Easy and Colorful: Blooms for Beginners!

Hippeastrum 'Razzle Dazzle' in bloom today
  If you thought Amaryllis were for advanced gardeners, you might want to revise your prejudice. From a papery brown bulb to this bodacious beauty is just a matter of patience.
  Of course you have to help it along a bit with proper planting.
  'Razzle Dazzle' began to open yesterday; 'Pavlova' (below), 10 days ago.  If everything goes well, I should have cut flowers through St. Paddy's Day!
  'Pavlova' wasn't staked like 'Razzle Dazzle' so she flopped as soon as two flowers opened. I cut the stem and, 10 days later, she is still blooming in a vase on my desk at work.
Hippeastrum 'Pavlova' opened 10 days ago and now lives in a vase.

Potted up in October - see blog

Hippeastrum 'Apple Blossom' last March

Potted up in the Lechuza Delta 20 planter, this 'Apple Blossom' trio is now showing buds and will hopefully be in bloom in a couple of weeks. Last year, its second since I originally bought it, it opened on March 26. 

I promised more color, though, right? Brunfelsia australis should be more readily available. This tropical is easy to grow, stays small, and starts blooming as early as mid-January. Also called "yesterday, today and tomorrow, for its stages of bloom color, it might not be a showstopper when compared with other tropical plants, but it's easy to get excited about it in mid-winter. This Brunfelsia is available from Logee's.

Brunfelsia australis flowers are slightly larger than a quarter.

And my dwarf pomegranate is getting ready to open! I bought it in November from Ted's Greenhouse and it's just been hanging out near a window since then. I'd just ignored it and gave it plain water when it looked dry. The other day I noticed buds on its gangly stems. It's a plant that needs a good shearing in the spring when new growth is imminent, but for now, I'll be glad when it blooms.

Exciting News About Historic Peonies

Associate Curator of the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Garden and Nichols Arboretum, David Michener and Collection & Natural Area Specialist Carmen Leskoviansky spoke about my favorite topic at the Porter County Master Gardener Association 9th Annual Gardening Show. (Phew! I hope you got past that first sentence - it will get better, I promise!)

Nichols Arboretum Historical Peony Garden - 2010
The project to restore a garden created in the 1920s has been in the works for the past several years. Results certainly won't be immediate. (The latest restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling took 14 years, after all.) The garden I'm talking about is the historic peony collection at Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor.

Just to give some perspective, out of the 891 spots in the garden, which was designed by A. Tealdi in the 1920s, 650 are currently occupied by peony plants. The garden of peonies was a gift from Dr. W. L. Upjohn of Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in Kalamazoo, MI early in the 20th century.

Some of the peonies haven't been identified, as the garden went through decades of neglect. Although most of the peonies did fine in spite of it all, some did not. The original donations of peonies came from breeders throughout the world, the most recent bred and introduced from 1926-1950. In the passage of time, a small percentage of plants have lost their identities. Or, more accurately, the peonies know who they are but are keeping mum. Even the experts are flummoxed over which is what.
My first visit to the gardens was in 2008, and it's where I met and fell in love with varieties I'd never heard of and some I still can't find in the trade.

'Lois Kelsey' is a lactiflora with an unusual look. Happily I've found it and planted it in my garden.

At the right in the background of the photo above, you'll see a woman holding a little white dog while a man snaps a photo. While the woman isn't me, it certainly makes me realize I'm not the only one who is passionate about dogs and peonies!

It's the perfect season for Amaryllis

Whether you call them amaryllis or Hippeastrum, these exotic, long-stemmed beauties can color up a world turned drab by taking down the Christmas decorations.
'Razzle Dazzle'
photo by Edens Blooms

I suppose I could take credit for pre-empting the darkness, but that would be a lie. I ordered several amaryllis from Edens Blooms, run by a young couple in Thatcher, AZ. They have a great selection of Amaryllis, and I had a hard time choosing which of them to grow.

Who could resist a flower with a name like 'Razzle Dazzle'? This Hadeco hybrid is just under 24" tall at this point, and is forming leaves from its base unlike 'Pavlova', planted at the same time (approximately Dec. 20), which has just a flower stalk. Hadeco began after WWII when two men from Holland settled in South Africa to grow flowers. Today, the company is one of the largest flower bulb growers in the world.

Another Hadeco hybrid that I started just a couple of week ago is 'Zombie', listed as a fully double pink with white streaks. It's only about 4" tall now, planted in a 5" pot. Although I don't gravitate toward doubled flowers in any of the lily-formed blossoms (from daylilies to lilium), this one intrigued me.
Of course, I had to include something equally exotic to the mix, so I ordered a Cybister called 'Sweet Lilian'. Cybisters, so far as I've been able to find, are fairly new on the amaryllis scene.

Cybister amaryllis 'Sweet Lillian'
 Along with bulbs of 'Apple Blossom' that have multiplied over the years, these bulbs are in various stages of development benefiting somewhat from a low-wattage heat mat. I'll keep you posted when they bloom.

