From Bulb to Flower in 19 Weeks

Amaryllis 'Apple Blossom'
What could be prettier than a trio of bodacious white flowers to brighten up the dark days of winter? I ended up with several bulbs of Amaryllis ‘Apple Blossom’ after they’d summered on my patio. The largest three found homes in a Lechuza Delta 20 planter, made especially for plants that need excellent drainage. This two-part system features a pot in a pot—the outer layer filled with aggregate that keeps excess moisture from the soil in the inner pot. The inner section has legs that serve to  elevate the root mass and keep it from sitting in excess moisture.

October 25

Amaryllis prefer a tight fit, which is why I put three bulbs in this planter, making sure to keep their “necks” above the soil level. I created a mix that included Jolly Gardener Premium Potting Mix and a specially-blended cactus/succulent mix from Ted's Greenhouse in Tinley Park, IL. The ratio of the two was about 12 parts potting mix with 1 part cactus/succulent mix.

January 25
I gave the bulbs a good watering before slipping the inner pot into the outer section, took it inside and just ignored it. Instructions for re-blooming Amaryllis recommend a resting period of about six weeks during which time they should be kept cool and dry—around 55 degrees F.
February 27
I gave them no more water, and the temperature in the spot where I kept them eventually became cooler (around 60 degrees F.) as the weather outside cooled off around mid-November. Sprouts began to emerge about 13 weeks later.
I gave it a good soaking with a dilute water soluble solution of plant food, and put the pot on a heated seed mat in a south facing window. Six weeks after the sprouts appeared, and 19 weeks after repotting the bulbs, all three bulbs were blooming.

So it's Come to This...

So it's come to this, I told myself as I realized my pronouncement had come true. I had jokingly told someone that I was growing so many Amaryllis this year, I was getting tired of them. Guess what? I'm tired of them!
Amaryllis 'Apple Blossom'

They’re beautiful, there’s no doubt. And I’ve grown them successfully, their blooms providing color in the darkest time of year. So why is it that I keep thinking they might as well be plastic? Maybe it’s all about the anticipation. Pavlova, Sweet Lillian, Zombie, Razzle Dazzle, and now Apple Blossom have given me satisfaction on a job well done, but now that the show’s about to end, I’m bored with it.
Maybe it’s like a movie that’s drawn you into its reality—you know how it ends and it’s just toying with your senses with pretty scenes and compelling characters.
Or when you prepare for a vacation that leaves something to be desired. Sometimes it seems I spend more time, effort and money getting ready for a trip than I do on the trip itself.
And what about the Christmas holidays? We’re hardwired to look forward to the big day from the time we can grasp the concept—presents and goodies galore—sudden gratification all on the same day. It leaves us with a niggling sense that it’s all downhill from here.
The last of the Amaryllis blooms reminds me it’s time to shift gears, to step over to the next big thing. And the next big thing is starting seeds. And what a leap of faith that is. I’ve given up on locating my leftover packets from last year and ordered more. I have the soil and the containers with the clear plastic domes. And I even have a heat mat.
It’s funny how we humans are—anxious for the next excitement but disparaging instant gratification because it’s so short-lived.
So I’ll gather my seeds and soil and flats and get on with it. It’s time to get over the relative ease of watching a bulb form a stem with a bud that turns into a flower that’s almost too good to be true.
 More about Amaryllis:
Cybister 'Sweet Lillian'

For Novelty's Sake and Good Flavor: a Pink Blueberry

Blueberry 'Pink Champagne' - photo by Briggs Plant Propagators.
I found, with a thrill, my pink blueberry amidst the tangle of limbs covered over by evergreen boughs.
When I came home with this little sweetie, I'll admit I couldn't find a home for it right away. In August, you see, my garden is pretty much wall to wall plants. There are leaners and spreaders, reseeders and just plain space hogs. Without going into much more detail, suffice it to say planting it out in the existing landscape would be tantamount to throwing it to the proverbial wolves.

