My Pothos is an Imposter

There was a certain irony to me being assaulted by a Pothos. I was shopping at a garden center in southwest Michigan, and was zoned in to my usual swivel-headed focus when it happened. If I hadn't been moving so slowly because of the crowded space, I might have caused a scene. As it was, my flailing, hornet-in-my-hair moves did attract a few looks.

Philodendron 'Burle Marx Fantasy' before I butchered it. 
My niece JJ had been asking me about growing this ubiquitous houseplant. Her grandfather had given her a healthy specimen in a hanging pot. She decided to try to propagate some new plants from it, so I shared a method I've used for other plants somewhere in my distant past. Full disclaimer: I don't really like pothos (whose botanical name is Epipremnum aureum). It's just that they often are draped throughout someone's sunless office, a couple of feet of stem between each sagging leaf. It's not their fault; I just can't get the image out of my head whenever I hear or see the plant's name.

I've always had more success propagating anything by cutting a stem, dipping it in rooting hormone (in most cases), and poking it into a airy soil mixture. Over the years, I've found that a plant whose roots were grown in water have a hard time acclimating to soil. And if you're not incredibly careful, you'll lose several roots as it's settled into the soil.

In a prime example of having so many plants I can't keep their names straight, I  snapped a photo of a plant I thought was a Pothos (Yes, I wondered briefly how one had gotten into my house.) and illustrated cutting segments that could be used for propagation. It wasn't until today that I realized it wasn't a Pothos but a Philodendron called 'Burle Marx Fantasy'.

If I'd known at the time what it was, and how slowly this plant grows, I would not have been so cavalier about carving it up. In researching the best practices for propagating both plants, I came across a great article about the differences betwen the two from the University of Illinois Extension.

That was several weeks ago and both JJ and I failed in our attempts to grow cuttings. Besides discovering how I just might be collecting too many plants to keep them straight, I realized how important heat is to successful root growth in most plants. And that is especially true, it seems, with both pothos and Philodendron.

I've been using the same jar of rooting hormone made by Fertilome for about 10 years. You need so little of it, it just lasts that long. I probably should have told JJ she needed a heat mat and some rooting hormone. But I wanted to keep it simple, and I didn't want to price a teenager out of a great hobby. But I underestimated her drive to grow plants. When she told me she's gotten a heat mat, I told her she should get some Vermiculite or Perlite to mix with a bit of soil in which to start cuttings.

JJ thinks I'm teaching her about plants, but she's teaching me as well. Recommending a soil "lightener" for cuttings made me look up the difference between Vermiculite and Perlite. Basically, perlite has better drainage ability, while vermiculite holds moisture like a sponge.

Both vermiculite and perlite are mined minerals that are heat-treated for use in aerating soils. Vermiculite has distinct layers (think puff pastry, only compressed), which allows for air and moisture to be absorbed. Perlite is more like mini moonstones, and it also retains moisture but excess water quickly drains away.

JJ's had success with one of the pothos cuttings she's rooted in water! She potted it yesterday in a mixture of soil and Perlite and has put it on her heat mat. I'm pretty sure she has a natural way with plants, a talent that requires attention to detail and common sense as well as the patience to try, try again.

Challenging Plants Weird Yet Wonderful

Begonia 'Silver Jewell' in MOBOT conservatory.
April is the perfect month to visit a conservatory. One of my favorites is at Missouri Botanical Garden. Even though we might see a few warmish, sunny days, there is nothing like a warm humid room full of plants to get your gardening engine going.

Jade vine in conservatory.
While I'd never be able to grow most of the plants inside, some pique my interest, which is one of the reasons I take photos so I can check them out later on. I know I could do it on the spot with my phone, but I prefer not to interrupt my enjoyment of the surroundings to go as Google.

The American Begonia Society rates the culture of Begonia 'Silver Jewell' as on the difficult side, but ideal for the advanced begonia grower. You've been forewarned.

Callistemon citrinus
During visits to MOBOT's conservatories, I got to see a jade vine, which comes from the jungles of the Philippines. It's a pretty rampant vine, and wouldn't like it much in the Chicago region. It's botanic name is Strongylodon macrobotrys, and its flowers are of a other-worldly turquoise color. Logee's Plants offers it, but they don't recommend it for a one-summer bloomer, especially in cooler climates.

