Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Getting Plants Ready for Indoors

I repotted my orchids today. Although the experts say they shouldn't be repotted often, I needed to address the likelihood that some insect stowaways took up residence in their soil. I love mixing my own potting material up--it's probably related to my enjoyment of cooking. And this time of year it can be done outside.
All but two of my orchids repotted in clean mix.

I'd placed an order with Kelly's Korner Orchid Supplies for pots and other stuff, including a product called Orchiata, which is made of New Zealand pine bark; Premium Hydro Pellets, and a variety of Aircone pots.

Oncidium speckled spire ‘Wisp’ in January.
If I had known I could get the hydro pellets locally at The Wattage House (who'd know from the name?), which specializes in hydroponic and other types of mostly indoor gardening. It's just an hour from my house and driving there and back is a lot less expensive than the $16.50 that Kelly's Korner charged for shipping. I talked with Brian, a very knowledgeable young man who worked out what kind of lights I will need to get my plants through the winter. Yes, I decided to officially cross the line back into houseplant gardening, as it's getting more and more difficult to do without healthy plants from November through March.

I also discovered that The Wattage House has a huge array of fertilizers, including Fox Farm, which is one of my favorites probably because of the cool artwork on the packaging, but possibly because it's a good product. I decided to try Beastie Bloomz, which has a nutrient ratio of 0-50-30. Yes, you read that right, the middle number (representing phosphorus) is a 50! The percentage of potassium is no slouch either, at 30.
Miltonia 'Robert Jackson' in December.

I gave all of my containers with blooms a feeding with Beastie Bloomz (According to Brian, it won't work unless there are already flowers or flower buds on the plant.), as well as dosing some of my in ground plants like Zinnias, Dahlias, Viola, and snapdragons. Although I hadn't taken any photos of blooming plants with no flowers, I'm pretty sure I'm seeing results already, but perhaps it's just my imagination.

As for the orchids, I watered them in a large Tubtrug, leaving them to soak in about a half inch of the water until they soaked up all they needed.

Although they're just a bunch of leaves right now, they're healthy and I'm hoping they'll bloom again. Time will tell.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I Hate August!

In a gardener's sense that is. Or maybe I should qualify it further and tell it like it is. I am a lazy gardener and that is why I hate August. Okay, it's out. I've said it. Which should be the first step toward doing something about it.

First, let's enumerate the reasons for hating the month whose sole job is to hint at the end of summer. I am the gardener who espouses excess in a garden bed.

Flashback: Sometime in April

Lilies emerging from the litter.
"Let no space go unplanted" is my motto for April. It's the month when there are so many bare patches to fill and the best garden centers have the freshest, perkiest plants--the ones you dream about all winter long.

Recovering from the bunny brunch.
Sure, there are plants coming up -- hopeful and innocent babes just grooving on the newly discovered warmth and sunshine. Anticipation is the attitude for April, and all of the things you vowed to avoid last season fly out the window with the first nudge of a warmish breeze. These are the issues that don't come calling until August, like not crowding the lilies, cutting back the Amsonia and Baptisia, or staking tall plants BEFORE they topple. Who thinks about these things when nothing in the garden is more than six inches high?

Any color other than brown, or dirty snow is welcome in April. It's the month your patience pays off, when tender stems and buds draw you out each day after donning rubber boots, warm gloves and the ugliest, warmest hat you own. On warm days you can skip the gloves in favor of a cup of coffee that can be carried in one hand while the other holds a stick to brush back the dried leaves so you can see what's going on.

The Present Reality: A Day in Early August

As glad as you are  in April that you planted spring bulbs, it's hard to believe that just four months later you can't imagine planting, or even ordering anything that would force you to deal with the exuberant chaos that is now your garden!

Would you want to wade into this mess?
Franklinia alatamaha with two flower buds!
The lilies are finished, but you have to leave the unsightly stems up to photosynthesize. The Baptisia you didn't cut back after blooming is threatening to smother everything within a 12-foot radius surrounding the spot where you planted the cute little thing four years ago. Even the single tomato has bit the dust due to a mysterious case of late summer suicide.

