Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Case of Mistaken Identity: Who's to Blame?

It can happen to anyone. You buy a plant, thinking you're getting one thing, only to find out later it wasn't what you thought it was.  Sometimes it's the bloom color that's a dead giveaway, and sometimes it's something else. I shop in all different places for my plants - Lowe's, Meijer, local and non-local IGCs, Walmart, and mail order nurseries. I've had this happen at least once with every one of them.

The latest incident happened just today. I stopped at Lowe's on my way home from babysitting for our adorable grandson, Anthony, to pick up a roll of landscape fabric.  We're redoing a stone path that has sunken down over the years and Romie wanted to put this under the gravel.

As I walked into the garden center, a red yarrow caught my eye.  I have been wanting a red one and I thought I'd get either 'Paprika' or 'Strawberry Seduction'.  I'd only seen 'Strawberry Seduction' in one place (a local IGC), but it was pretty small and I wanted a bigger pot. I'd had 'Paprika' several years ago and I liked it, but it somehow got destroyed by one project or another.

What I saw at Lowe's were two different yarrows:  Achillea millefolium 'New Vintage Red' and Achillea millefolium Song Siren 'Layla'.  The only difference I could see in the two was that 'Layla' was just a tad bit more true red and slightly shorter.  I doubt that most shoppers would even notice the difference as they were placed in the same location, mixed up together.

Does this look like violet to you?

'Layla' looked more like the shade of red I wanted, but the tag said its bloom was violet.  It sure didn't look violet to me, and when I asked the young man who checked me out what color he thought it was, he said, "Scarlet."  Precisely.  I bought three of them.

After I got home I planted them up and as I pushed them out of their black plastic nursery potS, I noticed the stickerS on each one said ACHILLEA SONG SIREN LAURA. 


Which is it?

I went ahead and planted them at the back of the fence, thinking these were going to be 20-22" tall at maturity.  After all, that's what the tag said they would be. I mulled around in my mind what might be the explanation for the discrepancy in the labeling - typo, wrong tag, wrong label on the pot itself...

When I got back in the house, I did a Google search to see if there was indeed an Achillea Song Siren 'Laura'.  Yup.  And guess what color 'Laura' is.  RED.  'Laura' also only has a height of 14-16".  So...good news on the color issue and bad news on the height.  I need to move it. I have a second spot where it will look nice, in front of the Sunjoy® Gold Pillar barberries, so tomorrow I'll put them there.

Now my questions are:

  • Who is responsible for the mislabeling? The grower? (In this case, Corso's.)  Lowe's?  
  • Who puts the removable tag into the pots before they're put on the retail benches for sale?  
  • Do I let Lowe's know that all their  Achillea millefolium Song Siren 'Layla' plants are actually 'Laura'?

So many questions...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Something Old, Something New, Shovels For Me, A Review For You

We've had this shovel for nearly 40 years.
When my husband and I first were married, we started accumulating things that one needs when setting up a proper household. A key to the front door.  A large garbage can.  A shovel.  The shovel wasn't on my list of necessary things, because my husband was the gardener of the family back then.

As is the case with many couples starting out, not everything you get is brand new. Family members are happy to hand down those things that they have to spare, and our first shovel came from my parents. (I think. It's hard to remember details that are 39 years old.) That shovel has gotten a lot of years of use and it shows it. But it still works, even if the tip is a little worn.

Times change though, and we now both know that a shovel is a necessary member in the tool shed.  I'm just as likely to use one as Romie.

So when Ames Tools contacted me earlier this year to see if I might be interested in learning more about their products, I thought about shovels. We sure could use a new one and they were happy to send a couple of them out for us to try.  In fact, I got to take a trip to Camp Hill, Penn., in April to actually see their shovels and other tools being made.

That's a story for another day, but let me just say this - I love this company. They've got an incredible history. Their tools "built America," and that's no kidding.  Ames was a company before the United States was the United States. Established in 1774, they're still going strong today.  That speaks volumes, doesn't it?

These are just a very few of the tools that the Ames company makes.

But about those shovels...

Ames Tools makes more shovels (and other tools) than you can imagine. Round point shovels, border spades, transfer shovels, floral shovels, drain spades, snow shovels, even a rice shovel. Not only that, they make them in varying levels of quality.  That's not to say they aren't all great shovels, but it depends on how much you're going to use it and how much you want to spend. Ames has a shovel for every use and budget.

Jim Maffei, Director of Marketing and
New Product Development at Ames
We wanted a good basic digging shovel and we needed something that would handle our clay soil as well as our old one shown above did.  Remember that shovel (not an Ames) with the zig-zag cutting edge that came out a few years ago?  We broke it. We broke the BLADE. That's how tough our soil can be.

As I looked through the Ames catalog, trying to figure out which shovel would work best for us, I got it narrowed down to four different ones, but I was still indecisive about whether I wanted the ash-handled round point, or the heavy duty professional fiberglass one. I needed help choosing.

So, I got on the phone one day with Jim Maffei, Director of Marketing and New Product Development for Ames, and we talked shovels. Since Ames was sending me the shovel(s) of my choice, cost wasn't really a factor for me. But there are all kinds of things that enter into why people choose the shovels they do and at first, I didn't choose one based solely on function.

I decided it was either going to be the Ames Long Wood Handle Round Point Shovel or the Razor-back Long Handle Super Socket Round Point Shovel. Razor-back is one of the professional lines of tools that Ames manufactures and they're now making these available to the general public, for those who want something a little heavier duty.

