Friday, January 6, 2017

Can Shamrocks be Hoity Toity?

The flowers of Oxalis Grand Duchess versicolor
(candy cane shamrock) are tiny.
An unassuming plant with a hoity-toity name caught my eye on the Easy to Grow Bulbs shopping site.  Oxalis Grand Duchess versicolor  was a dry-looking nub of a bulb when it arrived. I planted it as indicated and waited. The wait seemed too long and I figured it was never coming up so I planted a cutting of Brazilian plume flower (Justicia carnea) in one of the small pots.
Candy cane shamrock's unsightly stems.
How the candy cane shamrock got its name.
Eventually, weedy, spindly stems emerged. By now I had an overabundance of pots in my limited space, having acquired more Pelargonium and a few other full-sized plants plus the Amaryllis bulbs. So I ended up pitching two out of three pots containing these weedy stems that had no leaves on the first 2 inches and were flopping over the sides. The one with the plume flower cutting was saved. Finally, the three remaining bulbs in the one pot bloomed. The flowers were as adorable as shown in the source's photos, providing candy cane color on both furled and unfurled blooms. But there were fewer blossoms, and they were dangling clumsily over the side of the pot. I'll keep the pot after they've finished flowering, let the foliage whither by holding back water. If they come up next year I'll give them more light and see if they provide another crop of flowers on stems less ungainly.

Oxalis adenophylla blooms in 10 weeks.
Silver shamrock, or Oxalis adenophylla really tried my patience. My first attempt to grow these little beauties was successful, providing adorable leaves in a delicate, silvery shade of green that topped stems just 2 - 3 inches tall.

I planted the tiny bulbs in mid-November, and by the end of January, I had both leaves and flowers. Silver shamrock could be grown for its leaves, but its flowers are worth waiting for. Unlike most common shamrocks, its flowers are bigger than the leaves, and painted with a thumb-smudge of pale purple at the edge of each petal.

Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' is easy to love.
The easiest shamrock to grow was one I bought already in full leaf at the Porter County Master Gardeners Gardening Show, held in late January each year. Its name is as interesting as its leaves--'Plum Crazy', a diminutive cutie with purple-pink leaves that steal the show from its ho-hum flowers.

Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' is one tough plant. After making it through the winter as a houseplant, I grew it outdoors in a planter with other residents where it held its own and spread an appreciable amount. There is nothing to worry about with this Oxalis becoming to aggressive, as it is not hardy north of Zone 8.
Oxalis Iron Cross accents this
gaudy Scadoxus flower.

Another extremely easy shamrock to grow from a bulb is Oxalis tetraphylla Iron Cross, or lucky shamrock. I planted the tubers around the outer edge of a pot that held a Scadoxus (blood lily) bulb around mid-March, and the leaves began to poke out around four weeks later.

Give Oxalis Iron Cross full sun outdoors in summer for a flower reward.
Oxalis Iron Cross hails from Mexico and enjoys a long, hot summer, which is when it puts out a succession of rose-colored flowers.

Whether you grow shamrocks for indoors or out, for their leaves or for their flowers, they're charming little bulbs to try and are more readily available than used to be.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Streptocarpus: You Can Grow That!

The Streptocarpus I ordered came in plastic shot glasses.
Happy New Year! Here is to eventually being able to call myself a neophyte in growing gesneriads. First of all, the term "neophyte" is from the Greek, meaning literally, "newly planted." What is a gesneriad? The term refers to plants like African violets, Gloxinia, and Streptocarpus among others. It's like the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals share the same division (East) within the National League team structure. (This is my contribution to the sports-themed analogies that most people seem to spout, like, "it's the size of a football field," which just means "big.")
Streptocarpus 'Bristol's Boomerang'

One of the best-known gesneriads is the African Violet (Saintpaulia), which I have been struggling to grow for awhile. Another member of the group--Episcia--has also come here to die. If you think that, just because they're in the same group they'd have the same requirements, you'd be wrong.
I finally seem to have hit upon a plant in this group that actually likes it at my house. Streptocarpus is really easy to pronounce once you know how. I think of strep throat-toe-fish-infection. (Okay, so maybe that's not the best way to remember, but maybe it will help someone.)

I ordered two from the Violet Barn, an online shop in Naples, NY that carries a nice selection of gesneriads. These two were hybridized by the shop's owners, Ralph and Olive Robinson, and are designated with the preface "Bristol." I really don't know how I was able to limit myself to just two plants--the variety is astounding!

Streptocarpus 'Bristol's Sally Mander'.
Okay, so they've only been under my care for a little over two months. But they weren't blooming when they arrived and they're blooming now and showing no signs of stopping. I left them in their little plastic shot glasses with the holes in the bottom and slipped them into small ceramic planters filled with between 1/4 to 1/2-inch of drainage material. (In this case, decorative crushed seashells.) This layer serves to keep the pot out of excess water, and brings the plant up to viewing level.