Callistemon citrinus is a plant you can't possibly pass by--especially when it's in bloom. This Australian native is a tree, and even though there are dwarf forms that grow no taller than four feet, it is another one that probably wouldn't do well as a summer tropical on my patio.

I had lots of fun growing hardy dunce cap, though. This cute little succulent with a tongue-twister of a name--Orostachys moehmari--makes it okay to call it by its common name.

Hardy dunce cap can survive winters as cold as Zone 6, but only if it's planted in rocky, well-drained soil. It has been known to survive temperatures as low as -30 F, but only if it is growing in the ideal conditions.

Orostachys boehmeri, or hardy dunce cap, blooms in September. It is hardy to Zone 6.
As with any plant that you hope to live on beyond one summer, keeping it very healthy throughout the growing season is essential. Fertilize if necessary, but cut back the food as the days grow shorter. Its roots should be robust and full of nutrients in order to survive the winter. Because nobody likes to go to bed hungry.

I'll be including batfaced Cuphea to my summer plant list again this year.

From a distance, Cuphea llavea, or batfaced Cuphea is well-covered in small red flowers. But up close, it's a lot more interesting. It got its common name from its central purple "face" surrounded by bright red "ears."  It's a shrub in its native Mexico, but will remain compact and bushy at no more than two-feet tall in a summer garden. It thrives in full sun and the hummingbirds love it.

Always consider a plant's requirements before bringing it home to enjoy. Give it some time to acclimate to its new surroundings, and then enjoy the challenge.

Grow a Super Jade Plant

Healthy jade plants do well in clay planters.
Photo by Colorado State University.
The first time it happened was in the fall, 20-some years ago. My 10 year-old jade plant had spent the summer in a shady spot outside during the summer. It had gotten so big over the years, I figured it could fend for itself on my patio. Actually, it was getting too big to live inside. I'd purchased a toy poodle and it grew into a Great Dane.

Jade plants are so easy to grow. I'd started several plants from cuttings and given most of them to friends. I kept a couple, and they already were on their way toward becoming sizable plants.

Blooming jade plant. Photo from Washington State University.
So what happened was that, when I was getting ready to figure out whether or not to give the big jade plant another season inside, I noticed it was covered with flowers. They weren't big, bright flowers, but blooms nonetheless. Clemson University gives a good cultural rundown for jade plants.

If you want to try putting your jade plant outside for the summer, here are some recommendations:

1.  Don't even think about putting your jade outside until nighttime temperatures are settled in the 60s.

2  Make sure the pot it is in has drainage.

3.  Position the plant under a covered patio. Jade plants don't really like direct sun.

4.  If the plant is pot bound, repot it a few weeks before putting it outside so it won't have two big life changes to contend with at once.

5.  Keep in mind that you will have to water it more often because of the heat and wind, which tend to accelerate soil drying out.

6.  Use a good balanced fertilizer, like Dyna-Gro, every other time you water, or set up a weekly schedule so you remember when you fed it last. Alternatively, you can sprinkle Osmocote on the top of the soil, which will feed the plant throughout the summer.

7.  If your garden is a haven for four-legged wildlife like squirrels or raccoons, keep an eye on your jade plant, especially during droughts. I'm pretty sure it was a pack of delinquent squirrels that ate a large stem off my jade the next year. It was salvageable but wasn't pretty. 

8. It's a good idea to take cuttings of your jade plant to keep indoors just in case the one outdoors grows too big to bring back inside.

With the combination of humidity and better light than it had inside, your jade plant will transform into a "super houseplant," with thicker stems and leaves, and possibly, even flowers.

Sharing Succulents

A long-held, nearly-dashed dream has finally come true for me. One of my nieces has discovered plants! I've got a wide range of nieces and nephews, and she's the youngest at nearly 14. When she was here with her mom (my sister) during the holidays, I gave her a couple of succulents she liked. She had a million questions!

JJ: How often do I water?
Me: that depends
JJ: well I'll put them near a window in my room. It faces North.
Me: (Be still my heart. She knows her directions!) Let me show you the pencil test. It's kind of a touchy-feely thing that you almost have to be present for, which she was, but she was apparently somewhere else. Not that there's anything wrong with that. No! She's a teenager, after all. Incomplete sentences with abbreviated words containing no more than two letters dotted with emoticons and whatnot are flying through her brain when she's asleep, let alone awake. Or maybe she just forgot. Which I can totally relate to. Later on, I did a video of me sticking a freshly-sharpened, new wood-showing pencil down into the soil of a pot full of succulents.

