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!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Unexpected Houseplant is a Welcome Guide

Seldom do my worlds collide like they did when my interest in houseplants was reawakened and I stumbled upon The Unexpected Houseplant. It was the cover photo that drew me in, a gorgeous planter with primroses blooming their cute little heads off.

It also was the title, as I took it to mean author Tovah Martin had blurred the line between indoor windowsill and outdoor patio plants. And she has. In a big and surprising way.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the world opened up to allow entry to an expanded array of plants that work well in pots. Don't ask me how I discovered Lachenalias, a South African bulb with flowers that are across between a chubby little Muscari and a relaxed florist's hyacinth.

I found and ordered a clutch of bulbs from Easy to Grow Bulbs, but found it nearly impossible to find any detailed information on growing them. They were in Martin's book! She called them the "easiest, most beguiling little bulbs you can possibly imagine."

Look for Ornithogalums in local supermarkets in December.
I'll be planting five bulbs of Lachenalia 'Rupert' together in a pot to brighten up my holidays. Emboldened and intrigued by the photos I saw that I bought seed for Lachenalia aloides. The seeds are as small as poppyseeds, and they came with instructions on how to treat them with Liquid Smoke to break their dormancy. I'll let you know later how that goes.

I also bought some bulbs for Ornithogalum dubium 'Coconut Cream', which I've already tucked into a planter with some Amaryllis bulbs saved from previous years. I don't know if this variety of Ornithogalum is the same one I grew last year after finding it in a supermarket, it should be close.

The Unexpected Houseplant doesn't go into detail about growing every plant Tovah Martin mentions. But with her descriptions, conversational narrative and photos, she lights a fire under every person whose ever grown plants indoors. Or outdoors for that matter.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Take a Chance on Marginally Hardy or Short-lived Plants

Although I've been in denial, this year I've come to the realization that pretty much my entire backyard can be labeled "partial sun." Because of the denial thing, I've purchased dozens of plants whose cultural requirements include sun. They also claim to be hardy to zones warmer than the one in which I live.

So how did they do? Here are just three that I grew (or have seen flower) for the first time in 2014.

Alstroemeria 'Inca Husky' has been blooming since I planted it in a  south-facing raised bed. 'Inca Husky' was bred by Konst Alstroemeria as a "micro," topping out around 10 inches in height. Considering its placement in a partly-shaded section of the garden, it pretty much stayed that height all summer. I love to bring flowers inside for a vase, and Alstroemeria are known for their long vase life, but I had to use a really short vase for this little beauty.

I would give this plant an A-grade for its bloom activity and hope to find more in the Inca series next year. The company, which originated in Nieuwveen, Holland, seems to be working on expanding its availability in the U.S. with growers on both coasts. On my next visit to Sunshine Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL, where I purchased 'Inca Husky', I'll look for more in the series, hopefully a variety that grows just a bit taller. Will 'Inca Husky' make it through the winter? I hope so. But its performance has given it a status in my garden that encourages me to try again if it doesn't.

I love poppies of all kinds, and I'd love to have more of a variety called 'Bolero'. This luscious grape-colored variety should be kept away from its orange relations, at least in my garden. When you put a delicately-hued flower with one with a jarring vibrance, neither wins out.

'Bolero' is a hardy Oriental poppy that remained under three feet tall, despite its less-than-fully-sunny location. I'd planted this variety in spring of 2013, and it grew like crazy that year, its rosette of leaves bulking up and not going dormant as Orientals usually do. This year it didn't offer up too many flowers, but I have high hopes for next year. 

In a partially-shaded garden Papaver orientale are not long-lived. If I get two years of blooms from 'Bolero', I'll be very happy.

Eucomis autumnalis
I purchased three bulbs of Eucomis autumnalis from Brent and Becky's Bulbs. and planted them in a container with Gomphrena 'Pink Zazzle' and Pennisetum 'Fireworks'. 

Of all thee Eucomis I planted in pots, this species by far surpassed them all. It started to bloom in late June, still looked great a month later, and I finally cut off the flower spikes in early August. 

Two of the other Eucomis I planted bloomed, but nowhere near as prolifically.

Eucomis is rated hardy to Zone 7, so I am leaving them all in their pots and keeping them in my garage for the winter. I'll let you know how they fare.

My garden is my laboratory. Each year I try dozens of new plants, many that aren't necessarily hardy in my planting zone. I go willingly into each experiment with my eyes open, but knowing your zone, what it means, and how to read a plant's tag are vital for a gardener's success. 

A lot has been written about Alstroemeria and its hardiness, with claims of winter survival in Zone 5. Cautious growers can get certain varieties through the winter in Zones 5 and 6, depending on several factors, including:
  • Drainage - the soil shouldn't allow any puddling or standing water at the crown or anywhere the roots are growing, whether the plant is growing or dormant.
  • Winter temps and snow cover - some winters are just plain harsh and involve a crap shoot combination of wind, temperature, plant location and snow cover. If it all goes right, plants stand less of a chance of going belly up.
  • Health of the plant - hedge your bets by growing plants as healthily as possible during the summer months. If they go into winter in good condition and with a healthy root system, they can withstand winter with a fighting chance of making it through.
All of the same holds true with some Eucomis, although I'm still going to bring mine into the garage.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Easy Arranger Give-Away

When the folks at Annabelle Noel sent me a package of Easy Arrangers, I knew I had to stage a give-away. And then I got busy and forgot.

So now, with the holiday season coming up, I'd like to invite you to comment on this post by November 10 to enter my drawing for a 5-inch Easy Arranger.

These great bouquet assistants make it easy to create upstanding arrangements with your own garden flowers or those you purchase at the florist. They come in several sizes and shapes, including a 4-inch square model for a square vase.

The wire is malleable enough to form easily around the opening of a vase, or even use it inside the opening. I was able to use a 4-inch diameter cachepot for a bunch of short-stemmed flowers, including the fairly soft-stemmed Calendula I'd started from seed.

The six-inch Easy Arranger was called into play and bent inward toward the center of the pot, giving the wire frame some stability. From there it was easy to add the flowers.

Flowers like pot marigold (Calendula) and floss flower (Ageratum) fill a small cachepot.
This July arrangement features the Easy Arranger and its detachable little green dangles.
In some of my arrangements, more is more, and when I gathered an abundance of blooms from lilies, Hydrangea, Veronica, Kniphofia and more, I clipped four green dangles from Easy Arranger onto the wire before adding the flowers.

By late August, even Maurice wanted to horn his way into one of my photos.
I was still creating arrangements in late August, now with flowers from Heuchera 'Autumn Bride', Zinnias and cockscomb (Celosia).

So here's what you will need to do to enter my drawing for a free Easy Arranger: Just click on "comment" below and let me know your experience when putting flowers in a vase, if the flowers are from your garden or from a florist, and what you like to put into your arrangement--flowers, foliage, etc. If you have a blog, include it in the comment.

I will choose one of your comments at random and announce the winner in a future blog and on my Facebook page.