Posts Tagged Nasturtium ‘Spitfire’

Renee’s Garden Seeds Review: Flowers

A Raggedy Anne mix zinnia and admirer

A Raggedy Anne mix zinnia and admirer

It was a mixed-results year for my Renee’s Garden flower seed trials. Top winners included the two nasturtium varieties I tried last year — Spitfire and Cup of Sun. They were so gorgeous last year that I just had to have them back again, and they did not disappoint. In fact, they exceeded all the expectations I had based on last year’s results. More on that in a moment.



The other big winner this year was a zinnia: Raggedy Anne. These are old-fashioned zinnias that produce long stems, making them ideal for cutting to use in indoor arrangements. I’ve had trouble with such zinnias in the past. Usually the heat and humidity of typical North Carolina Piedmont summers are too much for them. They bloom for a bit in early June, then succumb to fungal diseases and drought. Not this year.

My zinnia patch on July 10.

My zinnia patch on July 10.

Two factors likely played pivotal roles. First, the weather this past summer in my region was atypical. We never hit 100 degrees, nor the high 90s, even during the dog days of the season, and we never went into drought. I haven’t had a summer growing season without drought in over 15 years. I had truly forgotten what adequate rainfall can do for a garden — and, alas, the weeds — but that’s another story.

A more typical zinnia form.

A more typical zinnia form.

The other likely contributor to the success of the zinnias was the compost mix Wonder Spouse and I added to the vegetable/flower beds in the spring. This stuff was truly black gold; all the plants reveled in the nutritional bounty of this supplement.

Colors and forms varied; all were lovely.

All were lovely.

How happy were the zinnias? I started one batch early in my greenhouse, transplanting them out in late April. They were blooming by mid-May, and they didn’t stop until our first freeze killed them in mid-October. And they eventually grew as tall as the sunflowers I tried this year — well over 7 feet high. These were sturdy-stemmed plants that lifted abundant, constantly produced large zinnia flowers to the sky without any support from me. I actually had to stand on a stool to cut the final flowers before the cold got them. They were amazing.

Too gorgeous for words!

Too gorgeous for words!

So pleased was I with the transplanted bunch of Raggedy Annes that I direct-sowed the remaining seeds in the package. This is usually highly risky, but the abundant rainfall ensured nearly 100% germination. Then I had two tall patches of rainbow-colored flowers, most 3-4 inches across, in shades of cream, orange, yellow, and pink. Forms varied from more cactus-type flowers to what I think of as traditional zinnia shapes.

They were still growing strong when this shot was taken on August 22.

They were still growing strong when this shot was taken on August 22.

They made wonderful cut flowers too, lasting at least a week indoors. I was able to create several lovely zinnia-based arrangements that I presented as hostess gifts at various events over the season. I’ll probably try this variety again, just to see what kind of results I get during a more typical growing season. Although, maybe, if I’m very lucky, adequate rainfall will become typical of my summer weather again. How great would that be?

As for the nasturtiums, the rain and compost gave Spitfire the enthusiasm of that notorious southern invader, kudzu. Seriously, after the tomatoes and beans surrendered to fungal diseases in August, Spitfire vines took over those trellises. Paths were swallowed, orange, subtly fragrant blossoms dangled in abundance from rounded leaves the size of saucers. I was actually relieved when the freeze turned them into mush, fearing I had unleashed a monster.

Nasturtium 'Spitfire' was almost terrifyingly productive.

Nasturtium ‘Spitfire’ was almost terrifyingly productive.

Last year, the beautiful nasturtium, ‘Cup of Sun’, surrendered to the drought by early August. This year, it continued to flourish until the freeze. Cup of Sun isn’t a climber, so it remained a much more polite plant, confining itself to the beds where it was planted. I love the subtle variations in color in this variety.

Nasturtium 'Cup of Sun'

Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun’

Having proved their worthiness across two vastly different growing seasons, I suspect these nasturtiums will remain a part of my vegetable garden for the indefinite future. I may not even need to plant them next year. I noticed seed pods all over the garden. I direct-sowed both nasturtium varieties when my soil had warmed enough to plant the bean seeds. They took it from there without any further aid from me.

Nasturtium 'Cup of Sun'. Both varieties make lovely little cut flower arrangements, preferably in smaller rooms, where their subtle fragrance can be appreciated.

Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun’. Both varieties make lovely little cut flower arrangements, preferably in smaller rooms, where their subtle fragrance can be appreciated.

Because I like variety, I decided to try a sunflower seed mix from Renee’s Garden this year. I chose Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color.’ Direct-sowed seeds yielded 100% germination in my moist compost-enriched garden. Plants shot up straight and tall, topping out at about 6 feet.

Sunflower 'Royal Flush Bi-Color'

Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color’

Flower size was moderate — large enough to make an impact, but not so large as to be too heavy to stand upright without support. Most, but not all, of the flowers were bi-colors, producing two-tone blossoms in a range of yellows, oranges, and reds.