While this has nothing to do with function, I like my tools to look attractive.  The modern vintage look of the Ames wooden-handled shovel appealed to me a great deal, as well as the fact that it's made entirely in the U.S.  On the other hand, the Razor-back's signature color is red. I'll choose red for just about anything.

But it doesn't really matter how a shovel looks if doesn't perform well.  So my husband and I put both shovels to the test. We had several garden tasks this spring that were good for giving both shovels a workout.  We needed to remove shrubs, plant a tree, and of course, plant new perennials.You can use pretty much any shovel to plant most perennials, but when it comes to digging a hole to plant a tree or shrub and especially when you're removing either of these, you need something that's tough enough for the job.

Here's what I thought about each of these shovels:

 Ames Long Wood Handle Round Point Shovel

  • I loved the feel of the wooden handle (ash) and I felt like it had some flex to it, but when I applied some pretty heavy leverage, I heard a crack. Nothing appeared to be broken though and I kept on using it quite a bit after that. Minor creaking sounds, but no problems. 
  • The step feature on this shovel is sufficient for really standing on it to get more power behind your digging. I don't think I'd buy a shovel without the step for the kind of digging we do around here. (I like to jump on my shovels. Clay, you know.)
  • The grip is a bit cushioned and I like the feel of it.  It also helps prevent a gloved hand from slipping.
  • 60.5" long, weighs about 4.5 pounds.
  • Nice weight - not too heavy and not too light.
  • It's got an attractive modern retro look to it, as do other tools in this line.
  • Has a 15-year warranty.  
  • $14.97 at Home Depot.


Razor-back Long Handle Super Socket Round Point Shovel

  • This one has a fiberglass handle and I expected that to make it a little more lightweight, but it was just the opposite. The tempered steel blade is a bit heavier, so that contributes to the extra weight. It wasn't so much heavier though that I would prefer the other shovel because of it.
  • The step on this shovel is wider and since there are times when I use both feet at once when putting my weight into digging, I'd choose the wider step.
  • This one also has a comfortable grip.
  • 62.25" long, weighs about 5.25 pounds.
  • Has the feel of a heavy duty tool that it is.
  • Has a lifetime warranty.
  • $25.97 at Home Depot.

So which shovel did I like better? That's really a hard choice to make. They both work well, and I don't think you could go wrong with either one. The only difference might be that over time, with use factors being equal, the Razor-back could hold up better and/or longer. Both wood and fiberglass can break, although the fiberglass is less likely to do so. And while I really like the wooden-handled Ames shovel a lot, if I absolutely were forced to choose, I'd have to pick the Razor-back. It just feels like a better shovel and I had a little more confidence in it when I was applying leverage. I would have no problem paying the extra eleven dollars for the Razor-back.
Interestingly, as I got ready to do my review, I looked a little closer at Old Faithful and what do you know...


I sent these photos to Ames to see if they could determine a general time period for when this shovel might have been made. Here was their response:

“The solid socket Featherlite shovels with the shock bands were made in Parkersburg, WV, during the '60s to mid-'70s.  We discontinued shock band production and use.” - Dave Combs, a 30+ year employee of Ames
That fit, since Romie and I got married in 1975. We also have an old drain spade that's made by TrueTemper (a division of Ames) that they identified as being about that age, too.

It seems that we've always been an Ames family.  :-)

Ames Tools sent both shovels to me free of charge so that I could try them out and compare the two of them. I have shared my experience and given my honest opinion of them. No monetary compensation has been given to me for the purposes of reviewing these products.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Gutter Planter Redux - Succulent Style!

Last year, I enlisted the help of my husband and friend Julie to create a gutter planter for my monthly project as a Lowe's Creative Ideas Garden Team member.  Once it was constructed, I planted it up with an assortment of annuals and perennials and just for fun, threw in a few glass watering balls that had gotten their bottoms broken off.

Angled gutter planter - Summer 2013

As the summer wore on, the planter, which was located on the hot south side of our house, demanded that I pay pretty close attention to keeping it watered.  Because there's not a whole lot of room for potting soil, there isn't a lot of leeway or forgiveness on the watering issue.

So this year, I decided to try something else. What kind of plants do well in hot, sunny locations that take a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to watering? SUCCULENTS!  So, with the help of Costa Farms, North America's largest houseplant grower and wholesaler, who sent an assortment to me, I planted that baby up with a bunch of cool succulents.

I added in some hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.) that I already had in my garden, that I'd received from Forever and Ever Plants two years ago. One is 'Red Heart' (seen on the lower right in the photo above) and I've lost the tag for the orangey one.

I also used some of the succulents from Costa Farms in the ground, below the planter, as a tie-in.  Since there are some hardy mums growing here too, I've made sure that the soil drains well, because mums won't survive our cold, wet winters here if I don't amend the native clay soil.  Succulents should do just fine.

It's been a couple of weeks now and we've had a few heavy rains, but the drainage holes in the bottom of the planters allow for excess water to drain away and everything looks just as good or better than it did the day I planted it.  I think this planter will be filled with succulents every year now.  When the danger of frost arrives later this year, I'll pot up the tender succulents and put them in the greenhouse for the winter.

 I just love how this looks!

You can find out how we constructed the planter in my original post, "A Different Angle on Vertical Gardening."

Thank you to Garden Media Group for arranging to have the succulents sent from Costa Farms.  Thank you, Costa Farms, for your generosity and help with this project!

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