JJ:  So... That's how you tell if it needs water?

Me: Well, yes. You see how the pencil is dry, no dirt morsels are clinging to it or anything? She looked like she got it.

JJ:  How much water should I give it?

Me: (Wow! Another tough one. She's relentless.) Get yourself a bottle of water, you know the environmentally-incorrect 16.9 fl. ounce plastic ones you throw out after using. (Which makes me think of something else she should know.) You shouldn't use water from the tap if it's been softened. The salts aren't at all good for the plants.

My niece looks to her mom, who looks surprised. Her mouth forms the beginning of the "oops" word. I immediately tell her that now that she knows, JJ will be much more successful with her plants and won't have to buy new ones all the time.

My response went like this: Ninety-nine percent of the time, you'll want to gently pour onto the soil, avoiding the plant if possible, a little water at a time until you see water coming out of the bottom of the container. (I didn't want to ask if her containers had drainage holes. That's an entirely new convo.)

JJ:  So do you think it will like my north window?

Me:  (I felt like I was about to tell a 3 year-old she couldn't ride the pony.) You need to get yourself some lights, I told her, knowing this whole thing had turned complicated. I saw my sister's eyes glaze over. Until then, I'll do some research to see what you might be able to grow in a north-facing window.

I am so enjoying this blossoming plant relationship with my niece. We're texting back and forth, and I love that she's sharing her insights into growing plants, which she says is teaching her patience. Yikes! A teen with patience. Might happen. If she really wants it.

I'm an impatient gardener, so I'm going to try not to drown her with my experiences and stories from the '70s when macrame was discovered. For now, I'm just really happy to have a related enthusiast to talk to about my favorite things.

Thanks, JJ!

All Atwitter About Agapanthus

Unknown Agapanthus from 2016 blooming in 2017.
About a year ago, I wrote about how some of my Agapanthus were doing. I'd purchased an unknown variety at a garden center late season sale and enjoyed its blooms through summer of 2016.

About a year ago, I divided its root system into two plants, and one of them bloomed in September, 2017.

Meanwhile, I'd purchased a couple more for my collection. That's me--send me a little luck with a plant and I have to buy more.

One of the Agapanthus I picked up at a GWA symposium/trade show as a sample in fall, 2016. To tell the truth, I got three; they were small. I treated them like the others, its first season beginning in spring of 2017.

Flowers of Agapanthus 'Neverland' have a delicate
purple stripe at the center of each petal.
Although it filled the pot pretty well, it didn't bloom last summer. I decided to turn it into a houseplant for the winter and have been growing it under lights. Guess what?!?! It bloomed! Well, let's just say it sent up one flower spike, which I cut off because it came up with aphids. I guess the little blighters couldn't get enough of the succulent petals.

Although not a deep blue like many of the best cultivars, 'Neverland' had flowers of the palest purple with deeper purple stripes down the center of each petal.

And then there is a cultivar called 'Elaine', which I ordered from Glasshouse Works last spring. This cultivar promises flowers of a deeper blue, and according to Glasshouse Works owner Ken, it's easier to flower than some of the others.

It was ready to practically jump out of the plastic pot I planted it in. I thought I'd best knock it out of the pot and deal with it first. I had to slit the pot down one side to get it out, but what I found were some seriously healthy roots. 
Agapanthus 'Elaine' was struggling to be released from the pot she's been in for nearly a year.

I planted it in a pot about an inch or so larger on all sides, because Agapanthus like their roots to settle in nice and cozy before putting out any blooms. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

African Albuca Bulb Belongs in the World of Weird Yet Wonderful

Albuca spiralis in early March, 2017.
If every picture tells a story, then every plant has a lot to say. I love to learn about a plant's background; it makes them more interesting. Knowing a plant's past allows you to visualize it in place and time, before they wound up on a shelf in a shop, displayed at a trade show, or on a bench in a nursery.

I tend to take better care of those I've chosen in person. Like the Albuca spiralis 'Frizzle Sizzle', which I found in Phoenix when I was visiting my sister and attending a Chicago Cubs spring training game.

