Monday, January 18, 2016

Beautiful Plants without the Flowers: Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Hippeastrum 'Amputo' with Scilla madierensis.
Today, it's mostly about the Begonias. Sure, I have an Amaryllis in bloom. It's one that claimed it had a fragrance, but I'm not detecting a scent. No matter--it looks somewhat like an Easter lily, so I can just imagine it smells like that.

Another plant blooming alongside it is Scilla madierensis, a purple bulb that grows spotted leaves and a great purple spike of tiny flowers. I bought it from Easy to Grow Bulbs, and it is so unlike anything I've grown indoors, it doesn't need to be fragrant.
Begonia 'Plum Paisley' planted with a Phormium.

I don't really think about whether a plant will have edible fruit, fragrant flowers, culinary parts or stems you can pick your teeth with. For me, it's all about the looks. And that's okay. Plants are among one of the kingdoms that don't get up in arms when you choose them for the way they look.

The older I get, the more I avoid buying things I can't use. That is, unless, as I go through my life, I can look at them and enjoy them every day. Plants fit that bill very nicely. And the bonus is that they're one of the original interactive devices.

You can combine a plant with another plant and see how they get along. Snip off a branch or pinch a tip, and in just a few weeks you can see it react.

Begonia pustulata is a species from Mexico.

Feed it, give it extra light, warmth, humidity, and the rewards just keep coming.

Begonia 'Jabberwocky'
My Begonias are new this year, along with my lights, and I may be in love with a new genus. As soon as we get beyond this latest round of frigid temps, I'm pretty sure I'll be drawn back to the sources I've discovered that ship even in winter.

Begonia 'River Nile' has become one of
my favorites. I've had it for two years or so.
My new favorite of the week, ordered from The Violet Barn, is called 'Jabberwocky'. Just the name made me take a second look. Who cares if it blooms, with leaves like these? From the information I found, this cultivar was hybridized by Logee's.

Another great source for Begonias is Josh's Frogs. This site was lots of fun to look at--first for its frogs, and then, as I was about to click away, I realized they sell plants, too. This Michigan company is well worth checking into for a good supply of plants that frogs like to hang out in.

While my light system definitely has improved the chances of any winter-blooming plant to actually flower, they've also helped the flower stems remain compact.

As for the Begonias, they can be grown indoors without additional lighting, but the colors brought out by the lights sure make them prettier.

If you'd like to see what other plant-lovers are growing - even in the dead of winter, check out May Dreams Gardens, where a world called Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is going on. It occurs on the 15th of each month. Yes, I'm a little late, but anyone who understands plants knows you can't hurry beauty.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Change Outdoor Plants into Houseplants

Bay indoors
Like pathetic little strays, a few of my best-performing plants wormed their way into the indoor world. When I saw a spindly, barely-alive specimen of bay at a fellow gardener's house, I decided mine must be rewarded for just growing during the summer. It's a pretty happy plant now in my window.

And when  Calceolaria integrifolia 'Kentish Hero' failed to thrive throughout the summer, I gave him a second chance as a houseplant. I'd ordered this tender perennial from Flowers by the Sea to go with some Salvia.

Calceolaria integrifolia 'Kentish Hero' 
It took awhile to grow roots, but with some bottom heat and humidity, it's finally putting out new growth. Starting plants from cuttings requires a little patience plus the ability to know when to give that one up and move onto the next. If you haven't been successful, it's best to remove the soil from the pot and wash it out well before starting with fresh mix.
Plectranthus 'Cerveza 'n Lime'
As for Plectranthus 'Cerveza 'n Lime', it's such a cutie I couldn't bear leaving it to die so I potted up a cutting.

Plectranthus is one of the easiest plants to grow from a cutting. I just made sure there was one place on the stem where the leaves grow (called a node), after removing leaves, in the soil. There is a great guide to New Plants From Cuttings from Purdue Cooperative Extension that illustrates this.

Pelargonium 'Lotusland' as a houseplant.
Another little refugee from my outdoor containers is Pelargonium 'Lotusland'. It's leaves lose their burgundy centers in winter, but it's still pretty. It will hold its own as a houseplant until it can get back to its new spot in the spring.
Pelartonium Stellar 'Lotusland' in summer.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Peonies in May: A Springtime Flashback'

'Do Tell' is a Japanese style peony with a light fragrance. This bloom is from its second year in the garden. I cut it with a 4-inch stem so its energy could go toward root growth.