I grew them adjacent to a plant light that was about 10" above them until they started to bloom, which is when I moved them both to my office where they receive light but no direct sun. This is just temporary, a move that will allow me to give myself a pat on the back while I'm ever-so-gently tweaking their really cute little petals. As for culture, I let them get pretty dry before I water them with a dilute fertilizer for blooming plants. 

Streptocarpus 'Bristol's Boomerang' and 'Bristol's Sally Mander'.

After an hour or so of bypassing the completion of this blog, I paid $25 for a one-year membership in The Gesneriad Society, because I wanted to learn more about this fascinating group of plants.

Even if you have trouble with African Violets, give Streptocarpus a try. It's the theme du jour, kind of a post-holiday battle cry:

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Off the Rails Pierogi Recipe

I know this has nothing to do with plants, but I'd like to share the recipe and instructions for making Auntie Mary's Pierogi recipe. This is a recipe passed along several generations, culminating in this one given to my husband, Dave, from his Auntie Mary, one of the sweetest ladies I've ever met, and whose sister, Eleanor, Dave's Mom, was one of the most generous and selfless people I've ever had the pleasure to call Mom.

For those who would like to go to the trouble to make pierogi, here is Auntie Mary's recipe with instructions gleaned from the years I learned to make them with Dave, his Mother Eleanor and Dad Don. I snapped photos and wrote instructions down for a magazine in 1992, and luckily, kept a copy.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Pellies: Just Misunderstood Geraniums

Pelargonium 'Crystal Palace Gem' shows off its
central butterfly blotch
Geraniums as part of my wintertime repertoire?  Yes and no. The plants commonly referred to as geraniums have been living in our minds under assumed names. They are, and have been, correctly called Pelargoniums. I like their shortened moniker, "Pellies," and use it liberally because, let's face it, Pelargonium just doesn't trip lightly off the tongue.

Pelargonium 'Mosaic Silky' has veins to die for.
Admittedly, December isn't the best time to buy these tender beauties, especially in the Midwest. But it's a time when our outside world goes all Ansel Adams on us, and we really crave some color.

I sent for seven additional varieties from a mail order plant emporium that seems to be the most interesting game in town where pellies are concerned. has a huge selection of Pelargonium you've never heard of--which makes me want them even more.It's a huge family, consisting of varieties grown for their fancy leaves, those that look more like succulents, still others with flowers resembling Azaleas or even roses. In short, there is a pellie (or six) for every taste.

For growing indoors in winter, you can't beat the fancy leaved varieties.

Two of my latest acquisitions have a chartreuse tone going on. 'Crystal Palace Gem' is an old variety, named in the late 19th century, possibly in reference to the Crystal Palace that was built to house the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1861. And 'Mosaic Silky'? Who could ignore the lemon-yellow veins coursing along the chartreuse leaves? And although they both have respectably fancy flowers, I'm just fine without them for the time being.
Pelargonium 'Cy's Red' in November.

'Cy's Red' flowers, mid-May.
My first foray into the fascinating world of pellies was early March, when 10 varieties arrived on my icy doorstep. Well grown and well packed, they all perked up at different speeds and gave me something to look forward to, as they all were spring bloomers.

The most unusual and least attractive when not in bloom (IMHO) is 'Cy's Red', a gangly, awkward-looking plant that will stretch even further if not given adequate light. Come May, however, make sure you have it in a spot where you can appreciate the bi-colored flowers up close.

The Geranium family is huge and varied, which makes them even more fun to collect. I'll never have the time, space or money to "collect them all," but I'm pretty sure I won't get tired of them any time soon.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Keeping Weird Plants Wonderfully Alive

Scilla madierensis in January,
In case you hadn't noticed, I love (can we even say "thrive on?") trying new plants--the weirder, the better.

Late last fall I ordered six bulbs of Scilla madierensis. Five of the bulbs bloomed, which was more than I expected. They came from a place known for its wine and its weather--Madiera--a tiny archipelago consisting of four islands. The tourist attraction is part of Portugal and west of the northwest coast of Africa.
Scilla madierensis in November, 2016.

After blooming in pots through the month of January, I watered them lightly, just enough to keep their leaves growing, and put them outside for the summer. I kept their pots in sun and fed them on occasion with all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer.

I had to finally cut the foliage off the bulb in August, putting the pots under cover so they wouldn't get any water. They started sprouting in October, and finished blooming in early November.

Next spring, I'll put them outside but won't water or fertilize them at all. I think their blooms were on the small side this year, possibly because I didn't let them go dormant earlier.

Begonia 'Dotsey': one of the easiest.
Out of nearly all of the Begonias I bought last year, only two continue to grow. One happily, the other grudgingly. 'Dotsey' is a cane-type with cheery pink dots speckling its angel-wing leaves. It came to live with me in late March and remained indoors when other "houseplants" summered on the patio.

