Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It's Time to Give Plants Some Faux Sunshine

The Gardenia just keeps flowering despite my treatment.
I don't know why I didn't do this years ago. But now, I no longer have to watch my plants succumbing to a slow death all winter long. Or at least that's the plan.

I bought four Sun Blaster bulbs to put in some track lighting in the room at the back of the house (for lack of anything else to call it). The room has high ceilings and a concrete floor, and it's where the huge planters live in the wintertime.

Swallowtail butterflies
love Murraya.
As soon as we installed just two lights, the Gardenia perked up. (Yes, the same one I tried to kill.) It now has three open blooms, seven buds in various sizes, and three flowers that I cut to enjoy in other parts of the house.

The lights run just $7.99 apiece and screw into regular-sized sockets ala track lighting.

I'd wanted to keep the Murraya paniculata in the sunroom, but it will, I think, do better in with the big guys.

Murraya blooms outdoors in summer.
The Murraya, or orange jessamine, was given up by my cousin who had no room for it. Her husband had bought the specimen--a mature plant trained as a standard--for her as a gift but she had no place to put it, so she gave it to me. (for which I'm eternally grateful) I couldn't think of a more perfect guest, which is still how I think of the plant, and how I treat it.

The Murraya transmogrifies itself into the most beautifully-scented plant in my garden at least twice per season. Its flowers arrive in clusters at the end of the branches. They're nothing fancy, but when you carry a fragrance like orange blossoms, you don't have to be visually impressive. During the winter, if it's happy, it will bloom just enough to remind me it's there.

A happy clutch of bloomers preen beneath the plant lights.
And that's the thing about plants growing indoors. In order to keep the bugs and diseases away, they have to be kept happy. A healthy plant is much more able to fend off the evil spoilers like fungus gnats (more an irritant than anything), spider mites and aphids, just to name some of the more common suspects.

The lights will certainly have a good influence on the refugees from the winter. I won't have to listen to their leaves drop or face the sticky substance left by so many aphids by mid-February. At least I hope not. It might be too early to tell, but I'm optimistic enough to feed them with a blooming fertilizer.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Don't Forget to Plant Indoor Bulbs

The paperwhites (6 of a variety called 'Nir') have all been planted--five in pots and one in a bulb vase, while the Hippeastrum sits idle while it forms roots before pushing out growth.
A paperwhite called 'Wintersun'.
Winter won't get the best of me this time. I'm in quick harvest mode, ordering plants and bulbs to ship before the temps really drop. I have a new Amaryllis and a few paperwhites going so far. The Amaryllis (more correctly, Hippeastrum) hasn't shown signs of growth so far, but I just planted it last week, and it's said to take 8 to 10 weeks to bloom. So the earliest would be December 30, the latest January 13.

I chose this particular Hippeastrum, not for its color, or even for its size. This particular variety, 'Amputo', is said to be fragrant. Besides our need to see growing, living things inside when it's so grey outside, we also crave the scent. Did you know that our scent memories are much stronger than sight and sound recollections? I can still remember the smell of ether from when I had my tonsils out when I was seven. And I certainly link the scent of peonies with their silky feel against my face as my Grandma shows me her prized plants.

This paperwhite is called 'Nir'.
So I've added the paperwhites, even though I remember thinking they were too strong. What I don't remember is when or where I smelled them and made that mental pronouncement. I also ordered some paperwhites that are reportedly less fragrant than the typical varieties. Narcissus 'Winterersun' is said to have a very, very light scent. I haven't gotten them yet and have six of the variety called 'Nir' growing already. 

Narcissus 'Nir' is said to have the classic, musky scent typical to paperwhites. I found a page on the Easy to Grow Bulbs website where comparisons of scent, longevity of bloom and ultimate height are included.

But the paperwhites and Amaryllis aren't the only fragrant plants I'm growing. Somehow I stumbled upon a spiky flower from Madiera with otherworldly blue, fragrant blossoms. I won't even mention their name as I don't have them in hand yet. More later on this really, really cool bulb.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Who Wouldn't Want Indestructible Houseplants?

Tovah Martin's The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow, has something for everyone from neophytes to long-time houseplant addicts.

Houseplants were my gateway intro to gardening. I was 19, and wanted something to take pride in because I couldn't afford furniture. It was all I was able to nurture, as my landlady wouldn't allow pets.

Martin certainly has the chops to write about houseplants. She honed her skills at Logee's Plants for Home and Garden, a name known to anyone who has coveted something unusual in a pot. As one-time family member, for 25 years, she nurtured and toyed with species often made available for the first time to plant-lovers up and down the East Coast.