Sunflower 'Royal Flush Bi-Color'

Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color’

As always, the sunflowers were reliable pollinator magnets. Several bees always lingered on them, and during the height of the swallowtail butterfly population explosion, those beauties competed with the bees for spots on the sunflowers.

A more obviously bi-colored Sunflower 'Royal Flush Bi-Color'

A more obviously bi-colored Sunflower ‘Royal Flush Bi-Color’

These blossoms are supposed to be good for cutting too, but I never do it. I never seem to have that many, and unlike the zinnias, these plants die after the first flush of flowers. Still, I love their lofty enthusiasm, and most summers, they are the tallest flowers in the garden.

I enjoyed the variability of this sunflower mix.

I enjoyed the variability of this sunflower mix.

I might try this variety again, but Renee’s Garden always offers so many tempting sunflower varieties that I might feel obliged to try yet another one.

The other Renee’s Garden flower varieties I tried were not as successful. Because they were so resiliently lovely despite the drought and heat of last year, I tried Cosmos ‘Little Ladybirds’ again. They did not like the abundant rains of this past season, remaining small, blooming unenthusiastically, and eventually expiring from a fungal disease.

I tried sowing Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’ and Monarda ‘Butterfly Bergamot’ in the greenhouse. I do this successfully with many flower varieties, herbs, etc. However, despite quick germination, I could not persuade the salvia to thrive. All the seedlings eventually died of fungus problems. I had a few seeds left, and decided to direct-sow them in the garden. One germinated and managed to bloom. The flowers were lovely, the plant didn’t seem to be strong enough to stand up without support. I never managed to get a good photo of it before it expired.

The monarda variety struggled in the greenhouse, but I managed to raise about six plants to transplanting size. Monardas are notoriously susceptible to fungal diseases in my region, so I was not surprised with the problems I had with these seedlings. However, once they settled into the compost-rich garden, the plants grew tall, flowering beautifully.

Monarda 'Butterfly Bergamot'

Monarda ‘Butterfly Bergamot’

As readers of this blog know, I love purple flowers, so I was thrilled with these beauties. Alas, after three days of blooming, we got another rain. The plants almost melted before my eyes, becoming piles of green mush, victims of the rampant fungal diseases that flourished during the rain-soaked summer.

Talk about fleeting beauty! I'd have missed them entirely if I'd been on vacation that week.

Talk about fleeting beauty! I’d have missed them entirely if I’d been on vacation that week.

Finally, I’ve always been an admirer of Cornflowers. I think my appreciation began with the crayon named for this flower’s color in the big boxes of crayons that I loved during childhood. When I saw Renee’s Garden was offering Cornflower ‘Blue Boy,’ I had to try it. I was disappointed. In their defense, I suspect the rain and compost were at least partly responsible for the rampant growth of this variety. Plants grew three feet tall before they began to produce flowers.

Cornflower 'Blue Boy'

Cornflower ‘Blue Boy’

Flower size was small, relative to the size of the giant green plants, nearly disappearing. The plants all flopped over, reducing the impact of the flowers further. Perhaps a drier year would produce different results, but I am disinclined to find out.

Wonder Spouse's hand provides scale, demonstrating the small size of the flowers.

Wonder Spouse’s hand provides scale, demonstrating the small size of the flowers.

This concludes my two-part review of the Renee’s Garden seeds I tried this year. I want to thank this fine establishment for offering members of the Garden Writers Association like me the opportunity to try their products for free. Without this chance, I would never have discovered the subtle beauty of a planting of Nasturtium ‘Cup of Sun,’ or the relentless productivity of Zinnia ‘Raggedy Anne.’ Thanks, Renee’s Garden. I hope you’ll give me the chance to try a few new varieties next growing season.


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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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Wishing Debby would change her mind

Sunflower “Sun Samba” Mix

Oh sure, the garden is thriving right this second. But I see Big Trouble heading this way like a runaway freight train. I’m talking about the 100+ degree heat wave promised for my area in two short days. Right now, the weather seers are calling for at least four days in a row with highs over the 100-degree mark, and five days in a row could easily happen.

I wouldn’t be so worried, if I had gotten the rainfall that so many folks in my region have been blessed with lately. But I didn’t; not even close. Take last night, for instance. A cold front uncharacteristically strong for this time of year blasted through, bringing a line of thunderstorms to just about every yard but mine. I’m really trying not to take the rain snubs personally, but it’s getting harder and harder.

My remaining Y-Star patty pan squash continues to produce well…for now.

Absolutely no rain is in the forecast during the heat wave. Only the slightest of chances are hinted at for a WEEK FROM NOW! That means my already-too-dry soil is going to be baked by a merciless summer sun without any respite except what I can provide with my hose.

Fortex pole beans mingle happily with Spitfire nasturtiums…but for how much longer?

I water my vegetable garden from a shallow well that draws from a perched water table overlaying my floodplain. It is not doing well; neither is the adjacent creek. Neither are the oak trees nearby; they are dropping young acorns by the hundreds in an attempt to reduce their water consumption. I am not sure how much longer I’ll be able to water my vegetables.