And did I mention the mosquitoes? Suffice it to say they're out there in droves from noon to 4 pm and in whatever-is-more-than-a-drove all the other times. What's a lazy gardener to do in August? I scavenged for a glimpse of hope on a day when the mosquitoes weren't too bad. And I found several glimmers!
Hibiscus 'Cherry Cheesecake' prepares for its close-up.

The most obvious because of its proximity to the deceased tomato plant is the Franklinia alatamaha, a rare tree that's been surviving in my garden for several years. Not thriving. Surviving. Which is about all I can ask considering it couldn't survive in its home environment.
Hibiscus 'Cherry Cheesecake' from last year.

I must be desperate. I'm even rooting for the hardy Hibiscus (or rose mallow) 'Cherry Cheesecake', a plant group I've never gotten excited about. In fact, I'm surprised it's still in my garden. Anyway, the foliage is relatively unmarred by Japanese beetles, and there is a bud about to unfurl its pink petals.

Last year, I got a photo of the only bloom that opened without beetle damage. It's a gorgeous flower with plenty of substance, and even after fading, doesn't detract as much as some others.

Cyclamen purpurascens
I had to scrounge a bit lower for another plant with pink petals. It was worth it. Cyclamen purpurascens is something you don't see at many garden centers. Or online plant emporiums for that matter. It's under four inches tall, so I've yet to experience the fragrance it purportedly exudes.

I've been practicing my Army crawl, but haven't mastered it to the point where I can scuttle and

inhale at the same time. The little plant is pretty to look at, though, and appears whenever it feels like it, usually right after I think I've lost it.

The pineapple lilies are still in varying stages of bloom (or not); the one that makes me glad I went outside today is Eucomis montana, which I purchased from Brent and Becky's Bulbs.
Eucomis montana is just beginning
Compared with all the other species and hybrids I'm growing, this pineapple lily has some serious substance!

Its leaves aren't necessarily stand-up, but the flowers are very waxy. I'm pretty sure this Eucomis will keep me entertained most of the month.

Although I really don't remember which poppies are blooming right now. I know they're corn, or Shirley poppies, which more accurately are Papaver rhoeas, an easy from seed species with several hybrids available.

Because of their lackadaisical appearance, it's likely they are volunteers from last year's sowing. But on a somewhat colorless August day, I'm not complaining.

In one respect, August in my garden is not unlike April. There is not enough color, and the temperatures can be uncomfortable, but there is always something waiting in the wings to provide my required quota of enchantment.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Spiky Plants for Late Summer

There once was a time I considered myself lucky to be able to grow Kniphofia in my garden. These plants bloomed once, their flowers large and heavy in substance. They looked great for about two weeks before falling back into their hulking presence, their crowns spreading up to three feet wide and just as high.

After settling in awhile, Kniphofia 'Echo Yello' makes
a strong statement in late July.
My first experience with the small varieties (under two feet tall with a one-foot spread) was with 'Elvira', another trial plant from Blooms of Bressingham. It bloomed its first year (2012) although sparingly, increasing its output each subsequent year (2013-14) until this year when its flowers dwindled due to a need for division or an extrication from overcrowding or perhaps both. Although not a rebloomer, 'Elvira' puts on a nice show for a couple of weeks in late June - early July.

And then came the reblooming varieties--slender in leaf, with smaller flowers and the ability to offer waves of blossoms throughout most of the summer.

This year I am trialing varieties sent this spring by Itsaul Plants. I won't know until next spring how hardy they are, but I can tell already that most of them satisfy the rebloom criteria.

They're planted in a variety of locations throughout my garden--sunny, partly sunny, and even overshadowed by taller plants. They bloomed a bit in early June, and now are ramping up into an even stronger show with little sign of stopping.

