As you can see from the photo, the bees have already approved this new addition to my garden.

Of the varieties I’ve described in this entry, I will definitely grow the nasturtiums, tithonia, and rudbeckia in future gardens. I will always grow a cosmos variety or two, because I love the forms and colors of these flowers. But I may try different varieties in the hopes of finding one with stronger stems and shatter-resistant petals.

I also acquired Moonflower seeds from Renee’s Garden. When this annual vine begins blooming, I’ll show you why I always enjoy this old-timey flower in my garden.

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