Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Unusual Geraniums - Pellies with Star Power

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to let you go," I told the orange Ornithogalum. "While you were really jazzy, cool and colorful when I brought you home, you're looking kind of ho-hum now next to the tulips."
The Ornithogalum as an Ingenue. 

I told the tired-looking plant I might consider keeping it around for a comeback--if I remembered to label the pot and remember where I put it. It's all about looks, after all. Talent comes into play as timing in the plant world. I wouldn't give the Ornithogalum a second glance in mid-June either, no matter how dazzling its blooms are.

And speaking of dazzlers, I wish I could recall which tulip this flamboyant wunderkind is. The show-stealer is a definite keeper. For now, anyway. What will turn this tulip into a timeless classic is its scent. A slight whiff will knock your socks off and make any encounter with it even more memorable. Oh, and there are the green streaks and elegantly-ragged petal edges, giving the flower a really classy look.

Although most of my tulips run out of steam after one or two seasons, there are hordes of varieties waiting in the wings (the wings of Holland, that is) for the next curtain call. It's hard to choose, but I always manage.

As stunning as they were when they made their floral debut, three of my Pelargoniums (pellies for short) will soon be entering re-hab. If you asked this lovely trio what it takes to look so gorgeous, they'd just giggle and blush. The truth is, it takes a toll.
Pelargonium ‘Fringed Jer’rey’ 

There is the sagging. Pellies might start out looking like model plants--all straight and elegant--but nothing lasts forever. 'Fringed Jer'rey' has an earthy style of beauty that depends on its looking fresh, with no yellowed leaves or broken stems. (Nobody wants to see Gidget in a baggy sweatshirt)

'Fringed Jer'rey' will get a new look soon, courtesy of a butch bob. Sometimes that shaggy look just gets out of hand.

Pelargonium 'Madame Layal'
She might not look it, but 'Madame Layal' has been around since the late 19th century. Upright and compact, with a face like an angel, this pellie definitely has the star power of Greta Garbo. With a rounded countenance coquettishly emphasized by a cerise flair and centered by a regally-curved stigma, it's no wonder she is regarded as an angel pelargonium.

'Pampered Lady' only looks pampered.
A relative newcomer is 'Pampered Lady', hailed as an angel type pelargonium at the turn of the century. The bottom of the flower is reminiscent of smudged raspberries outlined in the palest of pinks. At the top are undulating petals in smoldering shades of burgundy. Classy, upright, and no-nonsense, this lady could go toe-to-toe with two love interests, ala Philadelphia Story.

Author's note: These three are part of a group of 10 Pelargoniums I bought from Geraniaceae.com. The size and health of these plants are amazing, these three starting to bloom in less than a month. They were $5 each, so I ordered lots. I'd recommend this seller wholeheartedly.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bluebirds Make Garden Sing

It snowed a bit on April 8.
We wait a long time for the bright colors of spring. They come in spots--a clump here, a tuft there, a ragged, weather-worn flower you swear you never planted. It's all good. Especially coming from the ground so recently covered in snow.

My hands are strong enough for houseplants.
In preparation for doing work I ignored last season, I had carpal tunnel release surgery in both hands--the left in January, the right in March. I no longer have the tingling and numbness, but my strength isn't 100% quite yet. If I had to assign a percentage it would be perhaps 85% in the left and 50% in the right hand but improving bit by bit through exercise, ice and time.

The bottom line is this: I haven't clipped a dead stem or pulled a weed since last September. Instead of dwelling on it, I've been forced into the role of observer and houseplant hobbyist. My observer side has been rewarded with a bevy of birds that have passed through or, in the case of many, stayed to hang out in my garden.
This suet is made for bluebirds.

Birds arrive in flashes out of the corner of your eye. In the case of the Eastern bluebirds, my eye told my brain it was not a blue jay, which are pretty common in my garden.

I was so excited, I ran down the hall to get my camera and attach its long lens, grab the tripod and sneak outside for a better look.
As it turned out, the rush wasn't necessary. The pair of bluebirds were looking for food, which we'd provided by setting out some yummy suet. And it seems they've come to stay.

The male hangs out on a wire near the nesting box.
I made it more likely they would by buying a nesting box and locating it in a good spot. This was on the advice of a woman who works at the feed store I frequent. She told me she had been seeing bluebirds near her house and that she'd put up a nesting box. "I think they're building a nest inside," she said.

Operating on previous evidence that my life is a cross between a Seinfeld episode and a Dickens novel, I asked the woman a question. "Do you live near Dogwood Park?"
She looked at me somewhat suspiciously.

"Yes, I do," she admitted.