I cut some Celosia to dry, pulled up some slackers that hadn't done much during their time with me, and carved out some space for Blueberry 'Pink Champagne', the oxymoron of a plant generically known as a pink blueberry.

Hybridized by the United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Station at Chatsworth, New Jersey and further evaluated in Michigan, 'Pink Champagne' could easily dominate this year's farmers markets during blueberry season. Introduced by Briggs Plant Propagators, this berry also makes a great landscape plant, with white spring flowers and good fall color. For more information about this berry's parentage, check out the USDA page.

'Pink Champagne' has a relative out there called 'Pink Lemonade'. According to the USDA release, the presence of tender species in these two varieties could be an issue in seasons with late spring frosts. Still, to me it's worth a shot, just to see if I can grow berries in my sun-challenged (and somewhat crowded) garden.

Why a pink blueberry? Think back to the first yellow coneflower, the introduction of a red coreopsis, and the emergence of not just one but two pink Annabelle hydrangeas. We crave novelty. Whether that novelty will grow on us, or we'll grow tired of it, it's something that breaks us out of the sameness that we inadvertently settle into as part of life.

And if it doesn't do as well as the old-fashioned blue blueberry, that's okay too. It will give us something to talk about.

Twine Whining, or Where's my Twine?

Nutscene dispenser
It was last week when the annual "Where the Heck did I put that" search began. With temperatures threatening spring any minute, I figured it was time for me to get my tools ready. Two years ago, I'd purchased a really cool item: The Nutscene Terracotta Twine Dispenser. We mounted it outside out of the rain and it's been a great help when I need to tie something up because I always know where to look for twine. It's come through two winters because it doesn't get wet--certain death for terracotta because of its porosity.

Last year I bought a refill roll of twine in black, because, even in gardening, black goes with everything. I started looking in all the places it would make sense for a roll of twine to be--my bedroom closet, the shelf over the dryer, the mudroom, the garage--nada, no go, it was nowhere to be found.

Instead of making myself crazy, I searched Nutscene, and found one of the few companies that carry the brand. Bosmere doesn't have a fancy website, but it does have a great selection of Nutscene twine and dispensers. (*Not anymore - but you can find the twine through Amazon.)

From left: Nutscene twine refill, Nutscene Lilac Twist twine,
Bosmere Twine Ties
I bought the Twine in a Can in lilac, a roll of Nutscene twine in black and a 394-ft roll of Bosmere jute garden twine. Why did I buy the Lilac Twist? I can use it to tie up all of my purple flowers, I at first rationalized.  But then I thought: It's my garden and my twine. I don't need to make excuses for buying pretty lilac twine!
This week I started looking for the seed packets from last year that I didn't get around to using. Guess what? Can't find them. Anywhere. But that's a story for another day...

Floral Bouquets Through the Seasons

It's hard not to cut flowers to bring inside, especially in early spring...
Pulmonaria, Epimedium, Muscari, Brunnera and Ornithogalum nutans
make up one of the earliest spring bouquets.
Make sure you have enough peonies to cut, and cut them when they're still partially closed and feel like big marshmallows when you gently squeeze them. My husband laughs at me when I go about the garden squeezing the peony buds. Picking them at this stage makes for a longer vase life and lessens the chance you'll be bringing ants into the house.
A bouquet of herbaceous peony blooms

Tree peonies can also be cut (on short stems) at the bud stage. Make sure you can view them up close because they're so gorgeous.
A bouquet of tree peonies

