Orange Cosmos (C.sulphureaus)

Life is a series of rituals.
One of my favorite rituals is the gathering of orange cosmos seeds in mid-September. Every year, I collect enough (about three pickle jars full) to reseed the annual beds and give away to family and friends. Cosmos seeds, like marigolds or forget-me-nots, are easy to collect and store. I save money on annuals by collecting the seeds or, as is the case of geraniums, digging them up before the first frost. I plant the seeds after Mother's Day, typically the frost-free date in Zone 5.
Although orange cosmos is a wildflower native to the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico, it does extremely well in our hot Ohio summers. Cosmos love full sun and arid soil. The majority are planted along the foundation in the backyard. Its brilliantly tangerine color and daisy-like flowers bloom from mid to late summer or until the first fall frost. Year after year, praying mantis have used the cosmos as their niche. Mantis are a curious and beneficial insect; and most welcome in the garden.
I have been cultivating orange cosmos for fourteen years. And to think, this ritual began with one pack of seeds!


Oriental Lily

Tucked into my perennial bed are a few Oriental lilies. For rose-like fragrance and that 'wow-factor', Orientals can't be beat. I also have a couple Asiatic lilies (these are not fragrant). Asiatics are pretty in their own right - speckled like bird eggs - though not quite as showy.

Unlike day lilies, Orientals, are true lilies (genus lilium). Orientals are grown from bulbs. The bulbs do not have to be dug up in the fall like gladioli. I planted the lilies 3 years ago in full sun and well-drained soil. Orientals prefer slightly acid soil which I do not have. However, mine don't seem to mind. The plant grows on strong stems and range from 3 to 6 feet. Most of the blooms are eye level. Needless to say during mid to late summer, I can't pass by my Orientals without bending my head and taking in a long whiff of sweetness.

Zone 5 performance: Great, requiring occasional watering


A Pair of Pear Trees

In the mid 1930s, our property was part of a large pig farm. The property also sits on a hundred-year flood plain. Consequently, there's an excellent top soil (12" +) over the Ohio clay. Sometime back in the 1980's, someone planted a pair of pear trees in the small orchard.

What the exact varieties are is not known. We've never done much more than harvest and enjoy the pears. One is definitely a winter pear. I suspect it is a Bosc. The fruit is ready for picking in mid to late September. After picking and storing in the basement at a temperature around 55 degrees, the winter pear begins to ripen after 6 weeks. The other most likely is a green Bartlet. It ripens in late August and is sweet and juicy. *Note: two varieties are required for cross-pollination.

Both trees put out an abundance of fruit (as in hundreds of pounds each). We eat them fresh, dried, made into apple/pear butter or, our favorite - pear bread.

Our pear bread recipe:
3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 3 eggs lightly beaten, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 2 cups sugar, 2 cups of pear peeled and chopped into small pieces, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour two 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pans.

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Mix eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla and pears in small bowl. Add to the dry mixture. Stir until moistened. Add nuts.

Pour into pans, bake for one hour. Insert a knife into center to check if done. If knife does not come out clean, bake for an additional 10 minutes. Allow bread to cool before removing from pan. Bread keeps well in the freezer double-wrapped in foil.

P.S. It's mid-January, and we're still pulling pear bread out of the freezer.


Achillea - Yarrows

Back in 1995, I arrived at a friend's house just as she was ripping out the white yarrow that grew along her foundation. Never one to see a plant be tossed, I gladly accepted a brown bag full of this aromatic yarrow.

Fourteen years later, I think I've finally gotten it under control!

Like Achilles the Trojan war hero it is named after, yarrow marched on like a soldier: conquering and occupying almost every corner of the perennial bed. Prodigiously spreading underground through the rhizomatoms, it dawned on me one summer that my beds were becoming overwhelminly filled with green, fern-like leaves.
While I was wrestling to get the white yarrow under control, I wondered if my yellow and wine varieties would follow suit. Thankfully, both yellow and wine do not invade. All three varieties tolerate dry soil and drought and grow in full sun.
Today, I still have a couple of the white yarrow. These I manage vigorously. The yellow and wine, I simply enjoy.


Sedum and Solidago

Sun loving Sedum and Solidago provide a one – two punch of color at the beginning of fall. In my perennial garden, placed on opposite sides of a fence, their contrasting colors bring a soft pink and a vibrant yellow to the waning flower bed.

Sedum, a succulent, is drought tolerant and deer resistant. The only drawback to this tall plant (it grows to 15”) is the strong westward winds can knock it down. Conversely, the companion Solidago grows on tall, sturdy stems. Tall (36") Solidago sends a yellow canopy cascading over the top of the fence. Color-wise, Solidago rivals the wild goldenrod that grows in Ohio fields. Solidago is one of those ‘happy accidents.’ I bought it to attract beneficial insects. I got a standout beauty in the bargain. I got even luckier when I put these two perennials side by side.

