The Frugal Gardener! These bargain plants will last for years

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog caldium and hostaThis caladium pairs well with a hosta in a shady corner of the garden. Photos by Doug Oster

For me, there's nothing better than a garden bargain, it's almost as fun as planting. This might be my favorite time of the year as nurseries try to sell off what's left before all the new plants come in for fall planting. I can't resist finding things cheap or plants that need a little TLC.

There are three plants in particular I'm looking for, caladiums, dahlias and begonias. All three have a bulb or tuber which can be saved over the winter and then planted again next spring.

Caladiums are grown for their beautiful foliage. They enjoy shade and will light up the corner of any garden. I found some big plants for $14 that will continue to put on a show for another couple months. I also found caladium hanging baskets for about the same price. The colors are spectacular and the plants love growing in containers.

Tuberous begonias are another great choice, since their tuber can also be saved. 'Bonfire' is my all time favorite and I got two hanging baskets for $4 each. They were a little tired so I potted them up into big basket I had left over from last season. They got a good drink of liquid, organic fertilizer and I'll keep feeding them every week. They perked up in only a few days and now look great. Be sure when you find a begonia at the nursery, it's the type with a tuber, so it can be saved at the end of the season.

The third plant is a dahlia. I bought huge pots filled with lots of flowers for $12, the pot alone is worth that. It's growing where I have the most sun, in the vegetable garden. I love having flowers growing in consort with the veggies.

When things cool off at the end of fall, I'll detail how to save the bulbs and tubers. It's easy and a great way to add more plants to your collection.

Lots of gardeners don't grow these three plants because they don't want to save them, that's OK too. If you can get them at a deal and enjoy them until frost, why not?

blog bonfire hanging basketThis 'Bonfire' begonia growing in a hanging basket is already starting to look great. By the end of the season the stems will nearly reach the ground.

blog dahlia containerYou can't beat dahlias for instant summer color in the garden.


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Fallingwater's "secret garden" restored

Written by Doug Oster on .

Blog 20150714dofallingwater2Eric Kobal, 24, restored the Pottery Terrace Garden at Fallingwater. Photos by Doug Oster

MILL RUN -- Eric Kobal stretches across a lush planter to examine a brown leaf on a rhododendron he planted in this garden on the Pottery Terrace at Fallingwater. The sound of running water is never far away here, especially this year as Bear Run, the stream that runs under the famous property is flowing fast and high after a summer of plentiful rain.

blog 25 20150714dofallingwater5Ferns are just one of the native plants in the garden.For three years Mr. Kobal has been taking people on tours of the famous house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Pittsburgh’s Kaufmann department store family. In October he began a special project in this garden as a landscape volunteer.

The 5-square-foot Pottery Terrace planter is in an area that’s not on the guided tour. It’s where the Kaufmanns stored their pots on the terrace for the winter.

This “secret garden” was in bad shape after a recent construction project on the house. Workers had trampled some of the few plants that had managed to limp along over the last several years. “It was missing something,” Mr. Kobal said, “It had serious drainage issues.”

Nothing grew well there and when he took a close look at the planter all he saw was water, mud, soil and lots of large rocks. His goal was to bring the space back to its formal glory.

With the help of horticulture specialist Ann Talarek, the two combed the archives for pictures of the garden. “We knew there were rhododendron, moss and boulders, she said, but all the old photos were grainy and hard to see. It wasn’t a very prominent garden in any of the historic photos.”

Mr. Kobal created a plan, which included the two plants known to have been in the garden and added a list of native varieties to his drawings.

While excavating the planter, he was surprised by the large rocks found under the soil. “It was like a jigsaw puzzle, dozens of these boulders were up here and we don’t even know why.” Another unexpected find was the depth of the planter itself. The staff thought it was only a couple inches, but after taking everything out of the garden, he discovered it was 7 to 8 inches deep, with a deeper trench in the middle.

The trench was filled with aggregate for drainage and good soil was brought in from nearby Lower Bear Run.

Then the fun part.  Mr. Kobal was able to fulfill his plan by finding the native plants on the Fallingwater property. The small planter was packed with trillium, mayapple, rhododendron, native sedum, mosses, three species of violets, black cohash, eastern marginal wood ferns, partridge berry and Virginia creeper. The latter will hang over the edges when mature, greeting visitors who look up at the planter as they enter the house. In fall the vines will turn brilliant red to make the garden a focal point.

Some of the rocks stayed in the design to add texture. They are already being covered with green moss harvested from the woodlands.

“Not many people make it to the Pottery Terrace,” Mr. Kobal said. “They don’t even know they can come here.”

While it’s not the guided tour, he said visitors afterward can request to see the secret garden. “I think it just speaks to the site, he said, seeing this, they understand Fallingwater, they understand the grounds. it’s a microcosm of the site.”

His experience as a volunteer here also has inspired Mr. Kobal to become a landscape architect. He will head to Washington University in St. Louis for his master’s degree on a scholarship, partly due to what he’s accomplished at Fallingwater.

As soft light filters through the trees and across the planter, he looks out over the driveway at the beams which tie the hillside to the home, which was built between 1936 to 1939.

“I kind of see these as veins, he says. That hillside is the heart of the property, blood flows through these beams, these veins into the home here.”

Then while pointing down to the planter says, “This is an opening on top of one of those beams, this is where the site bleeds out and you can see what bleeds, it’s nature.”

Blog 20150714dofallingwater4The restored Pottery Terrace Garden is filled with lush growth.

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Planting for pollinators

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog SCG BUTTERFLY72Bringing pollinators in to the garden is a good thing for many reasons. Photo by Doug Oster

This week's Pittsburgh Today Live show was all about urban agriculture and locally sourced foods. I showed lot of plants that are great for pollinators.