Sometimes it's good to cut flowers and place them in a vase to see how they would look together. This is especially wise with peach and apricot shades. Imagine Kniphofia 'Coral' and this particular variety of rose: 'Oso Easy Peachy Cream' planted next to one another in a garden.
Kniphofia 'Coral' and Rose Oso Easy 'Peachy Cream'.
Even a simple flower like the Allium below can be enjoyed up close in a vase. This type blooms in July along with Monarda that haven't been cut back in early summer.
Allium - carinatum pulchellum with Monarda 'Blue Stocking'
Zinnias planted from seed in June make for some bodacious bouquets in September and October. And they make fine companions to small-flowered asters, Dahlias and ginger.
Zinnia Raggedy Ann mix is by absolute favorite!
Find them at Renee's Garden Seeds.
I'm afraid I don't have a bouquet of red roses, the ubiquitous icon of Valentine's Day. We'll have to make do with a deep red dahlia and Aster 'Coombe Fishacre'. (from Digging Dog Nursery)
Happy Day!

Sweet Lillian begins to bloom

Amaryllis 'Sweet Lillian' Feb. 11
Well worth the wait yet smaller in flower than the typical Amaryllis, cybister Amaryllis 'Sweet Lillian' began to open yesterday. From the time it began to show growth Jan. 12, it took just over four weeks to begin to show what all the fuss is about. Oh, and did I mention she has thee stems?

Amaryllis 'Sweet Lillian' February 8

Amaryllis 'Sweet Lillian' Jan. 12

Dogs and the Garden: an Intriguing Connection

Pet Friendly Garden sculpture at Oregon Gardens
 Silverton, OR
Is your passion divided between gardening and dogs? There is a connection, I think. Plants and dogs have lots in common:
  • They're very forgiving
  • They awe-inspiring
  • Once you've entered their worlds, there is no turning back
  • They're full of surprises
  • No two are alike
  • You can't imagine life without them
     Maybe it's because I was born in the year "That Doggie in the Window"* was a hit song. Or that following my grandma around as she tenderly picked, sniffed and touched the plants in her garden made me feel a certain reverence for having been allowed entrance into that magical world.

     Our first two Cairn terriers, Piper and Tater, liked to help in the garden. On the day we planted turnip chunks in hopes of growing veggies for the first time, we noticed the girls hadn't come inside after us.  Just as I was about to turn on the lights to see if they were still out, they came bursting through the doggie door--paws and faces so mud-caked I couldn't tell one from the other. They'd freed and eaten every last turnip, thinking, I'm sure, we had buried them just so they could hone their terrier skills by digging them up.

Tater the Zucchini Destroyer
     Another foray into veggie growing came when we decided we had space for one zucchini plant. As zucchini are known to do, ours grew like gangbusters, reaching out and cloaking its neighbors in its giant leaves. It finally gave birth to a zucchini, which my husband and I both spotted at the same time. At the rate the vine was growing, we knew it would be the perfect size for harvest in a day or two.

     Late the next day I went to check on it and found the vine had been cut back. I stood there wondering what might have happened when my husband came outside, followed by Tater.
     "Did you cut the zucchini back," I asked him.
     "No. I thought you did it," he said.
     Just then we both looked down and saw Tater staring up at us, her red-gold face fur tinged a mossy green. I frantically searched for the lone zucchini, which I found bearing several scrapes that looked as if they'd been made by teeth.
     The zucchini was salvageable. The plant was not. Tater had gnawed the main stem, tasted the fruit, decided it wasn't that good, and gone for the leaves, making a meal out of two or three of the larger ones.

Don't get me wrong--I'm no cat-hater. It's just that I'm allergic to cats. But I'm wondering how many gardeners also share their lives with dogs, and if you've gained some insight into a connection. I'd love to hear your Dog and Garden stories.

*By the way, Patti Page recorded a new version of "That Doggie in the Window" for the Humane Society of the United States, with lyrics highlighting the plight of homeless pets. It's called "Can You See That Doggie in the Shelter"

Newest Annuals for Sun and Shade

Begonia 'Beaucoup Rose' from
Green Fuse Botanicals

Torenia Kauai Rose
Pan America Seed

I love to see what's new in the horticulture world each year, as I'm sure many gardeners do. Green Fuse Botanicals has introduced another color in its Begonia Beaucoup series. Look for 'Beaucoup Rose'--you can't go wrong if it's as good as the white version, which was covered in blooms in a hanging basket last summer on my east-facing pergola.
Ball Horticultural's Patchwork Impatiens series has introduced a lavender color, but I really like the 'Patchwork Pink' for its very noticeable central blotch that carries a deeper pink highlight to give an old-fashioned flower that certain something extra.

