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RE: MED: Companion perennials

From: Bill Shear <BILLS@hsc.edu>

I have lots of columbine in my garden and find them easy to control--and
most welcome among the irises of various kinds.  I grew from seed and
planted about the garden various species and strains: Biedermeier, McKanna,
Rocky Mountain yellow, Magpie (a striking near black and white), etc.  The
interesting plants I see now coming up here and there are combinations of
various ones of these, as well as what appear to be members of the pure
strains.  Makes it interesting! The columbines are particularly abundant
where I have used compost, since I collect and compost most of the old
bloom stalks.  If the new seedlings fit my scheme, I leave them, if not, I
pull them up.  Same thing with Nicotiana sylvestris, spider-flowers, and
several other prolific self-seeders.  The latter two are very welcome in
the August garden, where they are often about the only plants blooming in
the dog-day heat.

Despite my many complaints about drought, I have realized that we have been
fairly lucky--we've had about 3 good rains since May and I have been able
to water enough to keep plants alive between them.  The last rain was on
Saturday; almost 3 inches in two or three good soaking storms.  The garden
is now getting on to its late-summer jungle imitation, with lantanas,
elephant-ears, colocasias, tobaccos and brugmansias all heavily entwined
with the native passion-flower (which bids fair to become an uncontrollable
weed, spreading both by underground runners and seed).  Cannas are also in
full swing, with one peculiar plant, fully hardy here, bought as Canna
'Striata' but obviously not that variety.  It is all of eight feet tall,
with slender, all-green foliage tipped by graceful soft apricot flowers.
All of this herbage is encroaching on the bed I have designated for TBs in
September, so there will have to be some heavy cutting back in a month or
so.  For the meantime, we are enjoying the subropical riot.

Back behind the vegetable garden I constructed a long raised bed
surrounding the two surviving Japanese Pears.  This was filled last spring
with stump-grindings from the college grounds crew and planted with
spider-flowers, four-o'clocks and tritonia, backed by some Buddeleia
seedlings and cannas.  All of these failed miserably and the only successes
were hyacinth beans and Japanese morning-glories along the vegetable garden
fence.  Well, evidently seed was scattered because all of these things have
come back strong (another jungle patch!), and I've had to do a lot of
pulling to keep them off the spurias planted there--the original reason for
the construction of the bed to begin with.  It's hard to pull up a thriving
plant, no matter how it messes up your plan.  Last year, just to see how it
would develop, I allowed a giant ragweed to grow seven feet tall and with a
stem as thick as my wrist before a storm toppled it into the border.  I
guess phytophilia is a diagnosable subset of E. O. Wilson's biophilia!

My other jungle is out here at school.  The small beds around the
greenhouse potting shed have filled in with elephant ears, castor beans,
one magnificent Mexican sunflower, hyacinth beans and various colored-leaf
sweet potatoes, as well as the foliage of amaryllis and Scadoxus (both of
which I intend to leave in the ground this winter to test for hardiness
against the southfacing brick wall).  Japanese morning glories have
enveloped a 5-foot grapefruit tree, a dubious "gift" from a local resident
which I also plan to leave out for the winter.  I know it will freeze, but
this seems the best use for the thorny thing; its stiff branches will be a
scaffold for annual vines in years to come.

Sorry to ramble--just looking for ways not to get back to work on my
manuscript on Indonesian millipedes!

Bill Shear
Department of Biology
Hampden-Sydney College
Hampden-Sydney VA 23943
FAX (804)223-6374

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