My mini orchid has no need for staging.
I couldn't help but imagine the plants she doesn't mention in her latest book, but for now, I'll confine myself to the indestructibles. In Martin's book, it's partly about making the typical grocery store species look great when staged in an interesting manner.
Sanseveria (mother in-law's tongue) is elevated to structural element in a squared-off urn. Even the ubiquitous ivy is made to look more stately as a topiary in a stark white vessel, and she's planted a simple fern in a funnel tilted into a container to catch the drips.

I found a pretty pot for this unnamed Begonia. 
Some of the best places to find containers for houseplants are resale shops and garage sales. But the really cool ones were likely not meant to hold plants, as evidenced in Martin's photos. Re-purposed colanders, umbrella stands and enamel roasters shine a new light on plants that would blend into the background otherwise.

Martin opened my eyes to the new hybrids of old favorites. A spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) named 'Bonnie', has extra twisted leaves.  Dracaena 'Lemon Lime' offers a new twist to an old-fashioned plant, with chartreuse and lemon stripes to brighten up the solid green. These are not your '70s houseplants.

I also credit Martin with putting part of a box of old dishes to work as drip-catchers under my pots. I kept meaning to haul the box off to the resale shop, but the load is lighter now, thanks to this tip. And they're much prettier than the Frisbees I'd been using. I even found a use for the "family heirloom turkey platter" to keep an outdoor basket of succulents from oozing over the dining room table.

The turkey platter put to good use.
I'm not certain my in-laws would approve of using the platter in this manner, but the basket of Sedum, Aeonium and Kalanchoe does a great job of hiding the turkey. And although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I believe the platter looks better with plants on it.

Bottom line on The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow: A mini-bible on common houseplants used in uncommon ways that includes lots of tips and recommendations from a writer with scads of experience and an artistic eye for combining and using plants to their fullest potential.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

How to Kill a Gardenia

Flowers are lasting longer now that the heat has gone from the ground. They also take longer to bloom, if that's what stage they were in when the last warmth of summer burrowed into their stems. It's like springtime in reverse, when I sleuth through the garden with my clippers in hand looking for a colorful remnant of the season.
Magnolia sieboldii, a species that actually blooms for us. 

The Gardenia I tried to assassinate has never looked healthier. I'm only admitting to it because my husband never reads my blog. He's the poster boy for Super Sentimentalism. Of course, this isn't all bad. I'd hate it if he tended toward the other extreme. But his sentimentality umbrella touches everything, from the old radio his Grandfather gave him to his favorite wool sweater his Mother accidentally shrunk 30 years ago. I understand these keepsakes; I still have one of the birthday cards my Mom gave me.

But plants? As much as I love plants, I can't become attached to them. Perhaps it's because plants tend to die--sometimes through no fault of my own. I also get tired of plants for various reasons. I got tired of the southern Magnolia that gave us three flowers in eight years. This spring I banished it to the edge of the woods, as it had become a hulking foliage plant that was horning in on its smaller neighbors.

Gardenia - age 20 - in big pot.
As for the Gardenia, I guess I should have more respect. After all, it's been with us for more than 20 years, spending winters in the sun room and looking like it's curled up and died from February through April. It unhappily hosts every sort of insect that happens by, from scale to mites to pill bugs. And did I mention this plant isn't small?

If I didn't prune it regularly, it would most likely reach 10 feet. I try to keep it under five feet tall and four feet wide. It's like having a very wide, slow-moving person camping out in our living space. The reason I tried to kill the original plant is that its baby has grown pretty large. And, while it hasn't really bloomed much, I was thinking we only need one Gardenia in our house in northwest Indiana.

The original 'Miami Supreme' was grafted, and I think that might be the key. Whatever it was grafted on has a really healthy and forgiving roots. That's probably why it took my generous application of 12-12-12 granular in stride. Yes, it's true. I dumped in a whole cup of the stuff on top of the soil. And I scratched it in, covered it with a thin layer of potting soil, and gave it a good watering.

Image from OSU showing a CRF prill.
As you can see from the photo, it actually boosted its growth. I would never recommend this cavalier behavior. Triple 12 granular isn't a cute little prill. And it's certainly not a CRF controlled release fertilizer. Ohio State University offers a nice explanation of this design, which can be found under many names, the best known of which is Osmocote. It has salts in it and actually resembles the stuff those snow plow trucks throw down on the ice.

One plant I'll always (disclaimer: until I get tired of it) have in my garden is a type of Zinnia called Raggedy Ann Mix from Renee's Garden. I've grown lots of Zinnias, but I'd recommend these without reservation, especially for cut flowers. They are of a form called a "cactus" zinnia, with quilled, squared and tousled petals lending a sense of motion to their charming bright colors. They're not all brightly-tinted, but come in shades ranging from deep orange to pale peach.