Are you taking precautions?

Hydrangea Cityline 'Mars'
 From frost, I mean. I have a trio of Hydrangeas that are not quite hardy, and I'm taking a trio of precautions to keep their flower buds from becoming damaged by frost. They're all located on the east side of my house between the house and a row of yews and Thuja.

I didn't bother protecting Hydrangea Cityline 'Mars' last winter. It grew beautifully during the summer, reaching just over two feet tall.

This item, called the Zone-Up frost
protection blanket, doesn't seem to be
available any longer.
I used an item I'd gotten from Gardener's Supply a few years ago. If I can remember correctly it was called the "Zone-up." It's made of a tarp-like material with an insulation so it's good and thick.  

I stretched the material around stakes I'd placed around the plant and cinched the top. There was a bit of an overlap, which is a good thing. The key with any covering is to keep it from rubbing on the flower buds, or you'll lose them anyway. The stakes I used prevent this from happening by stretching the fabric away from the stems.

Hydrangea 'Gertrude Glahn'

Meanwhile, 'Gertrude Glahn', another macrophylla that blooms on the previous year's growth, will benefit from a double-bagging system using two large Guard 'n Fleece bags. I'd started out with just one but when I realized the weight of snow would damage the buds inside, I placed three of those spiral tomato stakes around the plant and stretched a second bag around them. This way, the snow won't have a place to congregate on top of the plant and its cover.

My third method of protection looks better than the other two by virtue of its natural construction. Hydrangea m. 'Taube' aka ('Teller Red') is intolerant of late frosts, but it's actually located to the south of the Zone-up cover over 'Cityline Mars', so it's somewhat protected. In order to give it some extra cover, I took evergreen boughs I'd used to decorate for the holidays and imbedded them in an upright position around the plant.
Hydrangea m. 'Taube', aka Teller Red
It's hard to think about our plants needing protection from the cold when we've had temperatures in the 50s during the daytime, and barely below freezing overnight. But no matter how long we've been gardening our tendency seems to be reactive rather than proactive. (Oh, wait... that's my tendency, so I guess I've used the royal "we.") 

Hydrangea 'Teller Red' cover-up.

Whether working on deadline, preparing for a visit from the in-laws, or looking ahead to the next big thing, it's not a bad idea to think ahead. And in the case of helping your plants through the winter, it sure beats trying to get some kind of cover on a plant when the wind's blowing a gale and the snow's already on the ground.

Guide to Succulent Plants of the World a Winner

It’s like coming home again only better. When I first entered the gardening world, I lived in an apartment with a southern exposure. So I chose to grow succulents. This was back in the early 1980s, when unusual plants were hard to find locally. So I ordered them through the mail. With a check. In an envelope sent through the U.S. Postal Service.

Fast forward 30 years, and I’m back at it. Things have changed, needless to say. I don’t have to mail checks to order stuff anymore; I can do it online. There are many more varieties available. And since I’ve discovered Ted’s Greenhouse, I can get a huge selection by car. I still have some of my old books on the subject, but I’ve fallen in love with a new one: The Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World by Fred Dortort. It’s broken down by types of succulent, and gives lots of details about where they originated—an extremely important thing to know when it comes to growing any plant well.

I’ve always loved succulents. And as author Dortort says, “Most people … are attracted to succulents precisely because they seem so unlike ordinary plants.”

If you have a craving for plants with chubby, “windowed” leaves that range in shape from pebbly to spiky to spiraled or rose-form, the world of succulents is something you should explore. And the best way to explore it besides seeing these wonderful plants in person is to pick up a copy of The Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World.

The photos alone tell a fascinating story. Adenium socotranum could fit comfortably into a Dr. Suess book. Kalanchoe synsepala could be mistaken for a delicately-fluted porcelain bowl. And Conophytum wettsteinii looks just like a pile of green buttons.
Aloe polyphylla

And who knew Aloe could be anything but ho hum? Take a peek at page 264 for a photo of a left-handed Aloe polyphylla, probably one of the weirdest yet most beautiful shapes in the succulent world.  I used to be able to grow Lithops and even get them to bloom. But for some reason I’ve lost my touch, killing two of them over the past year. These tiny plants, often referred to as living stones, thrive in the most inhospitable locations in African wastelands—hot, dry and exposed. They survive these conditions by hunkering down into the ground with just the tops of their leaves exposed.

Lithops geyeri
photo by Jim Haynes SFSCS
Lithops have tiny “windows” that let in differing amounts of light in order to power their photosynthesizing interiors. While they are not the only plant that uses the “window” system, Lithops also are able to develop the colors of their surroundings, and range from bluish-gray to brown to orange.

A good resource for photos and information is the San Francisco Succulent and Cactus Society.

The Midwest Cactus and Succulent Society will have its annual show at Cleveland Botanical Garden on March 19 and 20, 2011.