According to the Begonian (a publication of the American Begonia Society), they are called cane types because, with their straight stems and swollen nodes, they resemble bamboo.

Begonia 'Bower's Black' January, 2016.
Begonia 'Bower's Black' arrived at the end of January. By mid-February, I decided it needed a larger pot. Now, nine months later, it's still showing its resentment. It had dried out so quickly, I thought I was doing a good thing to upsize its accommodations. Wrong.

The container it's currently calling home is at least three times as large in diameter than its original pot. It's also too deep.

Begonia 'Bower's Black' November, 2016.
If this Begonia was a person, it could appear in one of those before-and-after photos showing how large its size 22 sweatpants had become.

Some plants are more forgiving than others, and I'm lucky this rhizomatous Begonia species B. bowerae has allowed me a few stumbles.

I felt vindicated about its pokey growth when I learned this particular species is recommended for fairy gardens because it's a slow grower.

No, I won't be posting the obituaries of the plants that didn't make it. I prefer to put those failures (that are in no way my fault) into the "don't ask don't tell" category.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Unusual Houseplants from Cuttings

Fuchsia 'Autumnale' rooted easily from cuttings.
Beneath the carefully-blended soil, roots of the plants I've saved for the winter are taking hold. I can tell this by their leaves, which plump up. Eventually, tiny new leaves will sprout from their stems.
Hemigraphis 'Exotica' or purple waffle plant.
We haven't had a killing frost yet. At least not one severe enough to banish the banana or kill off the Colocasia. Truthfully, things aren't looking that great as a whole, but taken a bit at a time, it's really not bad.

Phygelius 'Winchester Fanfare' was very easy to root.
Inside, nearly all of my cuttings have rooted. All that's left is to keep them thriving for the next five months, and I'll have a jump on next season. The plants I'm really excited about growing in the winter are the tropicals like Pandorea jasminoides variegata and Phygelius ‘Winchester Fanfare’. 

Pandorea, or variegated bower vine takes
longer to form roots.
The Phygelius (Cape fuchsia) bloomed quite well through the summer, luring the hummingbird away from the other goodies I had planted. Even now, the cutting shows no signs of being slowed by its flowers. I removed them, though, to make it easier on the plant as I preferred its energy be devoted to forming roots.

The Pandorea (bower vine) didn't get around to blooming this year, although it was attractive anyway with its variegated foliage. I'm hoping to give it a big headstart next summer so perhaps this 20 to 30-footer will flower.
Plants rooting under humidity dome.
I start most of my cuttings in small pots placed on some type of tray or plastic storage container that I put  on a heat mat beneath plant lights. To speed things up, I add a lid to keep the humidity in, checking each day to make sure things are going well. Each plant takes a different amount of time to root; the quickest so far have been the Pelargoniums
(annual geraniums), which can usually come out of the humidity tray set-up in less than 10 days.
Pelargonium 'Distinction' is one of several annual geraniums I'll be growing indoors this winter.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ding Dong The Blog is Back

I'm just so happy to have my blog back. Suffice it to say it had become misguided through no (or little) fault of my own, and now it's fixed, thanks to our wonderful web genius friend Scott. Thanks again Scott. 

Here's an outdoor update as of today, Oct. 21, one of the latest years of frost-free days and keeping my fingers crossed for a little more time. The banana is happy and very tall, and some of the Begonias are still pushing out blooms. I'd been sent some scented begonias to try--three each of white and red from Longfield Gardens. Although the non-white tubers produced flowers, they weren't really red. And I didn't detect a fragrance, either. I'm not saying they weren't fragrant--just that I didn't detect a scent. Their color was gorgeous though--a soft peachy coral on plenty of petals. 

Not red, but undoubtedly beautiful, this tuberous begonia is getting its second wind.
I'm including a shot of Kniphofia 'Echo Yellow' because it's blooming again--it's third production of cute lemon-yellow flowers of the season. 
Fall-blooming mums typically don't do that well for me. They grow like crazy and bloom their heads off, but loll about like drunken sailors, never seeming to be able to get their feet underneath them. I maneuvered a metal ring support around a bright yellow one, though, and they made a valiant effort. I even was able to cut a few short stems for a bouquet.

And the elephant ears are part of the ruse, pretending for all they're worth that they're in Costa Rica and this is just a "cool spell." In a week's time they'll be a mass of mushy memories, but for now, I can't keep my eyes off them.

There is nothing like a bright yellow mum to brighten a fall day.

Colocasia 'Midori Sour' shades its shorter neighbors.
In a more typical fall, Dendranthema 'Clara Curtis' would be fighting its way back up each morning after being felled by frost or even snow. It's taken me a few years to appreciate its lateness. And this year I'm bellowing its praises. It goes well with the tall Marigolds and the Coleus, and helps provide a colorful scene that will be one of the last of the season.