Saturday, December 13, 2014

Decorate with Living Plants

Make your own mixed basket to decorate a shelf.
 No one ever said plants had to stay on a windowsill. I like to move mine around when they're looking especially colorful. There are lots of places that can use the softening of a plant or two. I like to combine them in containers--a gold basket combines with the colors of Miltassia shelob 'Tolkien' and a decorative-leaved Begonia.

Find containers that go with both your decor and the plant, although it's easiest to collect containers in neutral colors.

I found a stone-like planter that fits a Paphiopedilum and a Begonia. It's thick-walled and heavy like the stone it's meant to resemble, its texture contributing something extra to an indoor planter.
Brighten up a corner by rotating out blooming plants.
An orchid--or any plant for that matter--in bloom, can carry the day, but I think all plants can benefit from a coordinating pal or two. Fancy-leaved Begonias are great companions for just about anything.

For the majority of the time I keep plants near a window or under the lights. But it certainly doesn't hurt them to spend a couple of days in another location. Put them to work one at a time, or in a group in an otherwise dreary location.

According to research reported in Science Daily, houseplants in general can help filter ozone concentrations.

I make sure I always have a plant in the room where I write. Just glancing over at it is therapeutic and inspirational.

Why not mix Oncidium with Poinsettia?
Prevention Magazine writes about research that has found that houseplants, even in a windowless room, have a calming effect.

While the orchids I have in pots aren't really that flamboyant, I've added a bit of sparkle and some holiday color just to add to the theme going on in the house.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Colorful Orchid Winter: You Can Grow That

Just a month ago there were still Hydrangeas and Dahlias in vases in my house along with orchids and dried flowers.
There is no question you can overdo the Christmas cookies. A queasy stomach and too-tight clothing result from that kind of overindulgence. The downside to an overabundance of plants indoors during the winter in the Midwest?


Okay, so we are limited by our wallets, amount of light, and horizontal space. But buying too many plants won't make you sick like an entire plate of sugar cookies can. (Even if you start working up to it around Thanksgiving.)

Miltonia on Oct. 26
Miltonia on Nov. 1
Miltonia on December 2.
I came home from an orchid show in late October with a collection of plants that are still enchanting me. The Miltonia was the first to open, its pansy-like flowers boasting adorable fragrant faces. Today, its few remaining flowers are poised to drop, but a new flower stem is working its way up a set of fresh leaves.

Meanwhile, a cute little lady's slipper orchid tantalized me as it maintained a holding pattern as its flowers hovered above gorgeously-mottled foliage. It was the foliage that sold me on the $35 plant. After all, I reasoned, it won't be in bloom all the time.

But so far the lady's slipper orchid pretty much as been in bloom since I brought it home. Paphiopedilum 'Delightfully Wood' has a whole lot of exoticism going for it, with its deep burgundy pouch and striped leaves.
Paphiopedilum 'Delightfully Wood' 
Paphiopedilum 'Delightfully Wood' Nov. 24.

The pouch-like structure on lady's slipper orchids is an aid to pollination--a trap meant to lure insects to the spot where pollination takes place. A great place to learn the details and close-up views of the Paphiopelilum can be found at Microscopy UK.

What I also found out on this site is the reason for this orchid's common name. It seems Aphrodite had a surname--several apparently. One of them was Paphia. Combine that with the Greek word pedilon, which means "sandal," and refers to the characteristic pouch of the flower, and you have "Aphrodite's sandal."
The foliage of this orchid is one of its best features.

 It's easy to see how the name lady's slipper came about as a reference to orchids in the sub-family Cypripediodeae.

The colors of 'Delightfully Wood' go beautifully with Miltassia shelob Tolkien, which began to open just a couple of weeks ago. By the time the fourth orchid I bought opens up, the spidery delight will be in full bloom. I'll post on that later in the winter.

None of my new orchids scare me as orchids used to. Their reputation for being finicky and difficult to grow might be well-deserved for some of this tribe. But so far, none of the four that followed me home in late October has swooned or failed to thrive. Their flower buds have formed and blossomed, their leaves remain healthy, and in the nearly two months since they've taken up residence, they've added color and a touch of the exotic to an otherwise grey winter world.

Surround yourself with living plants. And don't be afraid to try orchids, or anything else you might consider exotic. There is an entire site devoted to growing just about anything. You Can Grow That! is a site overflowing with ideas and inspiration for those who don't stop growing just because it's cold outside.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Amaryllis Rebloom

Amaryllis 'Ruby Star' (
It's Amaryllis time once again. Or let's say it's time to think about them. A new one for me this year is 'Ruby Star' from Easy to Grow Bulbs. The description of the plant says it will flower in 40-60 days indoors, so perhaps it will flower for the holidays.

