Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Plants That Thrive in a Zone 6 Jungle

Who would have thought the jungle weather would have continued so long? Out of the 30 days between July 16 and August 15, half (15) have reached 87 degrees or higher. Last year during the same time, there were eight days that reached 87 degrees or higher, and in 2014, there were only two days that hit the 87 degree mark.

During this time in my garden, some plants have been thriving, building up to blooming, or in general holding their own. Here are a few that have been thriving.

On July 27, the Pentas 'Graffiti Red Lace' was covered in blooms.
Jasminum floribundum
Plectranthus 'Golden Variegated' in shade.
Pelargonium 'Friesdorf' in partial shade.
A sampling of Eucomis, Tulbaghia, Eucalyptus, and Anigozanthus picked for a vase August 7.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Container Transitions: The Best Plants Win

Ptilotus 'Joey' is looking good in mid-June
For the brightest sun location on my patio, I chose a mix of two Ptilotus 'Joey, Eucalyptus 'Silver Drop', Pelargonium (annual geranium) 'Distinction', and three bulbs of Eucomis (pineapple lily) 'Katie', all of which I planted in a 14" diameter container.

From mid-May until the beginning of July, Ptilotus 'Joey' bloomed nonstop, its spiky flowers lasting for several days as the Eucalyptus wove through the two plants.

By July 4, 'Joey' was losing steam, but by now the Eucomis was ramping up for its bloom, which began in early August. Eucomis flowers are known to last at least five weeks, and annual geranium has no reason to quit, so this pot will provide color through the end of the season.

By July 4, 'Joey' was going into a fade.
By August 8, the Eucomis 'Katie' started their bloom along with
Pelargonium 'Distinction', while the Euclyptus plays on.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Humongous Plants: You Can Grow That!

Banana tops six feet by mid-July
If you chose to grow tropical plants this summer, your choice is paying off about now. It's not always the case in the southern Great Lakes region. I've been growing elephant ears for the past few years now, and this is the biggest they've ever gotten by this time of year.

Our banana has been taking care of itself in the garden, and except for a bout of Japanese beetles damaging one leaf, it's been the epitome of health.

I can't remember ever experiencing such a sustained period of high 80 degree temps and high 60 degree dewpoints. But I'll bet the jungle natives in my garden think they're in the tropics.
Colocasia 'Midori Sour' is the most bodacious of the bunch,
obliterating the other plants in the container.
Microsorum musifolium
I found lots of new (to me) tropical plants that are either threatening to take over my patio, and/or vying for inside status come October.

One that is small enough to make the cut is a fern called Microsorum musifolium, whose registered trade name is Crocodyllus (think Kleenex as the trade name for tissue).

Take a close look at the leaves of this beauty, and you'll see why it's been given the crocodile-esque moniker. I've been keeping it in pretty deep shade as it's still in its original pot and dries out quickly. But information online indicates it can take partial sun. (Sounds like a perfect houseplant.)
Piper auritum dominates a corner of this raised bed; its leaves help shade the crocodyllus fern.
A plant that would challenge even the largest indoor space is Piper auritum or root beer plant. In its home region, the huge leaves are used to flavor food. I just like the novelty. It's a shade-lover, but has been pushed to its tolerance limit with extra water. I've also discovered it to be a great umbrella--I placed some small pots beneath its big leaves to keep them from getting too much moisture and sun, and it performed beautifully.

When else could you grow such humongous plants but in the summer, especially if you live in an area where it freezes. For more ideas, tips and a celebration of growing things, head on over to a round-up of inspiration at You Can Grow That!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Plants that Love the Heat on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Cosmos 'Chocamocha' smells like hot chocolate.
It's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, when gardeners check in to let their fellow plantophiles know what's happening in their corner of the world. Here in northwest Indiana (just 30 miles east of Chicago), it's Hot!

Ugh! I don't like to complain, but ... Wait a minute! I LOVE to complain--about the weather at least. In fact, if it weren't for the weather, how in the world would gardeners start a conversation that leads into their own personal plant bragging rights? Right?

Okay, it's hot. And incredibly humid. And while I drip sweat without even moving, there are several plants that seem to thrive. After discovering the deep red Cosmos flower that actually smells like chocolate, I had to get one. I put Cosmos 'Chocamocha' in a container with other plants, and it began to open its chocolaty flowers a few weeks ago. It hasn't melted in the heat; instead it just smells like hot chocolate to me.
Begonia odorata white on the porch.

As delicate as they seem to be, Begonias can hold their own in the heat. One of my pots is beneath the eaves on our front porch. It contains Begonia odorata white and Begonia Shadow King 'Rose Frost'. The species odorata is supposed to have a scent, which I've not detected. Nonetheless, it's a gorgeous flower, with pinkish tones on the outside of each flower bud, and waxy petals of a white that practically glows, especially in shade. Longfield Gardens sent me three of these tubers to try; another plant is in a hanging basket and gets a tad more sun and exposure but is doing just as well as the protected plant.

Begonia odorata white is doing equally well in a mixed hanging planter.
It might not have blooms to offer, but Colocasia 'Midori Sour' has turned on its afterburners and rushed to sport sizable leaves that make great shade canopies for whatever grows below them.
Colocasia 'Midori Sour' has leaves that average nearly two feet long.
You don't have to plant heat-loving plants in your garden to have color throughout the summer. But it certainly can't hurt. I always like to head over to May Dreams Garden around the middle of each month to see what other gardeners are growing in their own hot gardens.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What's the Name of that Plant?

Plants are all identified at Sunrise Greenhouse, Grant Park, IL
I chose my first car because it was cute. Honestly--it was a lemon-yellow 1972 VW Beetle. Even the salesman tried to talk me out of it. "It's a repo," he told me, as if a 19 year-old would understand what that meant.

