In any discussion of Garden All Stars, I can't imagine not at least mentioning gourds. That is because on a purely personal level, I can't imagine a garden without at least some gourd plant growing somewhere.
I think a big part of what I love about them is the surprise. Gourds come in just about every shape, size, and color. Unless you are planting a specific type (which I never do), you never know what you are going to get. And if you plant three plants, you'll likely get three different kinds of gourds.
How do you find space? Think "up". Grow them up trees or fences or decks or sunflowers. That way the don't take much extra space at all.
It's always nice to see someone who enjoys gourds as much as I do!
1. a valueless plant growing wild, esp. one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.
2. any undesirable or troublesome plant, esp. one that grows profusely where it is not wanted
Yep, sounds like a weed all right. Plants that want to take over the world, starting with your yard, that don't produce beautiful flowers or attract interesting animals in the process, and which crowd out the plants that do.
Still, I might take umbrage with those definitions. It seems to me a bit unfair to lump into one category every plant that grows so well that it will overrun anything and anyone if given half a chance.
If it were me writing the definition, I might further break it down into "good weed" and "bad weed". Quite simply, a good weed is one that, while still trying to take over the world, at least carries some readily noticeable benefit in doing so.
This award, therefore, goes the to the best good weed--which, in my book, is clearly milkweed. Milkweed spreads both by prolific underground runners and seed pods which open to release even more prolific windborne seeds into the air. So yes, they most definitely qualify as weeds in so far as they will rapidly take over a given space and then move on to all the other spaces around them as well.
But--and this is a big but--they also bloom heavily and beautifully. What is more, these are some of the most deliciously fragrant blooms your nose will ever be privileged to smell. Probably because they are so fragrant, they readily attract a wide range of insects including bees, beetles, and a wide variety of butterflies.
Finally, as you know doubt know if you read this blog, they are also the food plant of Monarch butterflies. That in itself makes them worth having in my book. In my admittedly limited experience, the more of them you have, the more butterflies you will have as well. And doesn't it seem like having more butterflies in the world can only make it a better place?
(Note: You can actually control milkweeds growth pretty easily with just a little work.)
Now this is a really, really hard decision. I absolutely love zinnias, and my garden is full of them. Marigolds are true workhorses, starting their bloom early, carrying on through the heat of summer, and still going even in the fall. When you come right down to it, it is just plain hard to go wrong with a flower--any flower at all.
I probably should've broken this class down further into perennials and maybe bulbs. But even if I did, as much as I love lilies (yes, my garden is full of them too; day lilies, orientals, Asiatics, trumpets, and hybrids like orien-pets), I think the end result would still be the same.
My choice for this category is the Italian White Sunflower. This is a true triple duty plant. It flowers well, attracts bees and butterflies, and really draws in the birds (particularly goldfinches) by the score. And boy does it flower. If you just counted number of blooms over a season, I don't think anything else would beat it. Hot or cold, wet or dry, it just doesn't matter--once these babies start blooming, they don't stop (do you notice a common theme here?)
The flowers themselves are quite pretty; about 3 inches in diameter, creamy white, often with a yellow ring at the center around black seed core. They are born on long stems that last a long time in the vase. And did I mention the finches love it?
Some of these choices were really easy. This one was hard. Butterfly
bushes, for example, really are butterfly magnets. They thrive under a
wide variety of conditions, need very little care, bloom freely, and
have a nice fragrance too. That sounds like a winning combination,
doesn't it? (For some, a little too winning perhaps as they are included in the Invasive Plant Atlas.)
Hard choice though it may be, in the end I find myself going with the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia Rotundifolia).
I'm afraid that these plants really do like it hot, and they will not
even start growing in our area until the soil has adequately warmed.
That means that they also do not start flowering until well into the
summer. But when the flowers do start, it is worth it.
Mexican Sunflowers do grow relatively tall, reaching 4 or 5 feet.
Because they have so many branching stems, they need a good bit of
room. But they will also host a ton of brilliant reddish orange
flowers which will attract butterflies (and hummingbirds) by the
score. An added bonus is that the make very nice cut flowers for the
vase as well.
The butterfly below is a Zebra Swallowtail who clearly agrees with my choice.
Though they don't get much coverage here, I actually grow more peppers than I do tomatoes. Peppers just give more a lot more trouble, and I don't seem to get as much fruit for my effort.
One of the reasons for that is that I like to let most my chilies turn fully red. You may know that while chilies can still be green when mature, a fully ripe pepper is one that has turned its final color (which is usually red). While peppers can be eaten earlier, they are most flavorful (if not quite as crisp) when fully mature and fully ripe (got that?).
Letting a chili turn red takes a long time. That extra time gives bugs extra opportunity to attack the peppers. Probably a third or more of my peppers never get a chance to ripen because of insect damage.
The solution? Hire a guard mantis. You can see how well it works. Just look at how red this pepper it.
(The only problem was, she wouldn't even let me pick it! ;-) )
This is a toughy, because hummingbirds feed regularly on a wide variety of garden flowers. But if I had to pick a winner in this category, it would be Salvia coccinea or 'Lady in Red'.
These plants need no care whatsoever to grow like crazy. Though they are tender and will die come first frost, they reseed so heavily that you will be inundated in them the next year. They are the kind of plants that I describe as being able to take over the world. I always end up pulling a bunch of them and transplanting others. Consider yourself warned!
If you live where there are deer, salvia have the advantage of being one plant that deer really don't seem to like (and if you garden where there are deer, you probably know that deer eat just about anything, even the plants they aren't supposed to like).
And, of course, they bloom and bloom and bloom, much to the delight of any hummingbirds passing nearby. It may seem strange to using a picture of a big (and very cute!) bumble bee in a post about hummers, but I like this pic and have been waiting for a chance to use it.