Kniphofias from left are 'Echo Duo' and 'Echo Mango' at right with Echinacea 'Butterfly Kisses' and 'Solar Flare',
(the taller coneflower) also bred by Itsaul Plants.
I still grow Itsaul Plants' first Echinacea varieties, Big Sky 'Sunrise' and Big Sky 'Harvest Moon'. And after having grown it in the same spot for the past four years with no sign of slowing down, Itsaul's more recent introduction called Echinacea 'Solar Flare' is still one of my favorites.

Eucomis 'Katie' shows of her substance and pink flower centers.
If I had to assign a theme to my garden this year, I guess it would have to be the season of the spikes. Tall and slender plants are in the minority by mid-summer; my response is to add some new ones each year. Continuing the theme from last year, I'm once again growing a plethora of pineapple lilies (Eucomis). I'm especially enamored with 'Katie', a white-flowered cutie with magenta centers. Its leaves are substantial and stand upright, a quality lacking in other Eucomis I've grown.

All but two varieties- 'Oakhurst' and 'Glow Sticks' - are planted in pots. I've been told of their ability to overwinter in my Zone, which is somewhere in the 6 range, but I planted 'Oakhurst' in a south facing bed right up next to a concrete block structure near the house.

Last year's Eucomis are, sadly, unidentified. I tried to keep them labeled, but somehow during the winter and after spring harvest it got away from me. So I'll be taking photos of the unknown flowers and trying to match them against those I've listed in my journal. I know the identity of those I purchased this year, including:
Last year's yet-to-be-identified Eucomis.

Eucomis pole-evansii
Eucomis ‘Toffee’ 2’-2 ½’ high
Eucomis ‘Twinkle Stars’
Eucomis vandermerwei
Eucomis autumnalis (3)

 Eucomis ‘Katie’ (3)
Eucomis montana
Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’
Eucomis ‘Glow Sticks’
Eucomis 'Glow Sticks' looks great even before blooming.

I believe these are Eucomis autumnalis from 2014 along with Phormium 'Candy Stripe' and Amaranth 'Molten Fire'.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Plants Go Head to Head in the Heat

It was a plant geek's version of a marathon.  My neighbor, friend, and partner in all things seriously-garden-related, Lesley, and I were scoping out the four acres of more than 3,000 plants displayed at C. Raker & Sons in Litchfield, Michigan. We baked in the hot sun as our heads spun nearly 360 and our feet carried us along the grassy paths through a crazy quilt of color.

Mandevilla 'Heatwave' offered up plenty of buds and flowers in a
hanging basket.
Names I recognized from plants I've bought, read, and written about had entries in the mix: Ball FloraPlant, Benary, Danzinger, Dummen, EuroAmerican, Floranova, Greenfuse Botanicals, Hort Couture, Jelitto, Panamerican Seed, Selecta, Syngenta, Takii, and others that contribute in a big way to bringing new plants to market.
Hemizyga 'Candy Kisses' looks great even without the pink flowers
that bloom late summer through fall.
Just one of the many intriguing contestants in the plant pageant was Hemizyga 'Candy Kisses', a variegated form of a plant that might also commonly be called sagebush or pink Salvia. Up close it resembles Plectranthus (Swedish ivy) or even Basil; not surprising as they all belong to the mint family. According to The Plant List- a working list of all known plant species - another name for the plant is Syncolostemon transvaalensis. The genus name (according to another excellent reference called PlantzAfrica) is taken from the Greek words syn: united, kolos: stunted, and stemon: pillar. The species name indicates the plant's original home, the Transvaal region of South Africa. No matter what you call it or how you pronounce it, this plant looks promising as a great "go with everything" accessory in the most fashionable mixed containers.

Nemesia 'Honey Metallic Blue' offers a color that could go a
long way toward cooling down hot colors.
Nemesia Seventh Heaven 'Raspberry'
I can't remember ever having seen a live flower in quite this color before. Nemesia Honey 'Metallic Blue' would all but disappear at dusk if it weren't for its cute yellow centers. I'd love to mix it with a lemon yellow Osteospermum. Another highly saturated Nemesia is called Seventh Heaven 'Raspberry'.

