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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How (not) To Water Plants

Baskets of plants and the Enkianthus in May.
All told the summer has been pretty good albeit hotter than an Equatorial greenhouse. African bulbs mostly bloomed due to the lengthy spurts of heat, and the Colocasias zoomed into hugeness where they remain for now until the frost deflates their oversized leaves.

Each year is a learning experience, and my goal is to never repeat what's past. Not because the present year was so horrible, just because I always make different plans for the one coming up. I'll continue with the bulbs, but will plant more flowers for cutting next season, including Zinnias.

The beautiful white tuberous begonia.
I was unwittingly thrust into a trial setting this summer--one that tested some of my plants' responses to being watered by softened water. For four months. Here's how it happened:

In late April, when Dave went to connect the hose to the spigot in front of the house, it broke off in his hand. Our house rests on top of a crawl space, which I've heard isn't that bad as crawl spaces go because it's at least partially floored in cement. Dave had just spent some time down there to repair a leaky pipe. He had to because we had no water.
The Mednilla myriantha was looking perky
in early July. 

"I was just down there," he said as he led a hose from the spigot in the garage, under the garage door to the outside. The hose, a bright blue one, was saved from crushing by his clever positioning of a length of wood to prop up the garage door. The blue hose snaked along the front porch steps to the little patio beneath the pergola in the front of the house. "This is just temporary."

I won't go into the number of unfinished projects that fall under the "this is just temporary" category, but the list is a long one. Anyway, fast forward to hot and dry in late July, when we made liberal use of any hose we could lay our hands on to water everything from pots to in-ground plantings.

The Pseuderanthemum laxiflorum 'Amethyst Stars' did well.
Then one day, Dave tells me there must be something wrong with the water softener. "I've added six bags of salt in a week," he carped. "Can you call the guy out?"

We rent our water softener to assure the heavy mineral content in the water from our well doesn't destroy our pipes and appliances. The pellets we use are made up of 99.8% pure salt. I got around to calling the technician around mid-August. He pressed some buttons on the unit and announced, "You've been using as much water as a family of seven."

I was flabbergasted, as there are just the two of us, which I told him. He pressed more buttons and showed me the past month's usage, which was around 20,000 gallons. He spied the hose snaking into the garage and ending at the spigot near the water softener. "Where is that hose going," he asked.

"It's for watering the plants," I told him.

He told me to watch the dial on the softener as he walked outside and turned on the nozzle. The penny dropped when I saw the gauge registering usage. The spigot we thought was not connected to the softener IS connected to the softener. We were watering our garden during the hottest, driest days of summer with 99.8 percent saltwater. I had been mixing plant food with it to water the numerous pots in the front, and overhead watering everything from the Metasequoia and weeping Katsura to the Hydrangeas, peonies and much, much more.
The Enkianthus in late September.

It's hard to tell yet if these sprinklings will have any long term effect on the plants in the ground. But the bottom line on some of the containers is more apparent. The most obvious symptoms I noticed was a general "failure to thrive."

The Enkianthus doesn't like heat, and the briny water didn't help it any. The Begonias seemed to take it hard, especially compared with those in the backyard that were watered with unsoftened water.
Begonias watered with softened water were chlorotic and none too pretty.

Begonias watered with unsoftened water were in better condition in general.
The thing with using softened water in your garden is that the salt is absorbed by the soil. It eventually can leach out through rainfall, but it has been shown to compact soil, especially those consisting mainly of clay. It also prevents plants' roots from taking up needed nutrients. I'm hoping for the best and am watching the many plants treated with softened water. Time will tell. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to call a plumber.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Living and Lively Sculptures Grace Atlanta Botanical Garden

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is hosting a display of works by Seattle artist Dale Chihuly through October 30, and the double-wow vignette you shouldn't miss involves several of the glass pieces placed near a permanent live sculpture. The sculpture, brought to life with plants, is called the "Earth Goddess." It was created by Mosaiculture International for a two-year exhibit (from 2012-14) called Imaginary Worlds at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
The Earth Goddess is highlighted by glass works by artist Dale Chihuly.
Trumpet Flower Arbor
"In winter, the Earth Goddess is stripped of the annuals covering her, and she is covered in blue and white lights to become the Ice Goddess in our holiday light show," said Danny Flanders, Public Relations & Marketing Manager for Atlantic Botanical Garden. "Then the next spring, she is covered again with the planting medium and replanted with annuals."

A Trumpet Flower Arbor dangles from a circular metal structure built over a path to the Children's garden. It's the biggest departure from the artist's other works in the garden and was created in 1997.

