Different climates produce different gardens

September 1, 2013 

BARRIE BAIN/Special to the Ledger-Enquirer A bevy of bright orange tiger lilies makes a strong focal point in a Michigan garden.

I spent last week in Michigan with my sister, Kay, and her husband, and it was a nice break from our never-ending August heat.

My sister loves to garden as much as I do, and she leaves her wonderful garden in Virginia every year in June and heads north to Michigan for 10 weeks. With the growing conditions so different at their summer home, Kay has had a tough time learning which plants will work there. We always spend a lot of time casing nurseries and checking local gardens, both public and private, to see what is thriving.

Some plants, such as hostas, daylilies, phlox, hydrangeas, bee balm, and daisies, do equally well in both her gardens, but you won't find crape myrtle or boxwood in Michigan because it gets too cold and the growing season is too short. And the delphinium that thrives in Michigan won't do well in Virginia because it prefers the colder temperatures. It blew my mind to see lusty nasturtiums in peak bloom up there, when they had bloomed out in my garden weeks ago.

One of the most beautiful garden sights I saw was a huge planting of bright orange tiger lilies in Kay's mother-in-law's garden. Sally, who is 91 and as spry as a spring chicken, can't remember whether those native lilies were planted or just appeared in her grandmother's garden many years ago. They were off in a small garden all by themselves so they wouldn't clash with the strong-colored bloomers in the main perennial garden.

I just love tiger lilies. They seem so bright and cheerful and, like me, they have freckled faces. They grow two to four feet tall, and their blossoms can be up to three inches in width with beautifully reflexed petals. They have edible flower buds, as well as edible roots and shoots. Plant explorers say their roots taste like potatoes when boiled. These lilies are propagated by small black seeds, called bulbils, that form in the axils of their leaves and they prefer loose, humusy soil and sun to semi-shade.

September to-do list

• Late September is a great time to divide and replant many perennials so that they will have a chance to tuck their tender roots deep into the soil before the first hard frosts come. Use a digging fork to lift an entire clump of daisies, hostas, phlox, daylilies, Southern shield fern, or other clump-forming perennials. Many will fall apart naturally, while others will need to be pulled apart or cut with a sharp knife. When you replant, set them back into the soil at their original growing depth. Share the extras with a gardening friend.

• For a better display of hellebores this winter and next spring, apply a time-released fertilizer such as Osmacote around them now.

• If you have been keeping some of your houseplants outside during the summer, it's time to check them to see which ones may need to be repotted. And be sure to check them for insect pests or their eggs before bringing them inside.

• Fall bulb catalogs have been arriving for weeks now, and now you need to get those orders mailed so that your bulbs are in hand for November planting. Every gardener has his or her own favorite daffodils, but some of the tried and true ones for our area are "Ice Follies," "Thalia," "Barrett Browning," "Geranium," and the miniatures "Tete-a-tete," "Minnow," and "Hawera."

Other bulbs that make a nice show in spring are crocuses in shades of yellow, white, blue, and purple; grape hyacinths in lavender-blue; and, of course, the heavenly fragrant hyacinths in tones of yellow, orange, white, pink, and blue. When all of these lovelies bloom next spring, you'll be glad you took the time to order and plant them.

-- Barrie Bain is an independent correspondent.

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