Here it is in the same pot September, 2017 after a summer spent
on the patio, its little green bulb began to sprout. 
It reminded me of a Charlie Brown tree, with its pair of wispy leaves emerging from a bulb that might have been the Martian version of Charlie Brown’s head. It was planted in a 4-inch pot and it cost
almost $20. Spending that much for a bulb in a pot with two leaves is, even for me, not a habit. But when I learned from its tag that it comes from Africa, I decided to give it a try. If I had to name my latest passion it would be growing plants that originated in Africa.

From the limited information I've found online, most sources say the flowers are fragrant. I didn't detect a scent so I put it in my bedroom with the door closed. I woke up thinking someone put a used frying pan on my bed. Not quite the scent of old grease, it smelled like a pan that had browned French toast or pancakes the previous day and hadn't been washed.

Flowers of Albuca spiralis don't have a pleasant fragrance--unless you like
your flowers to smell like a used saute pan. 
So although it can be described as having fragrant flowers, Albuca spiralis isn't something you'd want to bury your nose in. Unless you're hungry for French toast. Luckily, the scent isn't strong in a large room, so I'm not ready to cut the flowers off. I see them as a badge of honor, indicating that I'm giving the plant what it wants in order to perform as it would in its home environment.

So where can you purchase your very own Albuca spiralis? Logee's Plants for Home and Garden offers it for sale, as does Hirt's Garden. It seems plant purveyors are having trouble keeping this little wierdo in stock.

It's Time to Plant Some Seeds

On a sunny day with temperatures looking higher than they're actually reading, I sort my seed packets like playing cards, thinking about what to play next. I know it's too early for most of the seeds. Unless you have loads of growing space that is warm and sunny, and don't worry about insects, it doesn't pay to start seeds of say, tomatoes, until at least the second week in March.

But wait! I have some new Lavender seed of a type I've never heard of, let alone grown. It's called fernleaf lavender (Lavandula multifida) from Renee's Garden. Renee has never failed me. I've been growing seed from her through a media program where she allows writers to obtain at no cost several packets to trial each year. Before that, I've purchased several packets from Renee's. 

In addition to a few other flower varieties, I'll also soon be starting a tomato from Renee called 'Tasmanian Chocolate'. It's one of Renee's new vegetable introductions for this year, can be grown in a container, and yields medium-sized fruit. 

Another vegetable I'll be trying in containers is a green bean called 'French Mascotte'. I've tried growing beans several times with little luck--I could never harvest enough for one serving at a time. I'll be planting these beans in my VegTrug so that I can grow enough plants to at least have a two-person side dish. I'll plant these directly into the Veg Trug some time in May.

Last year's China aster Callistephus from my garden looks
great with Eucomis, or pineapple lily. This variety is a mix from Ball.
A new source for seed for me this year is Floret, a company that specializes in cut flowers. I'll be starting China aster Tower Chamois Apricot, an annual aster that makes the best cut flower you can imagine.
Although it's out of Floret's stock, Johnny's Select Seeds has it.

Annual asters are actually Callistephus chinensis (Cal-ISS-teh-fus chi-NEN-sis), a bit of a tongue-twister, but knowing this may help avoid confusion if you want to differentiate it from perennial asters, AKA Symphyotrichum.

Last year, I was able to find starter plants at my local garden center in July. They were Ball Florist mix, so out of the eight plants, I had a variety of pink, purple and white double, and semi-double flowers.

Best of Plants 2017: April Flowers

Primula 'Nectarine'
 A double pink Hellebore.
It really begins to get colorful in April, May and June.  Which is why I decided to post a month at a time.

By the time April steps in, anticipation moves outdoors, thanks to planning and selection of early bloomers.

One of my new acquisitions is a trio of primroses I planted in late summer 2015. They are part of the Primula Belarina series named 'Nectarine', and their color is a luscious yellow/pink. The literature I've found indicates they are fragrant, but you'd have to go into belly crawl mode to detect it, because the plants are no more than 8" tall. I think I'll try some in containers so I can appreciate them up close. They now come in several colors, ranging from Cream to Cobalt.

I've been adding to my collection of Hellebores over the years, and a few have lost their identity. Or, more accurately, I've lost their identities. One of my favorites is a double, with darker pink outer petals and pale pink inner petals lightly splashed with the same shade as the outer petals. I love to combine Hellebores with pretty much everything, from Epimedium to ferns, creating colorful groundcovers in the mid-spring garden.

