Low-maintenance pea setup ideal for small properties

By Tom Seymour | Aug 04, 2017
Photo by: Tom Seymour Cheyenne Spirit Mix coneflower has blooms of different colors on a single plant.

I admit to being a fool for garden peas. Peas, fresh-picked and fresh-shelled, stand as one of my favorite foods. But peas take a lot of room in the garden, too much room for those with small spaces. And commercially grown peas in the pod cost more than seems reasonable.

So until just recently frozen peas were the only viable option. Since the frozen ones were cheap, widely available and fairly tasty, it just didn’t make sense for me to grow my own peas.

But I recently tried a new pea-growing method. That began with an EarthBox, a hydroponic device that excels in growing almost anything. I planted one EarthBox with edible-pod peas (easy to grow, perfect for an experimental planting), and they took off like rockets. So that was enough to show me that peas work well in an EarthBox. Still, though, edible-pod peas were no substitute for old-fashioned shell peas.

So this year I planted Knight, a popular brand of shelling pea. These have large pods with up to 10 peas inside. Additionally, Knight is an early-maturing variety.

And guess what? The 16 pea plants in my one EarthBox are giving me all the peas I can use. And the whole thing takes up but little space. In order to keep the peas off the ground, I cut a bunch of small branches from an alder shrub and stuck them in the EarthBox for the peas to grow on. And it worked. The peas have grown so vigorously that the branches are no longer visible under their thick covering..

From now on, then, shelling peas grown in an EarthBox will remain a garden staple for me. For more information on the EarthBox, call 888.247.8295 or visit online at earthbox.com.

Stunning coneflowers

Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant and long-blooming perennial native to the prairies, has hewn a cherished place among flower gardeners.

We see purple coneflower everywhere, from estate plantings to beds and median strips around banks and doctors' offices and in home gardens.

The popularity of purple coneflower has, however, greatly overshadowed the other kinds of coneflowers. These come in a wide variety of shades and sizes, from white to yellow and even pale purple (standard purple coneflowers are of a brighter shade).

And now, the magic of hybridizing has created a host of new coneflower types. These don’t override the beauty of standard varieties so much as complement them. With the addition of some of these new varieties, gardeners can grow more coneflowers than ever before, without creating a feeling of redundancy.

So last spring when I studied the tag on a coneflower variety at the local garden outlet, the claims for “Cheyenne Spirit Mix” seemed hard to believe. There was only one way to find out more, so I bought a plant, took it home and set it out in my perennial bed.

The big draw for this new variety is that it sports different-colored flowers on one single plant. Sure, lots of plants come in different shades, but having such an array of colors on a single plant makes it one big surprise package. By that I mean that with each new flower comes a surprise. What color will it be? This keeps me checking my perennial bed several times a day, happily waiting for a new flower to bloom.

Cheyenne Spirit Mix produces ray flowers in orange, yellow, pink, red, white and purple. This reminds me of those “five-in-one” grafted apple trees that when mature offer five different kinds of apples.

Coneflowers, while perennial, also self-seed, and this has me wondering what the “children” of my multi-colored coneflower plant might look like.

The beauty of such a brightly colored flower becomes evident on dark or cloudy days. Despite the gloom, the garden lights up, thanks to these multicolored coneflowers.

All coneflowers like bright sun, so if considering investing in one or several plants, make sure to have the proper garden space available. Also, coneflowers require well-drained soil. This probably harkens back to their prairie origins.

Coneflowers grow upright and rarely, if ever, need staking. Cheyenne Spirit Mix grows to 30 inches tall and up to 20 inches wide and is listed as cold-hardy down to minus-30 Fahrenheit.

Plant names

Now here’s a fun fact regarding coneflowers. Animals and plants fall under a naming system called binomial nomenclature. This was designed by famed 18th-century botanist Carlos Linnaeus and remains the standard naming convention. Binomial nomenclature ranks as the best way to name plants because not only are common names often misleading, but numbers of unrelated plants share common names, making identification exceedingly difficult. Proper botanical names take the mystery out of plant-naming.

In binomial nomenclature, the first part of the two-part name refers to the genus. In this case the genus, or family, is Echinacea. The second half of the botanical name refers to the species, of which there can be many.

So let’s take apart everyone’s favorite, purple coneflower. The botanical name, Echinacea purpurea, tells us much about the plant. "Echinacea" comes from the Greek word "Echinus," which means “hedgehog.” The European hedgehog, a porcupine-like creature, is covered with spines. In fact, some old-time Mainers still refer to porcupines as hedgehogs, evidence of a transplanted European culture. And the disc, or button, at the center of a coneflower is prickly, even hedgehog-like.

The species name, "purpurea," simply means “purple.” Put the two together and we have a purple flower with a spiny center.

Here’s another twist. While many people refer to the scientific names of plants as “Latin names,” Latin isn’t always used. Some plant species are named for the person who discovered the plant. For instance, wintergreen, a common wild groundcover, goes by the botanical name of Gaultheria procumbens. Eighteenth-century Canadian doctor Gaultier named this useful herb for himself. And “Gaultier” is anything but Latin, or even Greek.

So when you see the scientific names of plants on plant tags or in books, try to pronounce them. Even many-parted tongue-twisters are easily pronounced by simply breaking the names down into individual syllables. And if you don’t pronounce it perfectly, that’s OK, because even botanists vary in how they pronounce certain botanical names.

Tom’s tips

It’s summer and it’s hot. And while plants in our gardens can go some time without water, plants in containers cannot. Besides that, the only significant source of water for plants in containers is supplied solely by the gardener.

So go to lengths to keep plant containers well-watered. The plants will thank you.

Shelling peas in Tom's EarthBox. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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