I potted 'Ruby Star' up on Nov. 12, so a generous guess would be that it would be blooming by late December/early January.

Pavlova Jan 18, 2012
I still have the others I purchased in 2011. When you order Amaryllis bulbs from suppliers, it's usually ready to bloom in a matter of weeks. If you hope to see it rebloom, it's a bit more complicated, and I'm still not certain I have a handle on the process.
Pavlova March 27, 2013

I take all of my plants out and gradually acclimate them to a spot outdoors - somewhere protected from the sun. The plants are usually in leaf and my goal is to keep the leaves growing until they fade to yellow. After that happens, I just kind of ignore them until they start to form leaves again, at which time I feed them with a water soluble fertilizer.

The first year I grew them was 2012, the first one to bloom was a double white called 'Pavlova', which opened in mid-January.

'Pavlova' January 24, 2014
I'd kept the pots of Amaryllis on the patio and they grew like crazy. But for some insane reason, I cut most of the roots off the bulbs before repotting them in October of that year. That's how I account for such a late season in 2013. Pavlova' didn't start blooming until late March.

But in January 2014, 'Pavlova' bloomed early again, this time January 24th.

But a gardener's winter is fraught with impatience. I have three orchids in bloom, but I want/need more. I have some cool begonias with beautifully-colored foliage, Ornithogalum growing 1/4 inch a day, and an adorable Primulina but I'm still craving color.

I think the winter of 2015 will be another year when Pavlova stalls until spring. She's doing absolutely nothing right now, which is what Amaryllis do before they get ready to start growing and producing a bloom. I suppose I'll have to be more patient.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Peonies: The Ups and Downs of Disbudding

There is something so promising about flower buds, here in a holding pattern of various stages.
'The Fawn' has delicate spots.
One of the best things about peonies is their diversity. The peonies most commonly available are cultivated from just one species: Paeonia lactiflora. It's incredibly variable, producing half a dozen flower forms and colors in more shades of pink than you can imagine. The majority of lactiflora cultivars are some shade of pink, while some are white or red and some contain more than one color within their blossoms. 

Another common trait of the lactifloras is their penchant for growing more than one flower per stem.  This is where disbudding comes in. While it's a personal preference that depends on aesthetic requirements and time, some peonies offer a bouquet on a stem. Others should be disbudded in order to perform to their highest potential, while others don't seem to care one way or another. Other factors that could make a difference include age of the plant (how long it's been growing in one place), soil fertility and amount of sun.

'White Cap' forms a bouquet at the end of its stems if not disbudded.
If you don't remove the buds, the bloom season can be extended by a couple of days. The downside to that is that the size of subsequent flowers will always be smaller than the central bloom. But there are exceptions.

'Pink Parasol Surprise' offers a unique display.
If I could only have a handful of peonies in my garden, 'White Cap' would certainly be among them. This lactiflora cultivar has so much to recommend it, including the fact that it's fantastically fragrant. This award-winning peony features deep rose outer petals that cradle a fresh tuft of creamy slender petals called stamenodes.

One caveat about 'White Cap' and its bouquet on a stem--staking is strongly recommended to enjoy the show.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are peonies like 'Pink Parasol Surprise', which beg to be disbudded. This is one bodacious peony, with an extra pouf of petals extending from a central tuft of stamenodes. I've found that the flowers don't put on a show to their full potential if their side buds aren't removed early on.
A bouquet on a plant is what 'The Fawn' produces without disbudding.

One of the best sources for peony information is Carsten Burkhardt's Peony Project. I've found it to be accurate and comprehensive, especially regarding peonies introduced in the 20th century and earlier. There is no other online resource that lists or gives information about all peonies ever registered with the American Peony Society. The American Peony Society also offers some resources in the form of print publications. For detailed yet digestible information about all things peonies, visit Quebec's La Pivoinerie D'Aoust Peony Nursery's FAQ page. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Flowers Indoors and Out - Happy Bloom Day!

Who doesn't love orchids? When you consider there are so many different flowering types, colors and forms, you could say there is an orchid for everyone.

On October 30, I lined up the players in my wintertime garden, including potted plants, dried flowers and the last bouquets.
Take Miltonia for example. Where besides on pansies could you find such in-your-face flowers? It's often called the pansy orchid, according to the American Orchid Society, and it's been blooming pretty much ever since I brought it home three weeks ago.

Since I've had a modicum of success with a couple of orchids and some amaryllis, I've been coaxed back into growing houseplants.
I have no idea when the four orchids out of the six I'm growing will bloom.