One of the best things about visiting a trial garden is to see how plants do during the hottest, and typically the driest, time of year. At Raker, there are field trials in which plants are planted in rows in the ground, hanging basket trials and container trials. There are also sponsored beds, which feature displays of each sponsor's plants. This year, there are 32 companies from all over the world that sponsor a display bed.

According to Greg Michalak, Trial Gardens Director for Raker, plants in the trial beds are fed and watered. "For our sponsored beds we give them the conditions recommended by the breeder," he explained. It's a different story in the comparison trial areas. "If we do something to one plant in the comparison trials, we have to do it to all of them."
Scabiosa 'Gelato Blueberry' looked amazing growing in a
large container. Wouldn't it look good with white Lobularia?
Stachys 'Bello Grigio' goes with everything. Imagine it at dusk,
planted with white lilies.
As saturated as the last few plants were, Stachys 'Bello Grigio' is positively ghostly. A lamb's ear relative, this starkly pale silver stunner looks cool with blue, purple, magenta, ... pretty much anything, as you can imagine
Torenia 'Moon Yellow' will grow
in sun if it receives
sufficient moisture.
When Impatiens walleriana came down with Impatiens downy mildew, it was probably the best thing that could happen to Torenia, a colorful shade-loving flower, also known as wishbone flower, with plenty of pizazz. Although it typically doesn't smother itself in flowers like Impatiens will, Torenia brings some yellow into the shade-garden department.
And in "speaking of which" category... At first glance, it looked something like a Torenia. But the bright crimson flower also had freckles. 

It's a cross between Torenia and Mimulus - or what do you get when you cross a monkey with a wishbone? Why, a Torelus, of course! This new genus is said to do as well in sun as in part sun, which, when you think about it, is more than you can ask of many annual flowers. If you look closely at these little beauties, you'll see the freckles left from its monkey flower genetics.

Torelus in a trial bed.

Just to clarify, not all of the plants in the trial beds at Raker are brand new. Some have been on the market for a couple of years, but are being compared to the standard in the category. Either way, if you look next spring for the plants I've listed here, there is a good chance you'll find them. Better yet, ask your garden center manager if they can order them if they haven't already.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Perfect Venue for Floral Magic

Imagine a bright spot in the midst of one of the most blighted cities in America. Could that bright spot be so imaginatively possible with anything but flowers? 

Credit Lisa Waud, of Pot & Box for the idea of turning an abandoned Detroit duplex into a house of flowers. The Michigan florist purchased two buildings, one of which will host a flower installation in October.

Lisa has inspired florists from all over the country to fill the entire 15-room house with American grown fresh flowers and plants. The project is called Flower House, and the concept has taken my breath away.
In May, Lisa created a "teaser" room in an adjacent house to stir up some excitement for the project. That's when these photos were taken. How eerily beautiful an entire house, once home to families but abandoned to decay, will look when the installation is complete on October 16.
That is when Lisa and a team of floral artists will work some serious magic and give the house "one last hurrah" before having it torn down in order to create a flower farm.

In a February podcast, Debra Prinzing of Slow Flowers fame, interviews Lisa Waud about the process through the unfolding of this inspiring project. Learn more in the Flower House Teaser about the transforming effects of living plants, and the importance of using locally-grown flowers. I can't think of a better way to send the message.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

July is the Coolest Month - Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
If describing my plants were like predicting the weather, the July forecast would be partly sparse but mostly vibrant.

Compared with the color bounty in June, new hues, although bright, unfurl in a parsimonious sequence through July.

We must share our gardens with uninvited guests this month. Starting with swarms of mosquitoes laying in wait in every cranny not protected by a 30 knot wind, grasshoppers growing to gargantuan proportions, and beetles from the Orient ruining any plant's chance at reaching its potential, it takes rose-colored glasses to overlook the carnage.
Eucomis 'Katie'

July is the month during which the wise Midwestern gardener first coined the phrase, "Gardening is not for Sissies."

More Eucomis cavort with potted tropicals.
Plants must be tenacious to bloom or look their best in a July garden. I've tried other Crocosmias, but the stalwart in my July garden is 'Lucifer', whose brilliant red is always welcome.