I almost missed it, hidden in plain sight right above our heads. As much as Chihuly's art could possibly blend into the backdrop, I imagine Trumpet Flower Arbor is amazing when the sun is directly overhead.

Caramel and Red Fiori
One of my favorites, and an installation that refuses to be ignored, is Caramel and Red Fiori, consisting of upwardly undulating glass spikes. Each piece falls in a loose line among the garden beds surrounding the Great Lawn outside the conservatory.

Green Hornets and Water Drops
with Neomydium Reeds.
"Green Hornets and Water Drops" reminded me of Christmas ornaments, but the Neomydium Reeds just reminded me how great purple looks in a garden.

I'm sorry to say I didn't have much time to spend in the garden. It's only 30 acres--small by American public gardens' standards--but an hour and a half was definitely not enough.

I was ecstatic to stumble upon a dog made of grasses. The Shaggy Dog, which was part of the Imaginary Worlds exhibit, found a home in Atlanta when International Mosaiculture donated him to honor the garden's volunteers. According to Flanders, the volunteers planned to raise the necessary funds to "adopt" Shaggy because they'd grown so fond of him. I have too.

The Shaggy dog by Mosaiculture International.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Hummingbird Haven: You Can Grow That!

Who doesn't like hummingbirds? I can't get enough of them, with their unmistakable cackling buzz startles me every time I hear it.

It's a sign they're closing in on a nearby plant. I like to make sure I have a regular hummer smorgasbord so that they'll put my garden on their flight path.

According to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, hummingbirds are territorial. I actually knew that, and have seen two hummingbirds in my garden chasing each other around. But it's hard to consider something that weighs less than a nickel threatening.

Hummingbird love affair with Cuphea 'Vermillionaire.
The hummingbird "meat and potatoes" plant seems to be Cuphea 'Vermillionaire,' an unobtrusive tropical that asks for little in fertilizer or water. I actually wintered the plant over in the mudroom, which gets little light but seldom falls below 50 degrees F.

I have a plastic-coated metal panel as a support for my Monarda. Its horizontal wire has done double-duty as a perch for the hummingbirds. As I watched the two birds, I'd see one sitting on the wire near the Monarda while the other plied its favorite flowers for nectar.

The feeding bird must have kept his nemesis in view, because whenever the bird left his perch and headed for the flowers, a major set-to took place between the two aerialists.

Pentas is popular with hummingbirds, too.
I'm pretty sure I planted enough for everybody, but hummingbirds don't see it that way. It takes a lot of energy for these little guys to survive. They track nectar sources with even more determination than a sugar junkie prowls the cookie aisle at the supermarket.

I grow Pentas and Salvia, which seem to be special treats for the birds.
Agastache 'Blue Blazes' cavorts with Salvia 'Amistad'. 
Salvia 'Windwalker' is just getting started.
This year I added a few Agastaches, one of which hasn't stopped blooming since I planted it. Agastache 'Blue Blazes' looks great with Salvia 'Amistad', and the hummingbirds love it!

Salvia 'Windwalker' is new for me. I brought two plants home from Groovy Plants Ranch in Marengo, Ohio. 'Windwalker' is a cross between Salvia darcyi (Mexican sage) and S. microphylla (mountain sage). I planted them in May and they're just now ramping up for what I think will be a major bloom after flowering a little weakly through most of the summer. It is rated as hardy to Zone 5.

I've never used a hummingbird feeder. I guess I know myself well enough to realize I would be too lazy to clean it out every few days or even more often on really hot days. It's good to know hummingbirds don't turn up their cute little noses at actual plants in favor of plastic guides to sugar water.

So if you'd like to invite hummingbirds to your garden in a more natural and colorful way, know Salvia is easy and...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Plants That Thrive in a Zone 6 Jungle

Who would have thought the jungle weather would have continued so long? Out of the 30 days between July 16 and August 15, half (15) have reached 87 degrees or higher. Last year during the same time, there were eight days that reached 87 degrees or higher, and in 2014, there were only two days that hit the 87 degree mark.

During this time in my garden, some plants have been thriving, building up to blooming, or in general holding their own. Here are a few that have been thriving.

On July 27, the Pentas 'Graffiti Red Lace' was covered in blooms.
Jasminum floribundum
Plectranthus 'Golden Variegated' in shade.
Pelargonium 'Friesdorf' in partial shade.
A sampling of Eucomis, Tulbaghia, Eucalyptus, and Anigozanthus picked for a vase August 7.