July 7, 2014


It's during these long days in Early July, just after the summer solstice, when many garden plants suddenly take off - and if one isn't prudent with staking and tieing, a plant with tender stems can quickly bend and snap in a gusty thunderstorm. I pride myself about my staking technique, a skill I was once horrible at, until one summer while working in high school at a private estate as a gardener - where the head gardener spent way too much time with me, teaching me the proper way to wrap a dahlia stem with soft twine ( around the stem, and then around the stake first, and then finishing off with a figure eight pattern - all loose enough to expand as the stem does, throughout the summer, but tight enough to hold the stalk steady). 

Shirley Poppies this year, focus on grey and white blends. I planted 'Angel', a pure white selection, and 'Pastel Shades', with loads of lilac-grey - a special color that is rare in the floral world.

Each plant requires a different technique, ranging from a delicate construction for the annual Shirley Poppies, whose wiry stems require a network of soft twine and bamboo, woven delicately through the fuzzy, thin and fleshy leaves, to the seemingly sturdy Dahlias that, with stems as fleshy and crisp as a stalk of celery, which can snap as easily as, well, a stalk of celery. Dahlias require strong stakes, 2 x 2 wood posts are best, or 1.5 inch bamboo will do the trick, and they are best if left at 6 feet tall, for in a few weeks, with the onset of hot and humid weather, a Dahlia will explode into growth, and will hide a 5-6 foot stake in no time.

Shirley Poppies, or annual Papaver rhoeas  will need staking, but individual stakes are both impractical and ugly, so I like to create a structure - fence-like, with bamboo canes, which I keep at full length, because I don't think that it looks all that bad. Sometimes, it's OK to see the structure, and with something like cut flower annual poppies, why not let the staking show proudly. I then weave twine in and out, creating a web that will hold the delicate stems.

Standard heirloom rose-flowered geraniums require strong, yet thin bamboo canes. I use raffia to tie the stems here, directly to the stake, which must be re-tied every few weeks to prevent scaring. This 19th Century method makes an ordinary geranium quite special.

Amaranth ( you know, the kind with long, red tassels known as 'Love Lies Bleeding' can be challenging to grow, with its insanely tiny seed, and utter hatred for any root disturbance, when raised well, it still will look like nothing other than a weed in the garden until hot weather arrives (around the fourth of July here). It's time to stake - but carefully, as these robust plants will form stems that can reach 2 inches in width.

'Titty Fruit' (um....yeah, that's what it's called - Google it) is an ornamental eggplant grown for it's golden yellow fruit, but the plant needs strong stakes. For now, I use thin bamboo canes, that will be hidden when the plant reaches its mature height of 30 inches.

I was delighted to see a Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) Spice Bush Swallowtail - Papilio troilus (thanks to a reader -Mike Huben -who corrected me!) The only problem? This is one of those species that just doesn't sit still for a photo, unlike it's relative the Yellow Swallowtail ( or Black Swallowtail, for that matter).  This one is visiting a Nepeta  subsessilis- I observed it only visiting this one species, yet none of the others nearby ( yet the hummingbirds prefer the N. siberica, and not this one). I wonder why? Surely, they know something that I don't.

With all of the lilies blooming, most of the Asiatics  like these don't require stakes, but the Chinese Trumpet lilies do.


  1. Nice staking lessons, I am afraid this year I was behind in the garden and too late with staking to have a nice result.

  2. Ever the pedant, it looks to me as if that might be a male Spicebush Swallowtail - Papilio troilus.


    1. Mike - you are so correct! Clearly, I am deficient probably due to skipping too many Entomology classes in college. Thanks for the correction!

  3. Hey thank you for the nice lesson! The grey papaver is very elegant, fantastic, never seen it before!
    Thank you so much for sharing.
    All my best from Austria


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