Bread poppy 'Lauren's Grape'
Although not proven hardy yet in my garden, but new for me and grown in a pot, Eucomis 'Katie' keeps on truckin' as the saying goes. Like many of the tropical bulbs I've been growing this year, this one comes from Easy to Grow Bulbs. All of the Eucomis cultivars I have are gearing up for a big splash in just a few weeks. (how's that for optimism?) For now, though, it's fun watching their little tufted topknots rise through the succulent leaves to make their presence better known.

Besides the double-flowered Papaver somniferum, another I don't recall planting in the spot where it's growing is 'Lauren's Grape'. I'll take the credit for sowing the seed in front of the fence, though, as it seems to be made for its ability to positively pop when paired with grey.

Echinacea 'Solar Flare' acts as leaning post for Nicotiana (flowering tobacco).
A more serendipitous yet short-lived pairing involves self-sown Nicotiana alata threatening to overshadow my favorite coneflower. 'Solar Flare' is one of the strongest hybrid Echinaceas I've grown.

Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star'
It's a good thing there are so many plants waiting on my "To-Grow" list. This July I'm particularly impressed with Stellar Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star'. The stellar type of garden geranium have compact stature, star-shaped flowers and notched leaves. I love the contrast between the bright pink flowers and chartreuse leaves.

For now, though, on this mid-July Garden Bloggers Bloom Day celebration, my excitement has been aimed at the Gloriosa Rothschildiana growing from bulbs I bought from Easy to Grow Bulbs. One of the coolest thing about this vining plant is that each flower looks good for several days, transforming itself from pale greenish yellow lightly streaked with red to a nearly solid red color about five days later. For something really exotic yet easy to grow in a pot on a lightweight trellis, I can't say enough about Gloriosa lilies, except that I wish I'd grown them sooner.
Gloriosa lilies just getting started.
This blog is in celebration of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, started by blogger supreme Carol Michel, and populated by more flowers from more garden bloggers than you've ever thought possible. For a glimpse and a dose of inspiration, please check out some of 70+ gardens here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Still in Love with Heuchera and Family

I'm not an organized gardener. When I receive a plant, whether I buy it or it is given to me by a breeding company to try, I might not put it in the absolute best place. But often I'm surprised at how well it fares regardless of its location. Some of the most forgiving are the Heucheras and Heucherellas.

I've long since lost the tags, so I'm unsure except for the Mukdenia (top right) and Heuchera 'Sashay' (bottom right)
Heucherellas are an intergeneric hybrid; a cross between Heuchera and Tiarella. They're all very hard to pass up in a garden center, especially if they're perky, full and colorful.
They're similar to Hydrangeas in the sense that they've been given the "shade-lover" moniker. While this is partly true, putting them in a spot where they get some direct sun brings out the best colors.

Heucherella 'Buttered Rum' in July
Heucherella 'Buttered Rum' from Terra Nova (planted in 2013) has some seriously interesting leaves. I love not only its colors but its leaf shape as well. I've been planting my Heucheras and Heucherellas in two spots mostly. The established plants that I've had for five years and more and are doing quite well are on the north side of the house in an area that receives direct sun for about two hours a day, with bright light the rest of the time.

The second, newer area consists of a combination of Epimedium and ferns, with the Heuchs in the spot that gets the most direct sun late in the day.

Heuchera 'Lava Lamp' at left; Heucherella 'Buttered Rum' at right.
Epimedium 'Domino' puts on a flower show that is complemented by Heuchera 'Lava Lamp' in the background.
Some Heucheras and Heucherellas, while still colorful, tend to fade somewhat when they don't get as much sunlight as they'd like, especially if they're planted beneath deciduous trees that leaf out and eventually shade the ground. Some of my Heuchs are planted at the feet of a really full Magnolia, and by late July aren't as vibrant as they would be if they received more sun.
I like to station Coleus in the shade beds and here an unnamed Coleus shines a light on Heuchera 'Delta Dawn'.