'Princess Chiffon' is a tree peony I like more with each passing year.
This is from year five.
It's great to be able to look back at photos taken the previous year. All of these flowers were blooming in May, 2015. I love to compare bloom dates from year to year, especially in the winter when there is not much color in the garden.
Magnolia 'Pink Charm' goes great with peonies.

Peony-shaded tulips

Geum 'Cosmopolitan'

Tree peony 'Calypso' looks great in its fourth year after planting.

Peony 'Roselette's Child' took a few years to get established. It's a floppy plant
even though the flowers are single.

'Al's Choice', my first intersectional peony and still one of my favorites. It came a bit on the early side in 2015.

'Ariadne', a tree peony that's just magical.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Having a Blast with SunBlaster Plant Lights

It's like spring again in January. Thanks to my plant lights, I wake up each morning to see if I can detect new growth from the last time I checked, about 14 hours earlier.

For one thing, grow lights are more accessible and less expensive. I have a set-up devised by a Canadian company called SunBlaster Lighting, which I discovered at Chesterton Feed and Garden Center.

I positioned my three-light Sunblaster combinations
at two heights, depending on plant height
and light requirements.
I purchased components a few at a time, so the eventual cost for two fixture combinations was spread over a few paychecks. Based on the size of the banquet table I was going to use for my plants, I opted for the 24-inch lights (the Sunblaster 904296 NanoTech T5 High Output Fixture Reflector Combo, 2-feet), three per fixture connected by Sunblaster light strip hangers, which hold up to seven lights per set of two. The total cost for my set-up, for six lights plus reflectors and two light strips was around $280, which less than what I spend each year on plants and tools for my outdoor garden.

The clips that come with the light strip hangers make it easy to adjust everything.
While my houseplants don't erupt into bloom each day, they actually grow, as opposed to what they were doing when left to fend for themselves with the light that came through the window. While I can't say what the best distance from the light or the ideal amount of time the lights are on for each plant, I hope to figure that out by the end of the winter. For now, I'm just happy to have color in the house and plants to play with for the next four months.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It's Time to Give Plants Some Faux Sunshine

The Gardenia just keeps flowering despite my treatment.
I don't know why I didn't do this years ago. But now, I no longer have to watch my plants succumbing to a slow death all winter long. Or at least that's the plan.

I bought four Sun Blaster bulbs to put in some track lighting in the room at the back of the house (for lack of anything else to call it). The room has high ceilings and a concrete floor, and it's where the huge planters live in the wintertime.

Swallowtail butterflies
love Murraya.
As soon as we installed just two lights, the Gardenia perked up. (Yes, the same one I tried to kill.) It now has three open blooms, seven buds in various sizes, and three flowers that I cut to enjoy in other parts of the house.

The lights run just $7.99 apiece and screw into regular-sized sockets ala track lighting.

I'd wanted to keep the Murraya paniculata in the sunroom, but it will, I think, do better in with the big guys.

Murraya blooms outdoors in summer.
The Murraya, or orange jessamine, was given up by my cousin who had no room for it. Her husband had bought the specimen--a mature plant trained as a standard--for her as a gift but she had no place to put it, so she gave it to me. (for which I'm eternally grateful) I couldn't think of a more perfect guest, which is still how I think of the plant, and how I treat it.

The Murraya transmogrifies itself into the most beautifully-scented plant in my garden at least twice per season. Its flowers arrive in clusters at the end of the branches. They're nothing fancy, but when you carry a fragrance like orange blossoms, you don't have to be visually impressive. During the winter, if it's happy, it will bloom just enough to remind me it's there.

A happy clutch of bloomers preen beneath the plant lights.
And that's the thing about plants growing indoors. In order to keep the bugs and diseases away, they have to be kept happy. A healthy plant is much more able to fend off the evil spoilers like fungus gnats (more an irritant than anything), spider mites and aphids, just to name some of the more common suspects.