It was as I'd suspected. She lived a block away from me and we were likely both seeing the same pair of bluebirds. So the nesting box my husband installed would either be the neighbor's bluebirds second home, or there was more than two bluebirds in the neighborhood. Either way, I am happy to have the little blue guests.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Begonias Like a Bit of Tough Love

If ever there was a plant with members that prefer you take a hands-off approach, it is the Begonia. Not all of them, of course. Just the two that no longer grace my stable of houseplants. They arrived in very tiny pots in good condition considering it was November. Recommendations for Begonia masoniana 'Iron Cross' (rhizomatous) included keeping it warm (between 65 and 75 degrees F) and on the dry side.
Begonia masoniana 'Iron Cross'

Another variety called 'Plum Paisley' (Rex cultorum) also bit the dust. Its instructions included keeping the leaves dry, giving it high light and low moisture. 

Begonia 'Plum Paisley'
Both of these Begonias came from the same place and arrived on the same day. One of my first mistakes, in retrospect, was repotting them. 

The pots were so tiny, after all--barely 2" in diameter. But I remember now that a plant's roots should not be judged by its leaves or the size of the plant.

It's not that Begonias are all difficult. It's just that it's a huge family, and there are bound to be some divas in the clan.

Begonia 'Bower's Black'
I'm growing plenty of other Begonias that are amazingly easy going. 'Bower's Black', for instance, is still in the container it was in when I bought it Jan 23. This variety has become the poster plant for the rule that says you should avoid repotting most plants in the winter.

I'd put this one in the "slow grower" category along with another one called 'Black Fancy', which arrived with the two Divas listed above. 'Black Fancy' didn't seem to mind having a pot too big for its feet. Sure, I've had to be very careful not to overwater it. In fact, I pretty much ignore it.

Begonia 'Black Fancy' shares a container
with Oxalis and Paphiopedilum
Fancy-leaved Begonias play well with others, or look great by themselves. And while they do produce flowers, many are known better for their leaves. I found just the right container in which to place the tiny pot of 'Bower's Black'.

Begonia 'Black Fancy' has a completely different personality. It cries out for close friends like the nearly monotone orchid, Paphiopedalum 'Napa Valley' and Oxalis 'Plum Crazy'. This adorable shamrock look-alike has leaves nearly as dark as the Begonia's, but with lots of deep pink splotches and occasional and unnecessary bright yellow flowers. I tucked all three into a concrete planter with stones at the bottom to make sure they don't sit in water in case I get lazy and water them where they live instead of taking them each out individually.






Monday, March 28, 2016

You Can Grow That: Amaryllis Rebloom Part II

'Ruby Star' in 2015 with Oncidium.
I've been more selective about which Amaryllis bulbs to keep, especially now since the bulb world seems to have opened up. There are now some really exotic-looking varieties bred for strong stems, an increase in floral substance, size and number. Once you've walked on the exotic side with Hippeastrum (the true botanic name for these tropical bulbous plants), there is no going back to the wishy-washy-by-comparison types.

'Ruby Star' in mid-February 2016
Hippeastrum 'Ruby Star' was introduced and patented by a company in Israel called Saad Assaf Flower Bulb Nurseries under the series name Mediterranean Amaryllis. I fell in love with its photo on the Easy to Grow Bulbs website in the fall of 2014 and knew I had to have it. 'Ruby Star' first bloomed in January, 2015.
And it bloomed again in February, 2016! At this point in my Amaryllis-growing lifetime, 'Ruby Star' is probably my favorite so far. 

'Double King' March 8.
But there's another contender in the castle. Longfield Gardens sent me a bulb of Hippeastrum 'Double King' to try. It was the biggest Amaryllis bulb I've ever seen! I'm talking mushball size! I guess it had to be big to hold all of these luscious petals--two stems with four flowers on each stem and double the number of petals on each blossom! I never really liked some double flowers--it took me awhile to warm up to the tufted cone flowers, and I've yet to select a double lily. But 'Double King' is aptly named, because if you're going to go double, you'd better go king-sized. 

'Double King' in vase March 16.
I've been having fun with this Amaryllis since it began its show more than two weeks ago. Its sturdy stem looked like it would have no trouble holding up the blooms, but when it began to lean, I propped it up by putting some Bananagram tiles in the cachepot, which worked for awhile. As the second stem began to open ten days later, I cut off the first one and put it in a vase. One by one, the flowers faded, and today, I have one flower left in a little vase, and all four still blooming in another vase. 

'Double King' on right; 'Razzle Dazzle' on left.
Another Hippeastrum that took me by surprise was the baby bulb of 'Razzle Dazzle' that has grown to blooming size since I first started growing this variety in the winter of 2012. If you've read my first post on re-blooming amaryllis, you'll see I had a 'Razzle Dazzle' that bloomed earlier this year.