Trees that produce fruit early in the season have been more successful than the oaks. For example, my Florida Anise-trees bloomed prolifically this year, and their fruit set has never been so significant. When the seeds inside the fruits ripen, I’m going to carry them down to the floodplain and spread them around to see if new trees will appear next year.

Florida Anise-tree Fruits

I spent an hour in the uncharacteristically cool morning air thoroughly watering all the veggies. I’m hoping the good dose of water while it’s cool will allow the roots to maximize their use of the water, rather than lose it all to evaporation.  I’m hoping this will fortify the plants against the imminent heat wave. I’ll water again in two days, next time at dawn so I don’t melt — if the well holds out.

Every summer now I go through this agony, wondering how long the well will hold out. Will there be enough so that the tomatoes — just beginning to ripen in numbers — can be harvested? Will the peppers have time to ripen? How long will the beans keep producing? When will the bugs overpower heat-weakened squash plants?

My yard has been in a drought for so many years now that I do not remember the last time my creek ran all summer long, when muddy spots on the floodplain would sink tractor tires during mowing, when summer nights were often accompanied by lightning flashes and pounding rain on the roof.

I know the poor folks in Florida are drowning in Tropical Storm Debby’s rains right now. How wonderful it would be if I could wish those clouds here. Five inches? No problem; that’s what floodplains are for. Piedmont topography and soils are better able to handle such amounts.

By this time next week, I expect to be hunkered down in a darkened house as I hide from searing sun and dream, dream, dream of rain.

This bunny was outside my garden fence today wiggling its nose at the scent of well-watered veggies and flowers.

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Turtle Weather

It arrives when Southern Magnolia blossoms perfume heavy, increasingly hot air.

Daylily ‘Siloam Dan Tau’

And after the succession of daylily flowers has progressed from early birds like ‘Happy Returns’ to show-offs like ‘Siloam Dan Tau.’

Zucchini ‘Raven’

We’ve usually been eating summer squash for several weeks, along with the first few celebrated tomatoes.

Tomato ‘Sweet Treats’

Turtle Weather arrived last week — unusually late for the Piedmont region of North Carolina. It’s Turtle Weather when humid air begins to generate random afternoon thunderstorms, fireflies dance nightly in treetops, and the distant “Bob White” calls of quail from nearby fields punctuate sweltering high-noon sunshine.

That’s when I see them: Eastern Box Turtles in the middle of roads — little country roads and even four-laned roads. Hormonal urges to mate make them recklessly trudge into traffic.

Turtle Weather is really reptile weather. When I see the intrepid Eastern Box Turtles lumbering in search of love, I also begin to see Black Rat Snakes everywhere. I often see them flattened on roads; too many ignorant drivers go out of their way to kill snakes.

But I saw a healthy live one yesterday. It wiggled out onto the road just as I approached in my car. I slowed, and it wisely chose to reverse course, returning to the safety of vegetation growing along the shoulder.

Most startling this week, I came face-to-face with a smaller Black Rat Snake (maybe 2 feet long) at my front door. It was hunting mice that lurk around the built-in bench by the entry just as I opened that door. After two or three seconds of eyeball-to-eyeball frozen staring, we both fled in opposite directions.

Turtle Weather usually lasts a few weeks past the Summer Solstice, which this year arrives next Wednesday. After that, summer heat usually bakes the ground so hot that reptiles only emerge at dusk and dawn, when I usually remain indoors due to the voracious hordes of mosquitoes that own the air during those times.

When Turtle Weather arrives, I know I’ll be spending daily hours in the vegetable garden harvesting the fruits of my labor. Today, I harvested the first beans — enough for a celebratory feast tonight.

Fortex Pole Beans with Spitfire Nasturtiums intermingled

These Fortex Pole Beans will be big enough for harvest in a day or two.

Nasturtium ‘Spitfire’ lures hummingbirds and adds visual interest to the pole bean trellis. They smell wonderful too!

The Jade Bush Beans will also be contributing to this evening’s first-harvest bean feast. Here’s the modest row of Jades:

Only the large plant in the foreground had produced harvestable-sized beans, but the others are full of smaller fruits.

Turtle Weather means the wild blackberry thickets will soon be filled with raucous birds feeding on ripened fruits. Cicada thrumming should start up any minute. Weekends are filled with the scents of freshly mown lawns and meat grilling in backyards.

Turtle Weather takes me back to childhood treks through Piedmont woods, neighborhood kickball games on the dead-end street in front of my house, blackberry-picking expeditions from which I returned so covered in red juice and bloody thorn scratches that one could not be distinguished from the other until after a good washing.

Turtle Weather is finite and therefore precious. Reptiles know they must brave busy roads before the time is past. Children know they must play until full dark descends, so as not to waste a single night of no-school-tomorrow freedom. Gardeners know harvests don’t last forever. Fresh fruits must be celebrated, savored, and the excess stored for dark winter feasts.

Turtle Weather is the best Summer brings us. I encourage you to grab it while you can.

Turtle Weather means the onset of Black-eyed Susan Season.

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