I chose the lady slipper orchid for its foliage, a silver spotted with lush yellow-green,  but it's been charming me with its blossoms for the past ten days. This is Paphiopedilum 'Delightfully Wood', a type the American Orchid Society states should be given temperatures around 60 to 65 degrees F at night and up to 85 degrees F during the day. 

Paphiopedilum 'Delightfully Wood'
There is no way this little orchid will be grown at 85 degrees in my house. It seems quite happy so far at around 65 F day and night.

When I have a spare day (and an extra $100 or so) I'll visit Hilltop Orchids in Cloverdale, IN, which is where this lady slipper came from.  

Four more orchid plants will be highlighted here in my blog whenever they decide to bloom. Unlike this particular lady's slipper, and others with pretty leaves, orchids aren't very exciting without blossoms. 

'Endless Summer' bloom the day after it was picked Nov. 2.

'Endless Summer' bloom Nov. 13, after 11 days in the vase.
The same holds true for Hydrangeas. I've always been a proponent for cutting flowers to put in vases to enjoy indoors. Hydrangea flowers of the macrophylla species have typically lasted no more than three or four days in water.

I recently discovered an exception when I picked the last of the 'Endless Summer' flowers on November 2.

Fresh but not completely - after two weeks in a vase.
I put one of the blooms in a short vase, its flower had propped up by the small opening, its stem dangling into the water.

Today, it's still in the same vase, its center getting slightly mushy, but from a distance still looking like a living thing. 

Each year the players have expanded, and this year they include orchids, a new amaryllis, two little plants in the Gesneriad family, and some bulbs.

I've planted bulbs of Ornithogalum, Lachenalia and Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) have been planted, and will show up probably after or around Christmas.

November can be a tricky month for gardeners, especially those who garden outdoors. Now that I've got some indoor plants, I can participate during the off season in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, started by Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens, is a day when gardeners from all over the world contribute a blog devoted to whatever is blooming (indoors and outdoors) in their gardens.

Happy Gardening!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Grow Houseplants With Color and Personality

Primulina 'Silver Surfer' from Gary's Out of Africa.
Although I've always felt most gardeners cut their teeth on houseplants, I can see now that's overly simplistic. It's true that many begin with growing a plant indoors. Those of us who entered adulthood in the 1970s or even 1980s transitioned from living with our families to living in our first apartments. If we had an itch for growing a plant, this is where it began.

In an environment where overwatering is the main cause of death, growing houseplants,  especially in the winter, requires restraint. After all, many houseplants don't do much but remain alive if we're lucky.

Kohleria 'Lono' from Gary's Out of Africa.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule. I came home with two exceptions when I visited Gary's Out of Africa. Gary's collection blew my mind, as we'd say in the '70s. Not only did he have an impressive selection of African violets, he had some plants I'd never heard of. Which is what happens when you ignore the houseplant world for so long.

Gary grows and sells plants in the Gesneriad family, which includes Streptocarpus, Primulina, Achimenes and more. The reason behind Gary's business name is that most of the plants originated in Africa.

Aeschynanthus sp radicans from Gary's Out of Africa.
There are some exceptions, of course; as it's no fun to limit yourself to one continent.  Achimenes can be found in Jamaica, northwestern Mexico,  Central and South America. And Aeschynanthus, which comes from southern Asia and the western Pacific islands.

The ultimate houseplant for those who are ready for a challenge, African violets and their relatives are fairly easy to grow.

Take a look at this document from the Gesneriad Society called How to Know and Grow Gesneriads. Look through this wonderful introduction to determine whether you would like to try a few of these wonderful plants.

If you would like to see and purchase a wide selection of plants from Gary in mid-winter, you must attend the Porter County Master Gardeners' Gardening Show in Valparaiso, IN from 8 am to 4 pm on January 24, 2015.

Streptocarpus 'Cartier' from Gary's Out of Africa.

Achimenes 'Caligula' from Gary's Out of Africa.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Easy Arranger Winners Claim Your Prizes!

Thanks for responding to my Easy Arranger Give-Away.

I would like to mail a 4-inch Easy Arranger to Cathy G., who said she uses florist tape, which she criss-crosses at the opening of a vase to help the stems stand. It can be a bit sticky, she added.

Terry M. has used flower frogs to help make flowers stand tall. I've tried this as well, and have several that I've purchased over the years. Most are great for short flower stems, but not as helpful for large arrangements. I'll send Terry the 4-inch Square Easy Arranger.

Lorrie C. hasn't had any experience with arrangement assists, and would love to try an Easy Arranger. I'd like to send Lorrie the 5-inch Easy Arranger.

Ladies, please e-mail me your mailing addresses so I can mail them out to each of you. Thanks again for visiting Petal Talk!