Rating: Easy to grow, requiring minimal care. Great plants for Zone 5


Airy Astilbe

If you've ever seen mushrooms and curious dark green circles in the grass, it's fanciful to imagine fairies danced where the rings sprouted overnight.

It's also whimsical to place fairy figurines or little houses in shady garden areas to attract this fabled creature.

But, it's transcendent to plant the airy Astilbe. For this herbaceous perennial embodies the qualities of fairies. If ever a flower came from fairyland, Astilbe with its feathery plumes, fern-like leaves and a preference for the partially shaded undergrowth, would be it.
Another easy to grow flower with long lasting blooms, Astilbe adds a romantic charm to any perennial bed. I grow the pink variety. Astilbe also comes in white and a darker shade of pink.


English Lavender

My rock garden has flowers which bloom in the spring (creeping phlox, peonies, columbine, iris), summer (lavender, hostas, marigolds) and fall (sedum). In the winter, some low lying evergreen gives the garden its interest.

English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is beautifully fragrant; think English country garden aromatic. Both flowers and spikey leaves have essential oils. I frequently use the lavender in potpourri.

A perennial, lavender prefers dry conditions. It is a very compact plant. I have two clumps which have remain fairly static in size for 12 years.

Grade: A+ Lavender does well in Ohio's hot Zone 5 summers.


Shasta Daisies

As a child, I loved picking the wild daisies that grew in the field behind our house.

Back then, daisies made wonderful chains, fit neatly behind the ear, and amused little girls with "He loves me, He loves me not."

My childhood reverence for the simple daisy is why it has a prominent place in my perennial beds. As a gardener, I also appreciate how easy they are to grow.

My Shasta daisies have multiplied over the years. Good in both full and partial shade, they bloom for months. They are proficient reseeders. If left unchecked, however, they can become invasive.

Understated, but cheery, with their bright yellow hearts, the white daisy pops against the green landscape. Funny though, I no longer have the urge to pick them. I like them better in the garden.


Zone 5 Vegetable Garden

It is January. The nicest part about winter are the colorful seed catalogs that arrive in the mail. They are a glimmer of things to come. As of this writing, my order is already somewhere at W. Atlee Burpee & Co. being processed.

On our three acre property, I have a large vegetable garden, a small potting shed garden and a patio herb garden.

The vegetables I've had the most success with are: corn, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, cabbage, peas, radishes, loose leaf lettuce, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, cucumbers, onions and peas.

Vegetables that, for one reason or another, struggled to produce are: sweet potatoes, broccoli, eggplant, melon and lima beans. Moles nibbled at the sweet potatoes (every last one!). Broccoli had little green worms. Eggplant and melons were small, albeit tasty. Lima beans produced very little bean for the amount of work.

For a couple of years, I used to have trouble with my corn. For some unknown reason, I had to replant because either nothing came up, or germinaion was spotty. An experienced gardener told me her strategy. Now, instead of one seed, I plant two at a time. I don't know why, but this seems to do the trick.

My two favorite sweet corn varieties are Silver Queen (white) and Sun & Stars (bicolor). This past sumer, I did a top dressing of chicken manure in the potting shed garden. The Silver Queen went in here and took off like gang busters. The planting was prolific and with high sugar content.

Other recommended Burpee favorites: Big Boy Tomatoes, Sugar Snack Hybrid Cherry Tomatoes, Salad Bowl Looseleaf (cutting) Lettuce, and Hybrid Zucchini. They never disappoint!
P.S., that's Noll checking out the potting shed garden.



One bushy bunch of monarda grows next to the bitter sweet vine. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Monarda is a tall bee balm. It is a perennial that blooms midsummer and likes full sun.

I planted this balm as a single plant five years ago. It is slowly spreading to the other side of the fence.

The monarda is the only red flower I have growing in the perennial bed, so when it blooms, the contrast in color from the yellows, oranges, whites, pinks, and blues is very striking.

Performance in Zone 5 - Excellent

My Bleeding Hearts

My sister gave me my first and only bleeding heart as an anniversary present three years ago.

Bleeding heart (Dicentra) is a woodland plant with late-spring blooms. Its flowers are pendant-shaped, like a string of little hearts. The blooms are long-lasting.

Since I planted it, the plant has doubled in size. It is happy within its perfect micro environment of shade, seclusion and well-drained soil.
Rating: Excellent in Zone 5, requiring very little attention.

Creeping Phlox

Creeping phlox is also known as "moss pink." As you can see from this picture of my rock garden, it is a very appropriate and descriptive name. Phlox makes for a striking burst of color in May.

A herbaceous perennial, phlox enjoys full sun and is evergreen once the flowers have stopped blooming. The only work phlox requires of me is an annual trim to keep it from "creeping" out of the bed.

Phlox comes in several different colors: variegated, purple, pink and white. Last year I added two clumps of variegated (white with pink stripes) to this rock garden. Judging from the "moss pink," they should do just fine in Zone 5.