Anemonella thalictroides 'Shoaf's Double'
Another little flower that enjoys shade is Anemonella thalictroides 'Shoaf's Double'. I purchased just one plant several years ago, and it's finally tripled in size. Which isn't saying much considering it was in a 2" pot to begin with. They aren't cheap, and there were so many other plants at the nursery that were begging to come home with me. I had to prioritize and so I just bought one. When you do this, it can be hard to keep track of it because it might tend to be overshadowed by its neighbors. I kept its companions on the dainty size so it wouldn't be overwhelmed.

I've noticed the first three flowers I mentioned all are doubles, meaning they have double (and sometimes more) the number of petals on its flowers. Some flowers look good as doubles, while others do not, but that's my own opinion.

I don't seek out doubles over singles, especially in lilies, which I think look terrible as doubles--and that goes for both the day lily and the Lilium.

Double Take Scarlet Quince is great for early color, with its double-petaled bright red flowers.

Aquilegia 'Winky Double Red-White' never fails to bring on a smile.
And always plays host to some early-arriving bees.
Geum 'Cosmopolitan' is one of the varieties without an orange tone
to its color--the better to mix with other early-bloomers.
It's not good to have all the color at ground level, especially if you plan on viewing your garden stars through a window on a rainy day.

Flowering quince 'Double Take Scarlet' is aptly named, as its presence is hard to miss. The shrub is around 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide, and blooms very early in the spring, so you'll have lots of branches to bring inside for a vase or to leave outside for you and your neighbors to enjoy.

Sometimes called "granny's bonnet" because of its flower shape, Aquilegia, comes in double forms. I couldn't pass 'Winky Double Red-White' up at the garden center. It was just so darned cute! Growing to just about 18" tall, this little plant has kept its looks for three years so far.

Aquilegia (commonly called columbine) isn't known for its longevity in the garden, but will often reseed, its offspring reverting back to the hybrid's parentage.

One of the easiest perennials to grow for early season color is Geum, or avens. This rose relative grows a compact clump of green leaves, and suddenly sprouts flowers on top of 10" to 16" stems. It comes in colors in the yellow-red range and in single, semi-double and double-flowering types.

Some garden centers will have stock plants in bloom in April. They're well worth the search.
While most of the flowers blooming in my garden in April are perennials, and come back by themselves each year, some come from garden centers. Mid-April is not too early to shop for plants--even some annual flowers enjoy the unsettled spring weather. One of my favorites is stock or Matthiola. The most fragrant in my experience are the white double-flowered forms. Stock is usually available in flats, so you often end up with a mix. But if you make sure at least one out of four is a double white, you'll have the most heavenly fragrance to enjoy outdoors!

Houseplant Renaissance

Epipremnum ‘Silver Satin', aka Satin Pothos, Silk Pothos,
or Silver Philodendron  is a variety of a plant I grew in the '70s.
Everyone seems to be on board with houseplants. Just the term, "houseplant" is new to anyone under the age of 50, or familiar only within the confines of a statement that also includes the term "grandma." You could say it's the '70s all over again, but this incarnation of what were, in most recent memory, called "foliage plants" is different. For one thing, there are lots more varieties of Pothos (devil's ivy) and Sanseveria (snake plant) to choose from. And succulents? In the '70s, we were limited mostly to jade plants, and those cacti with the fake flowers stuck into them.

I started with houseplants. They sucked me in as gateway drugs are known to do, and when I moved to a south window-bearing apartment, the real madness began.

A sign of the times, or this iteration of the succulent trend is well-illustrated with these wine cork plant holders.
I discovered succulents, which likely came along with the turquoise and silver craze that ruled the '70s along with ground-grazing bell bottoms and bongs. My logic went like this: "They're small, so I can have more." That logic serves me well now that I seem to have come full circle.
A fresh batch of Echeverias at TPIE.

However jade plants and aloes arrived in the Midwest, I fell in love and wanted more. It was long before Google and online commerce, so researching sources for some of the more unusual succulents took a bit of imagination.

One of the first books I bought on the subject was published in 1977 by Jack Kramer. I still have it, and at the back of the book is a list of sources. Most are in California, although there were a few outside that state. One of them,  Lauray of Salisbury in Salisbury, CT, just closed its doors in 2015. Also closing its doors in 2015 was Abbey Garden, Carpenteria, CA.