As the trees to the south of my garden grow ever taller and their ability to obliterate the sun increases, I will have to make some adjustments. My garden is in full sun. At noon. Before and after that, various and sundry trees and shrubs shelter my plants like a swim-proof SPF 30.

Also unbeknownst to my husband, I successfully sabotaged one of the trees he added to our already thick woods on the south side of my garden. Do I feel bad about it? I'd feel pretty bad if we didn't already have half a dozen of the same tree in various stages of their long lives. I feel just bad enough not to tell my husband about it. He's sentimental about white pines.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thousands of Flowers Make Memories and Magic

The wind blew nearly 20 mph while temperatures lingered in the lower '50s, but even that couldn't dampen the excitement around The Flower House. Visitors, volunteers, designers, helpers, organizers, and neighbors mingled on the sidewalk, the empty lot and even in the street to gape, gawk, and in general become awestruck by the idea that became a reality on Friday, October 16 in the down-at-the-heels city of Detroit.
Enchanted visitors brave the cold to wait for the timed tours inside The Flower House.
From behind the house, a dining tent for 180 people.

Just a few days ago, I wrote about what was going on inside the once derelict house on a block that bordered one of the busier conduits through the expansive city. I imagined the floral designers putting up the bones of their creations, seeing into the structure behind the magic they would create with thousands of fresh flowers from all over the country.

I admit the downstairs bathroom, designed by Sweet Pea Floral Design, was one
of my favorites.
In the time I spent inside the house on Friday, I saw a few yards of of chicken wire, miles of string, a few staples and dozens of discreet lights powered without electricity. But what I mostly saw was the care and attention to detail in the choice and placement of blooms that languished in a corner, lined a toilet seat and draped along a line that led from one room to another.

This was so much more than decor. I think the designers each captured a snippet of a life's chapter from this home's former residents. I can imagine a young bride from the early '60s looking for ways to brighten up a drab bathroom without spending too much money. She'd choose rugs and towels of a certain color and texture, happy that they accented the wallpaper that was a bit too bright, but that had been left by the former resident and deemed too much work to pull down. She might have had a taste for whimsy, but buried it for the sake of her autoworker husband and his preference for plain.

I imagine how her downstairs bathroom would make her smile for its bright whimsy and detailed decorations.

Holly Rutt of Sweet Pea Floral Design (left) chats with dahlia grower
Michael Genovese of Summer Dreams Farm

A canopy bed fit for a druid princess
occupied an upstairs bedroom.
I took so many photos but still feel I didn't capture the feel and intent of the house. It's hard to explain, but volunteer Katherine Seeburger gave me some insight. She was one of the docents for the morning tours, and asked people as they emerged from the house what their impressions were. "No one was responding with whole paragraphs," she said. "It was 'wow' or 'awesome.' For most of them, it was an emotional experience."
Flowers light up a table created from a beehive box complete with honey frames.
Even veggies served as beauty queens.

So for now, I'll just post a few photos. I expect the experience will settle in a little more and transform a bit each time I tell someone about it.
Mexican spiced chocolate cake from
Sweet Heather Anne

Monday, October 12, 2015

Inside Detroit's Flower House

When I first heard about The Flower House, the idea just spoke to me. Filling a house with flowers? Literally? There is absolutely no downside.

American florists rising to the challenge of making a neglected room look gorgeous would have been amazing enough. But Lisa Waud, owner of Pot & Box and architect of The Flower House figured why not go for 15 rooms instead. I wrote about it back in July, and you can read my first post here.

Blame it on Dior, whose fall/winter 2012 couture show massed flowers like they'd never been gathered before. As shown in just one video of the idea, take a look at the G-Fresh Flowers sponsored clip.

The floral rooms Dior envisioned and realized in Paris three years ago showed Lisa it could be done. She merely changed the venue to Detroit, and inspired dozens of designers from North America to lend their imaginations to every flower-lover's dream. No small effort any way you cut it.

A preview installed in May lends a touch of reality to the fanciful presentation.
The first person I thought of when I read about The Flower House was Debra Prinzing, champion of the fresh flower movement, and founder of Slow Flowers: the conscious choice for buying and sending flowers.

Would the Seattle writer, even one who has her finger on the pulse of all things floral, know about the Detroit project? Turns out I needn't have doubted it. I e-mailed Debra, who I'd met through Garden Writers, and asked her about it. She'd already interviewed Lisa on a recent podcast, gave me a little info, and invited me to the Field to Vase Dinner, which will be held Friday. Tickets to the dinner, my first foray into field to vase, are already sold out.

