Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

Garden Talk: August 4, 2005

From NGA Editors

Build a Rain Garden


Storm water runoff can be a big problem in summer during heavy thunderstorms. As the water rushes across roofs and driveways, it picks up oil and other pollutants. Municipal storm water treatment plants often can?t handle the deluge of water, and in many locations the untreated water ends up in natural waterways. The EPA estimates as much as 70 percent of the pollution in our streams, rivers, and lakes is carried there by storm water.

To reduce the excess water runoff, many towns are encouraging businesses and homeowners to install rain gardens in their yards. Rain gardens are specially constructed gardens located in low areas of a yard where storm water can collect. The idea is to have the water naturally funnel to this garden. The rain garden collects water runoff and stores and filters it until it can be slowly absorbed by the soil.

The garden?s size and location depends on the yard. The ideal situation would be to locate the garden in a natural depression. You also can funnel water from downspouts on gutters into the garden. The soil should be well drained so the water doesn?t sit in the garden for more than two days. A special ?rain garden? soil mix of 50 to 60 percent sand, 20 to 30 percent topsoil, and 20 to 30 percent compost is recommended. You can dig this mixture into the soil to depth of 2 feet before planting.

The most difficult part of building a rain garden can be plant selection. Plants need to be tough enough to withstand periodic flooding, yet attractive enough to look good in the garden. Deep-rooted, low-care native plants, such as asters, and tough non-natives, such as daylilies, are best. If properly designed, the rain garden can consist of a blend of attractive shrubs, perennials, trees, and ground covers. Planting strips of grass around the garden and using mulch also can help filter the water.

For more information on creating a rain garden and for sample garden designs, go to: Rain Gardens of Western Michigan.

A Different Lamb's Ears


When you say lamb?s ears (Stachys byzantina), most flower gardeners think of the perennial with silvery white, wooly foliage and purple flower spikes. However, there is another version of lamb?s ears that is more colorful, compact growing, and longer blooming.

The 'Hummelo' lamb?s ears (Stachys officinalis 'Hummelo') is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8. It grows 1-1/2 to 2 feet tall and produces sturdy, rose-lavender flower spikes in midsummer. It has soft foliage, but the color is glossy green instead of silvery white. There?s a pink-flowered version named ?Rosea? available as well. The flowers are loved by butterflies and hummingbirds, but not by deer.

The plant grows best in full sun in well-draining soil, and benefits from being divided every three to four years.

For more information on 'Hummelo' lamb?s ears, go to: Missouri Botanical Garden.

All About Watermelons


There is nothing that says ?summertime? like fresh watermelon. If you?re looking for more ways to use watermelons in recipes, as decorations, or in activities with your kids, check out the Watermelon Promotion Board Web site. It?s loaded with information and ideas for things to do with watermelons.

There are activities for teachers and kids, recipes, and health information. For example, did you know watermelons contain more lycopene -- an antioxidant that fights cancer -- than any other fruit or vegetable? The site also lists watermelon festivals across the country, and even has a fun, online store with watermelon paraphernalia to buy.

For more information, go to: Watermelon Promotion Board.

New False Aster


Boltonia is a flower in the aster family that blooms in late summer. A North American native, boltonia produces masses of white, pink, or violet flowers, depending on the variety. This perennial is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9, and grows best in full sun to light shade. The plant grows 4 to 7 feet tall, and is widely adapted to many soil types. It also provides great cut flowers.

Now, from the University of Massachusetts comes a new variety to honor Jim Crockett, the past host of the Victory Garden television show. Horticulture professor Thomas Boyle, who introduced the plant Alternanthera ?Purple Knight?, has bred this new boltonia to have 1- to 3-inch-diameter, mauve-violet flowers with yellow centers, and blue-green foliage on 20-inch-tall plants. ?Jim Crockett? boltonia also withstands powdery mildew disease. Boltonia asteriodes ?Jim Crockett? blooms in late summer, making it an excellent companion to other late-season bloomers, such as asters, sedums, and goldenrod.

For more information on the new ?Jim Crockett? boltonia, go to: Massachusetts Flower Grower?s Association newsletter, page 5.

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