I was able to find a few still doing business. Abbey Brook Cactus Nursery in Sheffield, England is still in business. Grigsby Cactus Gardens is selling its cacti and succulents online.  Logee's and Karutz Greenhouses are still going strong.

Stromanthe sanguinea ‘Tricolor’
Today, most of the houseplants that line the endcaps and overflow all manner of structures in stores from Walmart to independent garden centers are grown in Florida and California.

There is no common name for Stromanthe (stroh-MAN-thee), but it's not that hard to say. A particularly striking variety called 'Tricolor' caught my eye at the Tropical Plant International Expo in Ft. Lauderdale. What a gorgeous foliage plant! If you have a bright, east-facing window, you can grow it as a houseplant. It can be grown in dappled shade outdoors when weather is consistently above 60 degrees F. It's a Brazilian rain forest native, so it likes lots of humidity.

Today's succulents do a lot more
hanging around than they used to.

Dracaena marginata 'Ray of Sunshine'
If taller houseplants fit into your plans, give Dracaena a chance. The species D. marginata often is referred to as Madagascar dragon tree. One of the newer, more unusually colored varieties is 'Ray of Sunshine', because it has a very wide, bright gold center in each leaf. Dracaena marginata is known for its versatile nature, and makes a great houseplant if you have a bright spot inside. They'll go leggy if they don't get enough light, so it's best to give them as much as they can to keep them compact and colorful. And, as with any houseplant, don't overwater it.

January in Florida = Tropical Plant Feast at TPIE: Tropical Plant International Expo

Like being in an air-conditioned tropical paradise, I could have lived there forever, just looking after the plants. The Tropical Plant International Expo at the Ft. Lauderdale Expo Center  featured thousands of my favorite things--from orchids to air plants, terrariums both sitting and dangling. And the thousands of attendees were there to buy plants, equipment and accessories; to find ideas and inspiration.

Vanda orchids dangled gracefully on a display by Silver Vase
Air plants, or Tilandsias, continue to make an appearance, along with all kinds of succulents. And orchids?

The display of Vanda orchids at the Silver Vase booth stopped me in my tracks. They hung in all their tropical glory--dripping with roots and totally unnerved by their lack of soil.

They were totally on board with Pantone's color of the year. And they looked wonderful in ultraviolet, whether solid, speckled or edged in it.

A small clutch of Sanseveria, a Euphorbia and a ZZ plant.
As fascinated as I was with all the great plants at the show, I was just as amazed by the variety of the containers available to grown them in.
Haworthi 'Miami' offered
an extra stripey pop.
Bromeliads continued to reign.

Eve's Garden, of Groveland, Florida, has found a beautiful and modern
way of combining living beauty with home decor. 

Santino makes beautiful self-watering containers.
Arizona East offers both plants and original and imaginative containers.

LiveTrends continues to keep up with living
and trendy home decor.
I snapped photos like a madwoman. These are just a few from the trade show, which was almost too much to cover in one day. I'll post again with more, including the wonderful grower field trip I went on

Best Plants of 2017: The First Quarter

Fuchsia 'New Wind Chimes Dark Eye' shares a container
with Pelargonium 'Distinction'.
Looking back on the year of plants, I decided to choose two stand-outs for each month of 2017, and list them one quarter at a time, the same way I organize my plant photos.

During the winter, I keep a few dozen plants taken from cuttings and other new plants purchased just for the house.
Pelargonium 'Distinction' is pretty even without flowers.
For January, 2017 there was Fuchsia 'New Wind Chimes Dark Eye', impressive enough for just making it to January, but it actually offered up a few flowers while little else was in bloom.
Oxalis adenophylla asks little and performs
well in early winter.

I can't seem to get enough Pelargoniums (commonly known as geraniums), especially the fancy-leaved varieties. Some will even bloom, lightly and sporadically just to keep things interesting during the cold, dark months.

By February, a couple of little Oxalis (shamrocks) began to shine, producing leaves and flowers at the same time. My favorite is the species O. adenophylla, commonly known as wood sorrel. Although it is hardy, I can't imagine not planting where I can see it up close to appreciate its delicate-looking bluish leaves, which is the main attraction.