It's important for gardeners to lure pollinators to the garden as they will assure better blooms and more fruit.

Here's a link to the video.

I love bugs! There I said it. Did you know over 90 percent of the insects in the garden are either good or benign?
In my garden I’m growing a variety of plants to attract beneficial insects. They help me garden by pollinating flowers and vegetables and take care of lots of the bad bugs too.
The real key is to plant a variety of different flowering plants in the garden to bring in the good bugs.
Small flowering plants like thyme, oregano, thyme, sweet allysum and others all will bring in beneficials.
Here’s a list of the plants which are great for pollinators-
Cleome (spider flower)
Nicotiana (flowering tobacco)
Most importantly don’t spray the garden with chemicals, nature really does provide a wonderful balance when we stay out of things.

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New plants cross similar but different varieties

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog Illumination Flame hybrid foxglove x Digiplexis - Rotary Gardens photoDigiplexis 'Illumination Flame' is a hybrid cross of digitalis and isoplexis.

By Doug Oster/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It’s always fun to see a new plant introduction up close to see if it lives up to the hype. Tall pink spires resembling foxglove flowers fill the Sunken Garden at Phipps Conservatory, but these blooms aren’t foxglove. They are called digiplexis, an intergeneric cross between digitalis (foxglove) and isoplexis, a cousin from the Canary Islands.
While foxglove, a biennial, only blooms for weeks, digiplexis will bloom until frost and is treated as an annual in our climate. Many local nurseries are offering ‘Illumination Flame’ and Illumination Raspberry’ digiplexis for the first time this season. At Phipps, the plants were putting on a show, convincing me I needed them for my garden.
Matthew Hirsh, greenhouse manager at Chapon’s Greenhouse in Baldwin Borough, carried both and is impressed with their flowers.
“They were nice, with non-stop color. When the old flower stems were even close to finishing, there were multiple new flower stems opening,” he says.
blog 3Echibeckia.Summerina-Orange-Tuin.1Echibeckia.'Summerina Orange' is a cross between coneflowers and black eyed Susan.Even though these type of crosses are nothing knew to horticulturists, home gardeners are seeing more and more of them at garden centers. A Leyland cypress tree is an intergeneric cross as is heucherella (heuchera crossed with tiarella). The technique is also used to create new varieties of orchids.
The process of crossing two varieties that are genetically similar is done with traditional plant breeding techniques. Pollen from one variety is transferred to the flower of another and then seeds are saved. They are grown out and selected for traits the breeder favors.
Echibeckia combines the toughness of echinacea (coneflower) with the beauty of rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan). The flowers are long-lasting, starting in the summer and continuing through fall. Breeders think the plant will be hardy to zone 4, but won’t be sure until it’s a couple seasons old. Mr. Hirsh sold out of three varieties at Chapon’s -- ‘Summerina Brown,’ ‘Summerina Yellow’ and Summerina Orange.’
“They are nice full plants, with strong stems and are not leggy. Once they started blooming, they are still going.”
Kalettes are another intergeneric cross, combining Brussels sprouts and kale. The plant grows like Brussels sprouts, but produces small kale heads instead of sprouts. I know this plant was a hit in England and kale is the new hot veggie, but can’t we grow enough kale on its own? Sometimes I wonder if different is really better.
Mukgenia is a cross between mukdenia and bergenia. Created by Terra Nova Nurseries, It has green leaves and purple and pink flowers. ‘Nova Flame’ is the first cultivar released, but it was hard to find locally. This could be a great perennial for the garden because bergenia can be a little fussy and mukdenia is almost indestructible, at least in my garden.
Grafting is another way to combine two plants which are different but similar. It’s become a popular way to create disease-resistant and more vigorous tomatoes. ‘Ketchup ’n’ Fries’ combines tomatoes and potatoes in one plant. Both are from the same family; this variety grows tomatoes above ground and potatoes below ground. Mr. Hirsh has a dozen plants left. They are covered with ripening tomatoes and some potatoes can be seen below.
“I’m kind of curious to hear customer feedback when they dump out the containers for the potatoes in the fall,” he said.
When we start gardening, we’re just happy things live. When we get past that, we want to grow something different. That’s just what these new crosses will let gardeners do.

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Bargain plants and a fiery hot pepper lead to fun on TV

Written by Doug Oster on .

20140629doplanthomes8These little chili peppers are on sale. Don't let the size fool you, they can wake you up. Photo by Doug Oster

This is the time of the year that nurseries start discounting plants. I went on Pittsburgh Today Live to talk about all the cheap plants I found at Hahn Nursery. I brought some pepper plants with fruit on them and gave on small pepper to Jon Burnett. I'll let you watch what happens next.

Here's a link to the segment.

Around the Fourth of July nurseries and garden centers start putting all sorts of plants on sale. I’m cheap and love getting a bargain!
I wouldn’t buy a plant anywhere else at this time of the year, I know that the nurseries have kept the plants watered and that’s important.
Normally I buy my plants in flats to save money, but the bigger pots have been drastically reduced and I can try some really cool plants for next to nothing.
Since the plants are in big pots they offer instant color for a fraction of the price. The newest varieties and most interesting plants are often sold in three inch or bigger pots, so it’s also a good chance to try something different.
I also found nice pre-planted containers for only a few dollars. For the cost of the pot itself, you could get instant color that will last until the frost or beyond.
Perennials are also on sale, poke around in the back of the nursery to find four inch pots.
There’s still time to plant many vegetables too. Peppers and tomatoes filled with fruit will be harvested in a month or so.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for gardeners looking for bargains.
All the plants on the show were from Hahn Nursery in Ross.

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