So when one of the dozen pots of Hippeastrum formed a bud, I was guessing it would be 'Sweet Lilian' or 'Pavlova'. I was surprised indeed when the flowers popped open and revealed themselves as another 'Razzle Dazzle'!

This is not to say I won't have any more Hippeastrum bloom this year. None of them currently are sporting buds, but that doesn't mean they won't. One of the drawbacks of growing these bulbs indoors is that they seem to bloom whenever they feel like it. Which, come to think of it, can also be an advantage.

You Can Grow That! celebrates growing, and that includes surprises. Check out some of the other awesome things other bloggers are growing for tips and inspiration.







Wednesday, February 24, 2016

You Can Grow That: Amaryllis re-bloom Part I

Year 1: Hippeastrum 'Lime Flare's first
stem's blooms.
I limited myself to just two new Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) this year, and one turned out to be a doozy. While many of the varieties I've grown have had one stem with several flowers, this one had two stems each with four flowers, providing color for the entire month of January.

Year 1: 'Amputo' is pretty but doesn't have
the impact I was hoping for.
Blooms of Hippeastrum 'Lime Flare' began to open Jan. 6, the second on the 28th. I like that in a winter-blooming plant, as at that time of year, it's all about the anticipation. I purchased the bulb from Easy to Grow Bulbs; it was just one of many Cybister amaryllis available from the southern California company.

The other one, while simple and lovely, didn't have the fragrance it advertised. I'll be donating the bulb from 'Amputo' to another gardener.

Year 4: 'Razzle Dazzle' bloomed its second and third years in
April, and now in its 4th year, mid-February.
Two more came from Edens Blooms in 2012--'Razzle Dazzle' and 'Pavlova'. The first year's blooms are always gorgeous--the bulbs have been treated just as they should by the growers. It's subsequent years that get a little dicey, and I've lost a few along the way. But starting with 'Razzle Dazzle' and 'Pavlova', it's as if I can't fail. Especially 'Pavlova', which seems to bloom no matter what I do. When it blooms is more of a mystery. 'Pavlova' is one of two double-flowered Amaryllis in my stable, and I love it. The other one, which has yet to bloom this year, is called 'Zombie' and is a bit more forward in its color.

'Pavlova' in year 2.
Year 2: 'Pavlova' sent up two flower stems
in March; in year 3, just one in early Feb., and the
following year the end of January. I see no activity
from 'Pavlova' so far this year.
Part of the mystery that runs through the Amaryllis season is that sometimes the labels get mixed up when all the pots you own are on the patio. So I got a nice surprise bloom the other day--a case of mistaken identity, which can happen when you have several. I'll post about it soon, as well as the two that are revving up to flower any time now. The identify of one of them is anyone's guess, but by process of elimination is 'Zombie', 'Pavlova', or 'Sweet Lilian'. But I'll leave that for the next post. This is my encouraging word for the latest You Can Grow That! blog.

I don't know what you spend a spare $15 on in January, but for my money, it will likely be another Amaryllis bulb I haven't tried yet. In exchange, you'll get at least two weeks worth of anticipation, fascination, and just plain enchantment, all from a brown, papery bulb. Go ahead and head over to Easy to Grow Bulbs, where they still have some available for this season.




Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Think You're An Impatient Gardener?

If you've ever wondered whether you're a patient or impatient gardener, try growing houseplants in the winter.

Even with lights on a 16 hrs on/8 hrs off timer, a heat mat, and frequent grooming and inspection, growth is painfully sluggish.

Well before the Slow Food movement, the slow houseplant crusade had already written its very own, very literal, manifesto.

Hippeastrum 'Razzle Dazzle' inspiring me in my writing room.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, I head immediately to the room where my plants are, a banquet table covered with an inexpensive plastic tablecloth beneath bars of lights strung from cords. Like my outdoor garden, it's more laboratory than it is landscaped.

The good news is that the blooming plants' flowers last a very long time. The bad news is that they seem to take forever to flower. I'm watching a slow-moving romance instead of an action flick, which I much prefer. So I've been making up for the lack of activity with the addition of new plants. When that fails, I play with my plants--which for the most part means I prune them, clean their leaves, and take their photos.

  This bulb's flower has been in a holding pattern for six weeks.
It's so embarrassed, I've had to disguise its identity.     
On ambitious days, I drag out the plant accouterments and repot them. This is a dicey operation in the middle of winter, though, because even with the lights, the roots don't grow that fast either! I'm waiting at least another month, when the days will be longer, before graduating any plant to a larger pot.

There is no doubt that the lights are encouraging my plants to remain green, perky and alive. I've set the table up against the south windows of the room, so their growth is also subject to day length.

         Episcia 'Alice's Aussie' in her plant sauna.        
Plants are grouped by light and heat requirements. And then there is height. Some pots are perched precariously on top of upside down vessels in order to keep them from becoming shaded out by their taller neighbors. Some are too tall to keep under the lights and are relegated to another room in the house.