Speaking of shade-lovers, there's a new Torenia in town. Pan American Seed has given new meaning to the term "cutie." The entire collection of Kuai Torenia - from Burgundy to Lemon Drop - makes me want to pinch their cheeks if only they had them! Check out the series here

Impatiens 'Patchwork Pink'

 Salvia 'Summer Jewel Pink' is a compact plant that looks best when planted in large groups. I love this type of Salvia for its fragrant foliage, although it might be considered an acquired taste. This variety is an AAS Winner that is also a great hummingbird magnet. Bred by American Takii.
Salvia 'Summer Jewel Pink'

 When I had more sun I liked to grow Vinca (Catharanthus rosea). One of the first introduction in the genus, also known as Madascar Periwinkle, was called 'Peppermint Cooler', a white flower with a bright red eye. The latest introduction and All America Selections Winner for 2012 is called 'Jams 'N Jellies Blackberry'. What a drama queen! (But I mean that in a good way.)

Could there be a deeper purple in a Vinca? I doubt it. Imagine this beauty with any of the 'Bombay' Celosia, bred by Kieft-Pro-Seeds, comes in a fantastic array of colors, grows to around 2-feet tall, and makes a great cut flower. 
Vinca 'Jams 'N Jellies Blackberry'

Let's say you combine the vinca with Celosia 'Bombay Filemon', Alyssum 'Snow Princess' and Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' from Proven Winners. Give it some added punch with Supertunia 'Pretty Much Picasso', also from Proven Winners. Of course you'd have to use a pretty big pot--at least 16" in diameter to assure you have enough room.

I just might make that combination as a demonstration for my Container Creation Workshop May 12 at Taltree Arboretrum & Gardens in Valparaiso, IN.

Celosia 'Bombay Filemon'

If you'd like to see more new plants and other garden stuff for 2012, sign up for my class on April 21. What's New for 2012: Plants and More will feature a whole range of newcomers, many of which you'll decide you just can't do without.

Witch hazels offer surprise color

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'

If it hadn't been so warm and I hadn't been exploring my garden the other day, I would have probably missed them. Witch hazels are winter-blooming, which usually means some time in early March here in the Midwest. But I can't say I've ever seen them so fully open in early February.

I had a hard time getting good photos of the variety called 'Diane' because she is surrounded by my special slap-dash brand of deer protection: wire fencing combined with netting.

Meanwhile, in the front yard just south of a crabapple, Hamamelis vernalis is loaded with golden yellow flowers, the browned leaves acting as spoilsports and doing their best to detract from the flowers' beauty.

This type of witch hazel is known for this behavior, and it's even suggested you remove the leaves before bloom so that the flowers stand out better. (As if)

I prefer to get photos and look at them when I really want to get a good look. But it's worth sending your nose outdoors to check them out. They have a great, spicy fragrance.

Hamamelis vernalis flower close-up

Why the deer prefer the hybrid 'Diane' to the native species is anyone's guess. Perhaps I just have deer with exotic tastes.

If this weather remains steady, it could be a good year for Hydrangea--even the type that don't bloom on new wood. I've heard reports of snowdrops blooming already, and my Hellebores have halted development, but still are more colorful than I remember at this time of year. I found an interesting site about them here.


All Peonies - All The Time!

A part of me wishes I could experience the sight, feel and scent of peonies every day. But another part realizes, that, if it weren't for their fleeting nature, I probably wouldn't value them as highly. While many gardeners balk at naming a "favorite," I know what my Number One plant is--the peony--all colors, sizes and forms. Any other peony groupies out there?