Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tropical Clover Blooms with Blood Lily

They're unassuming little bulbs. Tiny, gnarly, and brown, but with lots of potential. Oxalis deppei, also known as Iron Cross, is one of the easiest pot plants I know of. I ordered 15 bulbs from Easy to Grow Bulbs, and planted a few with a pot of recalcitrant Scadoxus multiflorus. Commonly known as "blood lily," Scadoxus is a South African bulb that has been growing and increasing in size since I got it four years ago. It's never bloomed, however.

I searched for information about planting and getting this bulb to grow, and discovered conflicting recommendations about how deep to plant them--either with the tips of the bulb showing above the soil level, or buried at least two inches. I split the difference and just barely covered the tips of the bulbs.

Healthy leaves of Scadoxus multiflorus last Sept.
I rounded up all of the bulbs (they'd increased quite nicely), planted them in two separate pots (one plastic, the other clay) and kept them indoors under strict moisture-limited protocol.

This spring, when I still didn't see any activity, I hedged my bets and planted some of the Oxalis bulbs in the plastic pot, figuring I'll at least have a pot of pretty leaves. The other Scadoxus pot I left alone.

I also planted a few Oxalis bulbs in a pot with Eucomis (pineapple lily) bulbs, just to see what would happen.

Scadoxus rises above the Oxalis leaves and flowers.
Just the other day, I was looking at what I'd come to think of as a pot of Oxalis with pretty leaves and cute little pink flowers, and I was surprised by the Scadoxus flower bud pushing up through the leaves. I searched through the thin stems of the Oxalis and found two more Scadoxus stems!

Meanwhile, the other pot of Scadoxus seemed poised to do something, but at a sloth-like speed. What I determined was that Scadoxus prefers some type of shade on its bulbs before it starts to grow. Alternatively, it was the additional care and water necessitated by the planting of the Oxalis bulbs that encouraged the Scadoxus to grow.

I don't know if it will make a difference at this point, but I planted a Pelargonium and some hens and chicks in the clay pot with the slow Scadoxus. The upside to this exercise is that, if the slow pot blooms I'll have flowers all summer.

Eucomis autumnalis
As it turned out with the Eucomis-Oxalis combo, the Eucomis autumnalis seem somewhat stunted. It was surprising, because the Eucomis seemed to be growing quite well until the Oxalis ran it over.

Next time, I'll either plant fewer Oxalis bulbs or leave the Eucomis to its own devices.

Oxalis bulbs begin to sprout in pot of Eucomis autumnalis (pineapple lily)
Eucomis autumnalis barely grows above the fray of clover-like leaves.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Peonies Blooming Now

Intersectional peony 'Yellow Doodle Dandy'
 It's going quickly. It always does, although I'd not have it any other way. If my peonies bloomed all summer, they'd eventually seem very commonplace.

Intersectional peony 'Al's Choice'
Peonies are romantic, magical, and vary year by year, sometimes day by day. 'Yellow Doodle Dandy' is a deeper yellow than 'Al's Choice'. Both intersectional peonies (cross between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies), they both stand out in a field crowded by varying shades of pink.
One variety I always look forward to is 'White Cap', a raspberry-colored flower with a nearly pure white tufted center. 'White Cap' is my most fragrant peony.

'Martha' has an unusual open-faced form that remind me of dancing pink donuts.

'Green Halo' is a green and white frilly peony with seemingly more nectar than usual, based on
its ant population. The third season in my garden, it's somewhat slow to establish.
I love 'Dayton' for its pinked petal edges that are slightly paler than the interior color. 

'Madame Ducel' never disappoints with its packed and curly petals in party dress pink.

'Philomele' is a very old variety with an occasional red streak in the middle of cream center petals.
This Japanese form peony also is fragrant.

'Tom Cat' is a cheeky variety with curly, swirly confetti petals of cream and neon pink.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Plant Variety Keeps Garden Interesting

It's hard to stay focused this time of year. Especially when there are tasks that you can't do yourself. But today, my minion-by-marriage dug up three good-sized shrubs so that I could plant two more shrubs in their place. Why did I want the three shrubs gone? In a word, "Meh." I'd grown tired of them.

I met a gardener who follows a self-written guideline: Plant For a Purpose. She gardens to feed pollinators and butterflies. If I had a guideline it would be Plant Variety. (I could say Plant Diversity, but I think the term is as overused as "sustainable.") I suppose you could say I have as much genetic variety as a United Nations luncheon.
Peonies from Asia and Europe contributed to
this hybrid, 'Coral Sunset'.

That variety surprised me the other day when a hummingbird stopped in for a nectar sweep over some tight peony buds. Who says the only flowers visited by hummingbirds are deep-throated bell-shaped affairs? With so many types of plants, there is something for every creature that happens by.

In addition to North America, I have Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia represented in bulbs, tubers, corms, tropicals, perennials, and woody plants packed cheek by jowl in my garden. I had to buy a few more big pots this year in order to fit the plants I've been accumulating in the past six months. I'd stored some of the pots in the mudroom between the house and the garage, where it was cool enough to send most of the bulbs into dormancy, including several Eucomis, or pineapple lilies.
Calibrachoa 'Tropical Sunrise' with
Eucomis 'Oakhurst'.

As for the cold winter ground, I apparently have a plant fairy trickster on the premises. I don't remember planting some of the bulbs that came up this spring. That includes an additional clutch of Ornithogalum nutans, or silver bells, which hail from Europe and Asia. I'd planted a few several years ago and they seemed to disappear a few at a time. A new spot was in order so I (or this fairy trickster) planted them in the raised bed near the sunroom windows.
Ornithogalum, Zephyrantes and Epimedium in a vase.

They look great in a vase, and made good companions for an exotic flower called Zephyranthes robusta also known as pink rain lily. This warm climate bulb is native to the southeastern U.S., Central and South America. A few bulbs of this little beauty came as a bonus with an order from Easy to Grow Bulbs. It's supposed to bloom in late summer, but got a little excited when I put it under lights in March.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Amaryllis 'Double King' Blooms Regally

If you're looking for an Amaryllis with serious repeat performance, Hippeastrum 'Double King' is your guy. I have never seen an amaryllis that re-blooms three times in three months! I was sent the bulb to try from Longfield Gardens, and right away I could see this was no ordinary bulb. It was humongous! I was impressed by its first flush of blooms, but now I'm smitten!

In March, it sent up two bloom stalks and provided some serious color for the whole month. Then, in late April, it started up again, this time with only one bloom stalk, but it got my attention, even when there is so much going on in the outdoor garden.
March 13th
Its first buds ready to open March 3rd.
April 26th, the third stem begins to bloom.
March 13th up close.
Today, May 14th.

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.