The lights will certainly have a good influence on the refugees from the winter. I won't have to listen to their leaves drop or face the sticky substance left by so many aphids by mid-February. At least I hope not. It might be too early to tell, but I'm optimistic enough to feed them with a blooming fertilizer.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Don't Forget to Plant Indoor Bulbs

The paperwhites (6 of a variety called 'Nir') have all been planted--five in pots and one in a bulb vase, while the Hippeastrum sits idle while it forms roots before pushing out growth.
A paperwhite called 'Wintersun'.
Winter won't get the best of me this time. I'm in quick harvest mode, ordering plants and bulbs to ship before the temps really drop. I have a new Amaryllis and a few paperwhites going so far. The Amaryllis (more correctly, Hippeastrum) hasn't shown signs of growth so far, but I just planted it last week, and it's said to take 8 to 10 weeks to bloom. So the earliest would be December 30, the latest January 13.

I chose this particular Hippeastrum, not for its color, or even for its size. This particular variety, 'Amputo', is said to be fragrant. Besides our need to see growing, living things inside when it's so grey outside, we also crave the scent. Did you know that our scent memories are much stronger than sight and sound recollections? I can still remember the smell of ether from when I had my tonsils out when I was seven. And I certainly link the scent of peonies with their silky feel against my face as my Grandma shows me her prized plants.

This paperwhite is called 'Nir'.
So I've added the paperwhites, even though I remember thinking they were too strong. What I don't remember is when or where I smelled them and made that mental pronouncement. I also ordered some paperwhites that are reportedly less fragrant than the typical varieties. Narcissus 'Winterersun' is said to have a very, very light scent. I haven't gotten them yet and have six of the variety called 'Nir' growing already. 

Narcissus 'Nir' is said to have the classic, musky scent typical to paperwhites. I found a page on the Easy to Grow Bulbs website where comparisons of scent, longevity of bloom and ultimate height are included.

But the paperwhites and Amaryllis aren't the only fragrant plants I'm growing. Somehow I stumbled upon a spiky flower from Madiera with otherworldly blue, fragrant blossoms. I won't even mention their name as I don't have them in hand yet. More later on this really, really cool bulb.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Who Wouldn't Want Indestructible Houseplants?

Tovah Martin's The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow, has something for everyone from neophytes to long-time houseplant addicts.

Houseplants were my gateway intro to gardening. I was 19, and wanted something to take pride in because I couldn't afford furniture. It was all I was able to nurture, as my landlady wouldn't allow pets.

Martin certainly has the chops to write about houseplants. She honed her skills at Logee's Plants for Home and Garden, a name known to anyone who has coveted something unusual in a pot. As one-time family member, for 25 years, she nurtured and toyed with species often made available for the first time to plant-lovers up and down the East Coast.

My mini orchid has no need for staging.
I couldn't help but imagine the plants she doesn't mention in her latest book, but for now, I'll confine myself to the indestructibles. In Martin's book, it's partly about making the typical grocery store species look great when staged in an interesting manner.
Sanseveria (mother in-law's tongue) is elevated to structural element in a squared-off urn. Even the ubiquitous ivy is made to look more stately as a topiary in a stark white vessel, and she's planted a simple fern in a funnel tilted into a container to catch the drips.

I found a pretty pot for this unnamed Begonia. 
Some of the best places to find containers for houseplants are resale shops and garage sales. But the really cool ones were likely not meant to hold plants, as evidenced in Martin's photos. Re-purposed colanders, umbrella stands and enamel roasters shine a new light on plants that would blend into the background otherwise.

Martin opened my eyes to the new hybrids of old favorites. A spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) named 'Bonnie', has extra twisted leaves.  Dracaena 'Lemon Lime' offers a new twist to an old-fashioned plant, with chartreuse and lemon stripes to brighten up the solid green. These are not your '70s houseplants.

I also credit Martin with putting part of a box of old dishes to work as drip-catchers under my pots. I kept meaning to haul the box off to the resale shop, but the load is lighter now, thanks to this tip. And they're much prettier than the Frisbees I'd been using. I even found a use for the "family heirloom turkey platter" to keep an outdoor basket of succulents from oozing over the dining room table.

The turkey platter put to good use.
I'm not certain my in-laws would approve of using the platter in this manner, but the basket of Sedum, Aeonium and Kalanchoe does a great job of hiding the turkey. And although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I believe the platter looks better with plants on it.

Bottom line on The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow: A mini-bible on common houseplants used in uncommon ways that includes lots of tips and recommendations from a writer with scads of experience and an artistic eye for combining and using plants to their fullest potential.