Another Pelargonium continues to impress, even sending up a few blooming stems. It's called 'Mosaic Silky', which I'm guessing refers to the leaves and flowers respectively. The pale green leaves are etched in white; its double flowers a mid-pink with petals as ruffled as the bows on a little girl's party dress.

Pelargonium 'Mosaic Silky' has flowers as pretty as its leaves.

Zephyranthes primulina is a pretty little flower that grows
easily from a bulb.
March can be a frustrating month. You've pretty much had it with winter, but if you're lucky you might be rewarded with blooms as impatient to get going as you are.

Such was the case in March, 2017 that my little pot of yellow rain lilies brightened up my days. Easy to grow from a tiny bulb, these little guys put on a subtle show throughout the summer after I'd put it outside.

Stinky heirloom Freesia, or Freesia
leichtlinii subsp. alba
looks better than it smells.
A match made in heaven occurred when I had unexpected success with a species Freesia. According to the botanists, this species is now called Freesia leichtlinii subsp. alba, meaning it's a subspecies of F. Leichtlinii. Whatever. I heard it was easier to grow than the colorful hybrids you see in bouquets, so I gave it a try. Amazingly, the pot of straggly leaves sent up some blooms in March! The only drawback is that I couldn't stand the smell. It's one of those scents that hit you like a ton of bricks, somewhat like paperwhites, which I also find offensive. I imagine if it were warm enough to put them outside, they might be enjoyable. I put them in the garage instead.

Love is Understood: Peony Book Both Beautiful and Informative

It's one of the prettiest books to come out in years. Sure, I might be prejudiced, but what peony-lover wouldn't love to receive Peony: The Best Varieties for Your Garden in their Christmas stocking? Authors David Michener and Carol Adelman combine their expertise to create a luscious and colorful immersion into the world of the peony.

Books like this one, along with print catalogs, and memories of my Grandma's peonies are what have encouraged my lifelong love of peonies. My peony passion hasn't wavered, and I still can't get enough of them--in pictures and in real life.

This latest book on my favorite flower, published by Timber Press just this year, is for those like me, who are already sold on peonies' allure. It also is for those who think all peonies flop in a rain shower, or haven't mastered the exclusions of ants in a bouquet. Michener and Adelman address these excuses for not growing this breathtaking flower.

But well beyond the tips and techniques are the photos and descriptions. The authors have chosen a wide selection of types, forms and colors; from heirloom varieties to the latest hybrids. Because it takes so long for a peony to go from promising seedling to available plant, the latest might include the beautiful 'Belleville' introduced by Harold Wolfe and Don Hollingsworth in 1988.

When it doesn't get as much sun as it likes, Peony 'Summer Glow'
will benefit from support
The newest also includes 'Carnation Bouquet'. This herbaceous variety, a double fragrant hybrid was introduced in 1996 and listed as needing support. And the thing about support, the authors say, is that some peonies, from old to new varieties, need it.

And in my opinion, such beautiful flowers are well worth the extra effort. For example, I have to stake the new Hollingsworth introduction, 'Summer Glow' even though it is one of those labeled, "support not needed" in Peony: The Best Varieties for Your Garden. It's because of what the authors call "shade creep," a phenomenon many gardeners contend with.

David Michener is associate curator at the University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum and is overseeing the rejuvenation of the historic Peony Garden. The garden, which I've visited several times, is the largest public collection of historic herbaceous peonies in North America.

Carol Adelman and her husband own and operate Adelman Peony Gardens near Salem, OR, where they grow nearly 500 varieties of peonies. I had the pleasure of visiting their growing fields in the spring of 2007.

Tree peony 'Door County Sunset'.
In the Tree Peony category, the authors include several new varieties, most by William Seidl, of Manitowoc, WI. Mr. Seidl passed away in October, 2016, leaving a legacy that included dozens of tree peonies. My first introduction to one of Seidl's peonies was in 2010 at the American Peony Society's convention in Janesville, WI.

I'm looking forward to acquiring some of William Seidl's new hybrids, introduced between 1989 and 2013.

And that's what the best gardening books do--encourage you to plant more, grow more, and learn more about the flowers that evoke the most emotion. In this case, peonies.

If I hadn't already received a review copy of Peony: The Best Varieties for Your Garden, I would certainly include it on my Christmas gift list.