Good to Grow: No garden tours, no problem

Children love lamb’s ear’s fuzzy, velvet-like leaves, and designers love its silver-gray color. JANE POWELL | Courtesy photo

My summer is usually filled with anticipation of garden tours and visits to historical homes, but not this year — and I am disappointed. I love the sneak peek into backyards and side gardens, learning something from each and every one.

This past weekend, I grabbed a friend and we did drive-by garden tours. You may have seen me hanging out of the car window pointing, smiling and trying to remember what I wanted to copy when I got home.

One garden in particular stood out because of its long and wide borders of lamb’s ear. I like lamb’s ear, and have it in my garden. Mine is pretty, but not remarkable. This was remarkable.

Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine) is an easy-to-grow perennial. It likes full sun, but will grow in partial shade. Originating in the Middle East, it will grow in poor soil and almost drought conditions. But it doesn’t like humidity or to have wet feet. Well-draining soil works best.

This plant is grown because of its foliage. Kids love the plant’s fuzzy, velvet-like leaves, and designers love its silver-gray color. The leaves are large ovals, resembling a lamb’s ear and earning its common name.

The plant does have a summer purple or pinkish bloom produced on 12-inch to 18-inch tall stems. Dead heading the blooms will keep the plant from self-seeding, although it does spread by forming new roots where stems touch the ground. To maintain its size, move it to another spot or share this plant — it is easy to divide in the spring.

One more thing about those irresistible leaves — if they get too wet or too dry and begin to turn brown, prune them, it won’t hurt the plant. Another tip — in the spring, add a thin layer of compost around the plant then spread mulch under the leaves. This will help protect them and keep them velvety soft. Because of the velvet texture, deer and rabbits will walk or hop right past it and never even nibble.

Another plant that caught my attention was False Indigo or Baptisia (Baptisia australis). Although I missed the spring blooms, the plant itself is quite attractive.

This perennial is a member of the pea family and grew in the prairies of North America, so once established it is quite drought tolerant. The plant grows to be 2½- to 3-feet tall and because of the dense leaves can feel almost shrub like. The indigo blooms cover spikes that can add another 18 inches to the plant’s height and last for up to six weeks in the spring.

Baptisia doesn’t like to be moved, so think carefully about where it will work in your garden design. Because of its prairie beginnings, the plant has an extensive root system and will take time to become established. Remember with perennials, the first year they sleep, second they creep and the third they leap. This is true for False Indigo.

After the blooms, seedpods will form. Grab a few of these and start your own plant. If you have an established plant, you may want to prune the pods (or give them away). They can be heavy and pull the stems downwards. You can also start from cuttings dipped in rooting hormone.

It is a tricky plant to establish in your garden, but be patient — you and the butterflies will be happy when it blooms.

My garden tour was fun. I enjoyed visiting with my friend, commenting on what we love and what we did not. We were in a car this time, but maybe next time it will be a walk while discovering a new neighborhood. Yes, I miss supporting garden clubs and taking the tours they work hard to organize, but I’m glad there are many other ways to create my own tours and learn from what other gardeners have created.