Corn pudding and hush puppies, cornbread stuffing and succotash. If anything qualifies as authentic American cooking, it surely involves corn. We eat it fresh—still on the cob, creamed, and as the critical ingredient in corn chowder. We eat it dried and ground into cornmeal—in corn pone and muffins, as fritters and johnnycake. Domesticated for millennia, corn has come a long way from its teosinte roots.
Today have six types of corn, five of which are the result of selective breeding: pod corn, flint corn, popcorn (this could be considered a subset of flint corn), flour corn, dent corn, and sweet corn. (Pod corn is a mutant that forms leaves around each kernel, and isn’t commercially useful.)
You’re growing morning glories? On purpose? Are you crazy? Those things will take over your garden! Our friends, who live in wet western Washington, were appalled. They couldn’t understand why I’d plant something so invasive.
Yet, I’ve grown morning glories for years, first in California’s benign climate, then here in Colorado. I’ve never found them to be at all invasive. True blue flowers are hard to find. I couldn’t understand why our friends, avid gardeners, wouldn’t want to grow something so lovely.
How do you like your flowers? Do you grow annuals? You have to replant them every year, but they grow quickly and bloom all season. Then they die with the first freeze. Or perhaps you prefer perennials. They continue from year to year, dying back to their roots in winter, then re-sprouting to bloom again. Their bloom season is short—some only bloom for a couple of weeks, others hang on for a month at best. In all the fuss over perennials vs. annuals, one category of flowers often gets overlooked—the biennials.
Biennials take one growing season to reach blooming size, then overwinter to bloom the following year. Once they bloom, they die, leaving plenty of seeds behind to ensure their replacements. If you plant them two years in a row, you’ll never be without. Yes, you have to put up with plants that don’t blossom that first year, but they earn their keep by the show they put on the next.
Do you enjoy big flowers with bright, showy colors and carefree maintenance? It’s hard to beat annuals for season-long impact. Whenever I think of annuals, I immediately think of cosmos, one of the very best annuals for Colorado gardens.
There are currently thought to be 36 species in the genus Cosmos, but the two most often grown in our gardens are C.bipinnatus (left) and C.sulphureus. (There are two other Cosmos species in cultivation. One is a frost-tender, tuberous perennial known as Chocolate Cosmos, C.atrosanguineus. The other is Cosmos parviflorus, a wildflower of the western United States.)
How would you like a perennial that is hardy from USDA zones 3 through 9, tolerates browsing deer, drought, and smog, while attracting butterflies with its brilliant flowers? Moss phlox (Phlox subulata, also known as moss pinks and creeping phlox, does all that, and more. A very low growing groundcover that barely reaches six inches in height, moss phlox spreads to a diameter of two feet, making it ideal for the front of a border. The leaves resemble short, prickly pine needles, and are a gray-green in color. But it’s the flowers that cause me to run to the garden center for more.
Yuccas are as much a part of the Colorado landscape as red rocks and towering peaks. I admit, I didn’t like them at all when we arrived 25 years ago. Yuccas? Yuck! But in the intervening years, they’ve grown on me. I now acknowledge that yuccas have their place—as long as it isn’t in my yard.
I think my initial antipathy came from driving by a yard in a Colorado Springs neighborhood. The homeowners clearly didn’t want to deal with landscape maintenance; their front yard was mostly rocks. A scraggly Ponderosa sat to one side. The only other plants were a few yuccas stuck between some ugly boulders. It was probably intended to be a xeriscape. I thought it was a “zeroscape”!
On a recent trip to the botanic gardens, I was captivated by a constellation of tiny blue flowers, stars spread on tender green leaves in the shade of some mature pines. Five azure petals surrounded a hollow white center on blossoms under a quarter inch in diameter. They bloomed in profusion, an inverted sky beneath my feet.