The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

May 28, 2014

Hostas need time to develop completely

Filed under: Flowers — bob @ 12:34 pm

If you are like me , you probably have had the experience of buying a plant from a catalog or garden center only to find out it wasn’t quite as wonderful as it looked in the picture. Of course, sometimes sellers tweak  photos a bit to highlight the characteristics of a particular plant.

In the case of hostas however, the differences can be very real and not due to photo manipulation.

Many varieties of hostas require a cold period before they reach their full potential. New hostas are often grown in a greenhouse for the first year and may have not gotten enough exposure to cold temperatures. As a result, during the first year in your garden, they can look very different from a mature plant of the same variety.

Leaf color, texture, size and shape can all look different until the second spring. There are some varieties that require a few years growth before all their characteristics are evident.


Hostas are grown for their interesting leaves. The flowers are usually incidental and not showy.

Hostas are grown for their interesting leaves. The flowers are usually incidental and not showy.

Also, keep in mind that hostas are shade tolerant plants. Even though we see hostas planted in sunny areas all the time, they prefer to grow in areas where they are shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Full morning and evening sun exposure will allow hostas to develop properly.

In a year or two your new hosta will look as good as the one in the picture. I wish I could say the same about the shirts I buy.



May 22, 2014

Veronica speedwell

Filed under: Flowers — bob @ 9:17 am

This is the first spring for our Veronica gentianoides, sometimes called Veronica Speedwell or Gentian Speedwell. We planted this perennial last fall and it seems to be very hardy since it survived our winter, even after all of those record-breaking cold days and nights.

Gentian speedwell is one of the earliest flowering perennials. Ours started blooming right after the tulips died back and should last another couple of weeks at least, depending on weather conditions.

Its wonderful light-blue flowers are about one-half inch across and are held by a spike 16 inches tall.

This is not a plant that you would notice driving down a bumpy road at 50 miles an hour, unless it was a naturalized area with a large number of plants. It works best in an area where you can enjoy it up close such as along a sidewalk.

Our stand of Gentian Speedwell will fill in later during the summer.

Our stand of Gentian Speedwell will fill in later during the summer.


You may have noticed that Veronica gentionoides has the same first name as Veronica filiformis, the common lawn weed also called speedwell.  That’s because they are closely related. Don’t worry though, Veronica gentianoides will never become a lawn weed.

Like many of us, Veronica’s ancestors immigrated from somewhere else in the world. In this case, they were brought here from the middle east — specifically the Caucasus region around Turkey and Iran.

Gentian Speedwell will tolerate some light shade but prefers full sun. Wild populations in the middle east are found in damp fields, which tells us that the plant will do best if kept watered or is grown in a moist area.

There are cultivated varieties for sale, I’m not sure what variety ours are.

Later in the summer after they’re done flowering, the plants will send out creeping roots that will produce new plants. The new plants eventually form into a mat that makes a good ground cover for filling in bare spots in the garden.


Ants on peonies

Filed under: Flowers,Insects — bob @ 9:11 am

We’re seeing ants again on peony buds again this year. It happens every spring. They show up as soon as the buds get some size to them. They’ll stick around all the way through flowering.

Ants and peonies just seem to go together.  Many long time gardeners believe you must encourage the ants because you can’t have good peony flowers without them.  We now know that is an old wives tale.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are gardeners who fret and worry about the ants so much that they try to destroy every ant on their peonies. They think the ants are hurting the peonies and inhibiting flowering. That belief is just as much an old wives tale.


Ants love peony buds but cause no harm.

Ants love peony buds but cause no harm.

In fact, ants on peonies are pretty much neutral — neither good nor bad. They are there only to feed on the sugary surface coating that is secreted by the buds. And that causes no damage.

Peony ants are so well behaved they won’t even try to get into your house so there is no need to worry about that either.

Sometimes an ant or two will ride into the house on cut flower stems. To avoid that, cut the flowers just before they open and knock off any ants you find.

Gardening has enough challenges without having to worry about ants on peonies. So cross that one off your list.


May 14, 2014

Wild asparagus

Filed under: Vegetables — bob @ 7:24 am

This is the time of year when we see cars parked along the roadside and people nearby with their heads down looking for something. What is it they’re looking for? They’re hunting for wild asparagus.

Wild asparagus is the same as the cultivated kind. When growing out on its own without anyone tending it, it’s called “wild”.

The best place to find wild asparagus is near abandoned homes or sites where a house used to stand. That’s because years ago, everyone had a small asparagus patch in their yard. Asparagus plants are perennials and often outlive their original owners.

A wild asparagus patch can also start from seed. Sometimes you can find a secondary patch growing under nearby trees where birds perch and spread asparagus seeds in their droppings.

It’s pretty hard to find asparagus just by searching for the newly formed spears without knowing where to begin looking. Seasoned asparagus hunters look for the distinctive fern-like, fully-grown fronds —  the mature plants that develop from the spears. They make a mental note of the location and come back the following spring to harvest the spears.

Asparagus is hard to find unless you know where look.

Asparagus is hard to find unless you know where look.

If you don’t know what an asparagus frond looks like, find someone who is growing asparagus and take a look at the plant. Once you’ve learned to recognize asparagus fronds, you’ll easily be able to spot them from your car while driving down the road.

Like morel mushroom hunters or smelt dippers, many asparagus hunters won’t share their secret spot with anyone except their closest friends. I’ve even had the weird experience of an asparagus picker get upset with me because I was picking asparagus from “his patch” even though it was on my property.

Keep in mind, when you do find a wild asparagus patch, ask permission from the land owner before you harvest the crop.

Happy hunting!




May 3, 2014

Planting horseradish

Filed under: Herbs,Planting — bob @ 9:12 am

Horseradish is one of my favorite condiments.

These hot and spicy roots are in an entirely different category compared to hot pepper sauce. I know people who have no problem with the hottest pepper sauce but can’t seem to handle the pungency of fresh horseradish. Maybe it’s because the active ingredient in hot peppers is capsicum, while in horseradish it is mustard oil.

As it turns out, horseradish is a pretty simple herb to grow and is not picky about soil. Of course, like most other plants, the better the garden soil, the larger the yield. Once you get it going, it pretty much takes care of itself.

Right now, is the time to get your horseradish started.

Even though seed is sometimes available, nearly all horseradish is planted by root cuttings. Plant the root cuttings at an angle in a shallow trench, about an inch deep or so, and cover them with soil. Keep them watered during any dry spells.

Horseradish root cuttings must be planted right side up. It is standard practice to  make a straight cut ant the top of the root and a slanted cut at the bottom.

Horseradish root cuttings must be planted right side up. It is standard practice for farmers to make a straight cut at the top of the root and a slanted cut at the bottom when they collect root cuttings.

Although I’ve heard of many instances of horseradish getting out control and taking over an area, I’ve never had that problem. The plants can easily reach a height of two feet or more. Two or three plants are enough for most households.

Horseradish roots are harvest during the fall after the first hard freeze.  I prepare horseradish the same way most folks do by grating the roots and mixing it with vinegar.






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