Even more so than garden plants, houseplants are in-your-face humbling. You've let them into the house, for one thing. And there is no getting away from them. With the elaborate setup I've devised, I'd damn well better be successful. And I have been, for the most part.

So far, I've killed an Episcia, and have successfully nursed a tragic Begonia back to health. Another Begonia is still in intensive care. I've learned that some need to be left alone in order to strengthen their spindly stems. I've replaced the dead Episcia with another of a different variety called 'Alice's Aussie'.

For now, a foliage plant, I have high hopes for
Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star'
Inspiration for this exercise has been the books that display beautiful plants in imaginative and lovely containers "effortlessly" placed throughout the house in little vignettes. Two of my favorite books have been The Indestructible Houseplant, and The Unexpected Houseplant, both by Tovah Martin.

Unfortunately, this whole "houseplants as decor" thing requires clearing off a table or some other spot in the house where plants are viewed to their best advantage.
Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' looks best without the
flowers, which occasionally appear to let
me know I'm doing something right.

And here is the ugly truth--my house is a mess. Although far from being called a hoarder, I'm definitely cavalier about where and how I leave things. There are boxes on the floor with catalogs and magazines and books on top of them. A laundry basket holds clothes I washed last September and won't need again until May. They're held in place with books and then a layer of clothes I plan to take to the resale shop.

Our house is too big for us, apparently, as I only spend time in three out of the seven rooms (not counting bathrooms) that make up our 60s-era ranch. And those three rooms are heavily lived-in. I could put plants in the other four rooms, but since I don't spend time in them, there is little point.

This in-situ vignette contains Oxalis 'Plum Crazy', Paphiopedilum 'Napa Valley'
and Begonia 'Black Fancy'. 
So I'll create my vignettes in situ, occasionally bringing them into the room where I write. For inspiration, or simply to give me something to feel good about. And isn't that the basic reason for growing them?


Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Cancer Survivor's Garden Companion

I'd agreed to review this book, The Cancer Survivor's Garden Companion, before my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.

My older sister, Alice, lost her battle with the disease in 2000, and now another sister has entered the fray. So, it was from this perspective that I read Jenny Peterson's book.

The Cancer Survivor's Garden Companion is written from Peterson's point of view, as it could only have value from that perspective. She's a gardener first, and her struggle against being defined by the cancer is heart-clenching. Do any of us know if we would be able to get on with our lives while our bodies betray us? We don't unless it happens.

Alice
I thought back to Alice, as she went on with her job as a local university reference librarian, banishing the discomfort of anyone who didn't know what to say by asking how they were doing.

At the time, I was going through a stage in my life when I was between houses, and in the summer of 1999, asked if I could plant a tree I didn't want to lose in her yard until I found a permanent place for it. She agreed to host the crab apple for me.

Throughout that year, when our father died as she underwent stem cell therapy, and through the next, Alice went to work until the cancer invaded her bones and lungs.

One morning in late March, she called me, excited because she thought she could see buds on what she'd come to call "our tree." At that point, she could barely walk, and she'd been keeping an eye on the tree with the aid of binoculars. I came over on that cold morning and, along with her husband, helped her walk out to the tree. A big smile lit up her face when she saw and touched the tiny green buds. Seeing that smile was a wonderful gift. She died a couple of weeks later.

And now another sister is going through radiation--five times a week--on her lunch hour. She has a very responsible, highly-stressful job, and she also has Multiple Sclerosis. In her third week of treatment, the effects are tiring her out. But she still makes time for friends and family. And she won't miss Yoga at least twice a week. Her prognosis is good, though.

So, the take-away on Peterson's book? I'd recommend it not only for anyone with cancer, but anyone who loves someone battling the disease. The book has given me invaluable insight into what my younger sister is going through. And I wish I'd had it when Alice was going through her struggle.

With the death of a loved-one comes guilt. With Alice, I felt that I didn't spend enough time with her. It ended way too quickly. The Cancer Survivor's Garden Companion is a precious map of instructions and insights into what might be expected, what could be comforting, and how to deal with not only the physical, but the psychological effects of the disease and its treatments.

Peterson includes others' perspectives in the Survivor Spotlights. And from the practical advice about using gardening activities to stretch muscles and remain active, to practicing Yoga to help with flexibility and balance, Peterson's pages help guide us through diagnosis, treatment, and the aftermath of this terrible journey. Smoothie recipes, aromatherapy recommendations, and plant-centric distractions like photography, and putting plans to paper came to the author's rescue, and she shares these options in her book.

And finally, this book has helped me--as it would anyone who is experiencing, whether first hand or through a loved one, the ups and downs and hairpin turns that go with receiving a cancer sentence.