So I've been e-mailing back and forth with Lisa about the project and the future of the land on which The Flower House sits. After the big event this weekend, the house will be torn down to make room for Lisa's fresh flower farm. And she'll be growing peonies! Of course, I'm always excited when my favorite flower is recognized for its beauty, and growing peonies for cut flowers is perfection personified!

Jamie Platte with Larissa Flynn and Jennifer Riley-Haf of Bloom
(photo by Megan Newman, Weber Photography)
Growing fresh flowers for use in professional arrangements has caught on like a tsunami hitting the beach. It's hard, dirty work, but the payoff is not only pretty, it's fresher and more unusual than anything in a typical commercial florist's flower fridge.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the designers for The Flower House when I was in Michigan last month. Jamie Platte of A. R. Pontius Flower Shop in Harbor Springs, MI was more relaxed about the process than I thought she'd be.

But she's had nearly a year to think about it. Jamie will pair up with Liz Andre-Stotz, of Parsonage Events to create their room at The Flower House. They met during the preview design work in May. Jamie also knows Lisa, who she went to school with, and Larissa Flynn and Jennifer Riley-Haf of Bloom Floral Design, who also will take part in The Flower House design.
Jamie Platte

"We will work together and come up with something colorful representing the seasons of Michigan," Jamie said. "We might go with fruits and vegetables for color."
Designers won't be using the typical oasis for their creations, so they'll need to choose flowers with some staying power. 
"We've been collecting vials for the flowers, but mostly we’re planning to use flowers that won’t be hurt to be out of water," she said, mentioning Ruscus, Hydrangeas, Alstroemeria

As an actor and musician, Jamie is familiar with improvisation. She recognizes the opportunity to design a room in The Flower House as improv in the extreme, because it's really impossible to imagine what the end product will be. But with as many flowers as Lisa is expecting from growers throughout the country, it can't help but be beautiful.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Flower Favorites for Fall

Dendranthema 'Pumpkin Igloo'
I'll admit to being a snob when it comes to fall mums. They're not my favorites. Oddly enough, I like their fragrance, which many people do not, but I'm lukewarm on the typical form on the typical bedding mum.

That is, until this year when I grew 'Pumpkin Igloo' from Blooms of Bressingham. I didn't expect to like it, but planted it after receiving it from the company to try in my garden. Instead of the muddy burnt orange I'd expected, these little beauties featured a glowing deep peach--just enough saturation to make them stand out on a gloomy day, but with a softness that puts them above the rest.

I especially love their bright yellow centers and double-ish form. Like a button in the center of the cushion, the center of 'Pumpkin Igloo' does what it's meant to in keeping back the perky, partly quilled inner petals.

Franklinia alatamaha in bloom
Taking a page from fellow-blogger Carol Michel in May Dreams Gardens, not to brag but my Franklinia alatamaha bloomed this year. I had two flowers on this mysterious disappearing native tree. For details, see the Penn State Extension tree site. With this tree, it's just a matter of keeping it alive. It's not thriving, though it seemed to have been able to take care of itself at one time on the banks of the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia in 1765. That's when two explorers discovered it and brought it back to civilization.

Although its blooms are said to be fragrant, I've not detected a scent, but there is no denying its beauty.

Passiflora 'Lambiekins'
It wasn't its beauty that attracted me, but its name. Who could resist a flower called 'Lambiekins'? Passiflora 'Lambiekins', to be correct. I ordered one from Grassy Knoll Exotic Plants, knowing I couldn't give it as much sun as it would like.

It is extremely vigorous and generous in its size. My plant was stingy with its flowers, but through no fault of its own. It only gets about three to four hours of direct sun, after all. Its first bloom didn't arrive until late August. I probably got about half a dozen flowers from this tropical passion flower.

Two varieties of Salvia provided me with great color and entertainment through the late summer/early fall season. The giant of the two is 'Amistad', a deep blue variety that's covered a space of six feet by six feet, providing a succession of blooms by July. It hit its stride in August, stretching its stem and becoming the obsession of our two resident hummingbirds.

Its Salvia companion, called 'Love and Wishes' didn't get as large but performed like a trooper despite its raucous neighbor. Both Salvias came from Flowers by the Sea, a place with some really cool plants.

The cool back story about 'Love and Wishes' is its parentage. According to Flowers by the Sea, it was hybridized by Australian retiree John Fisher when he crossed it with Salvia x 'Wendy's Wish'. He decided its sales, like its parent plant, should benefit Australia's Make-a-Wish Foundation.

I grew 'Wendy's Wish' a couple of years ago in a very large container and loved it. The only variety of this special trio I haven't grown is 'Ember's Wish'--and yet another plant to look forward to growing next year.