I learned the significance after I got home with my new car. There was a hole in the gas tank, which was located at the front of the car so that gasoline dripped on the floor beneath the dashboard.

Cute, huh?
There were other issues. The defroster didn't work, both headlights flickered, and the wires to the turn signals were crossed, confusing both me and anyone on the road who tried to guess which way I was going. I learned quickly the meaning and consequences of owning a repo.

Less expensive perhaps, but just as frustrating, is learning the limitations of anything else purchased solely for its cuteness quotient. I buy a lot of plants, many of which catch my eye with their unique beauty, and in some cases, their cuteness.

I make it a point to support independent garden centers, and have been buying quite a bit from mega-garden-centers within a two hour drive from my house. So far, these businesses have had a nice variety, carry plants you don't often see either at the big box stores or smaller garden centers, and (usually) good prices. One of my favorites for their prices and quality has been Sunrise Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL.

Another of my favorites is Vite Greenhouse in Niles, MI, which is currently running neck and neck with one other fairly close garden center, and vying for Michigan favorite.
River Street Flowerland

I fell so much in love with River Street Flowerland in Kalamazoo, Michigan that I visited it twice in one season, the second time with my equally plant-enamored neighbor, Lesley. Even though it was late June, we came close to filling my car. They had a sale on nearly all of their annuals, and I had a few dollars worth of coupons from my previous visit.

All in all, I was extremely pleased with the variety of plants and the prices. Until I picked up this little clay pot with no label.
Mystery plant turned out to be Ledebouria.
It was the only one left, and its price was steep, especially for an unidentified plant. I took it to the young lady at the register, who was about to tell me it was a houseplant. I said, "I'd really like to know what it is so that I can care for it properly." The girl at the register called another young lady who was caring for the plants. She didn't know but said she would ask. She eventually came back and told me it was a Squill.

The Squill ID at least pointed me in the right direction. I knew it was tropical, and that it was a bulb that is possibly in the Scilla family. I learned that it is a South African false scilla of the genus Ledebouria, that blooms in summer.

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm extremely anal and organized when it comes to my plants. I keep a Word document on my computer with the names of all of the plants I buy, dating back to 1996. Sometimes, with just one name to go by, I find the exact plant either in a book or online in order to learn how to care for it and what to expect.
Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' has flowers that create a color echo of the tiny Viola below it.

My husband still laughs about an incident at a garden center when the cashier had the nerve to identify a potted mystery I wanted to purchase as a "houseplant." He said I gave her a look that could have curdled milk, before I told her I needed to know genus and species or I wouldn't buy it.

Labels don't have to be fancy.
I was pretty sure I knew what it was--a somewhat overbaked Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender'. Its coloration was all wrong, owing, I guessed, to its placement in full sun. I wanted corroboration, though, to be sure I knew what I was getting. The cashier called over another young lady who seemed to know more. She doggedly traveled down the rows to find the answer, and finally located another one with a label, verifying its ID as 'Mona Lavender'.

No one argues that we should get what we pay for, but is it really too much to ask that we know what we pay for? In a world where it's vital to know the serial number of each tiny part of a phone or computer accessory, I wonder why we don't demand the name of the plant growing inside a pot at a garden center.

I keep hearing that Millenials don't care what a plant is called. They just buy it, take it home and incorporate it into their decor. But what if they want to buy another one? Or it dies and they want to replace it?

Finding unlabeled or mis-labeled plants is nothing new. It's not that big a deal if it's obviously a petunia or a pansy, but with the more unusual plants, there is more at stake--they're usually more pricey and harder to find.

Here's a label that does it all, including identifying the plant.
Anyone who somehow benefits from selling plants should also consider themselves to be in the education business, at least peripherally. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by the simple labeling of plants. How else can a satisfied plant buyer post a photo with the name of where it came from on their Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, or Snapchat pages?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Plants Named for Body Parts

Picture this guy's paws sticking out of a pot like
they're waving.
Plants from Australia seem to have a certain look to them--like nothing else I've grown before. One I'm partial to is called kangaroo paws. The plant, which is, botanically referred to as Anigozanthus, apparently is so well-known that, when you Google "kangaroo paws" images, you get dozens of pictures of flowers. No kangaroos, let alone kangaroo paws.   

Anyway, kangaroo paws (the plant) are the ultimate low-maintenance pot-dwellers. Of course, in my garden, no plant stands alone, and I combined it with other plants of a similar nature, including Euphorbia 'Diamond Delight'.

Kangaroo paws takes center stage in this mixed container for sun.
Additional companions for the Anigozanthus (pronounced Annie-go-zan-thus) include spiky licorice plant, Verbena Lanai 'Vintage Vodka', and a sun-tolerant Coleus whose name got lost in the shuffle. All are doing very well, with the Anigozanthus holding its own and continuing to send out flower (or paw, if you prefer) stems in a hot and sunny location.

Another plant whose common name involves animals is Orthosiphon aristatus, or cat's whiskers. And looking at the flower makes it obvious. It's botanical name is pronounced just as it's spelled: Ortho SIGH fun - air iss STAT us.  Some cultures make a purportedly therapeutic drink from the plant's leaves and stems; hence the additional moniker of Java tea.

I know it as a pretty plant, its pointed leaves dark green and somewhat shiny, its flowers rather long-lasting and interesting. Its stems also last a couple of days in a vase. Cat's whiskers comes from tropical regions of Asia and is therefore not hardy in the Midwest. It is in the mint family, a clan famous for its bullying behavior, so that's not a bad thing. But if you're looking for an unusual plant that is attractive to hummingbirds and gardeners, this plant can grow to about three feet tall in a summer and sport dozens of flowers.

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.