Easy Arranger Makes Bouquet-making Simple

You can use the Easy Arranger in an irregular-shaped vase by bending it.
Why struggle with flower arrangements when you have things like the Easy Arranger? Really. I have frogs and little iron thing with pins congested at the bottom. I've used marbles and plastic "gems" to give flower stems stability. I've used those polymer crystals that I never know where to dump once the flowers fade.

I'll admit, I'd forgotten I had it, but felt it would come in handy during peony season, as I don't like to cut really long stems. I also cut a couple of Magnolia sieboldii stems so I could enjoy them up close and they don't really have stiff stems. 

I used the same 5" Easy arranger in the vase my sister gave me as a wedding gift--a classic shape of crystal that was just right for a few short stems of Iris 'Immortality', Peony 'Paladin', and a few little Primulas.

Sure you could make your own version with chicken wire. But that's the "royal you," meant for others, because, truthfully, it's not in my top ten list of things to do (or even top 30).

I ordered an Easy Arranger Value Pack, which includes one of each of the following:
4 inch round
5 inch round
6 inch round
8 inch round
And a bonus of 5 Clear Dangles

I figure I'll keep some and gift some with flower arrangements. I usually give bouquets in recycled jars of all shapes and sizes, so the Easy Arranger will not only add stability to the stems, but a little bonus for those who like to do their own arranging but need a bit of help.

Keeping it tight, but still fiddling ...

Unusual Plant in Unlikely Location

Sometimes it takes a bit of exploration to find the little gems. I stopped off at two garden centers on what has become a typical day in mid-May. It had been raining for the entire week for an accumulation well over three inches. It was just under 50 degrees with lots of humidity and an occasional cold rain.

I had dozens of plants still in pots awaiting a day when the soil had more warmth than moisture. So it made sense to see what else I could plant, right?

The first place I turned into was Karp's Garden and Feed Center in Hobart, Indiana. A couple of greenhouses held healthy plants just waiting for a nicer day when fair weather gardeners would snatch them up for planting. A couple of skids of annual flats remained unwrapped and ready for their nighttime home under cover. It didn't pay to stage them on the benches just to stack them back up again. I found a Kniphofia 'Flamenco' in bloom, which gave me a sense of which color I was buying. 'Flamenco', you see, is a mix that can contain red, orange or yellow with possibilities in between. Buying them out of bloom is fine if you don't mind a mix, But I like yellow, so I bought it. I also picked up a Juncus effusus f. spiralis or corkscrew rush.

Just down the road is Sapper's Market and Greenhouse."Why not," I thought as I turned into the parking lot. The front greenhouse held hostas and other perennials plus some tropicals. But as soon as I found myself in the back greenhouse, I remembered. I'd been there before, probably at least 15 years ago. The greenhouse in the back gave shoppers the sense that they'd arrived at a very special place--where the good stuff is kept. It was where I found two Begonia boliviensis - Bonfire Orange and 'Santa Cruz Sunset'.

I also found the new (from 2013) Bidens 'Hawaiian Flare'. Although the variety's name wasn't listed, I'm guessing it's 'Orange Yellow Brush', one of the three that has gold in the center with a darker orangey-red toward the outer petal tips. I'm looking forward to seeing how it grows mixed with other drought-tolerant plants in a humongous planter.

Bidens is also known as carpet tickseed and is hardy to around Zone 7. Otherwise, this little cutie is grown as an annual. Thompson & Morgan refers to it as a half-hardy perennial.

Cocoa Brownies in the Bellini Kitchen Master

Because the Bellini Kitchen Master stirs and heats in its bowl, I decided I'd try making my favorite brownie recipe with it.

I hadn't expected to find a good recipe for brownies when I bought the book in 1990. The recipe with the unassuming title of Cocoa Brownies is found in the chapter devoted to cookies to make for and/or with kids. And it's in Rose Levy Beranbaum's cookbook, Rose's Christmas Cookies.

Anyway, the recipe calls for melting butter with cocoa and sugar and then adding the rest of the ingredients. I always had used a saucepan to melt and a mixing bowl for the flour and other dry ingredients. But the Bellini Kitchen Master by Cedarlane Culinary allowed me to do it all in one container.

Cocoa Brownies 
(Rose Levy Beranbaum, Rose’s Christmas Cookies)
1 ½ cups-coarsely chopped pecans
14 tablespoons-unsalted butter
½ cup + 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa (preferably Dutch-processed)
1 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
Cubing the butter makes it easier to melt.
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup bleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Bellini-fied Cocoa Brownies

Prepare an 8" square pan (metal or glass) with a non-stick spray and set the oven to 300 degrees F if using glass and 325 degrees F if using metal.

Insert the stirring blade into the Kitchen Master's bowl. Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized chunks and melt in the bowl at 80 degrees at speed 1 for 3 and a half minutes. Add sugar and cocoa and mix at speed 3 for one minute. Scrape the sides and add eggs and vanilla. Mix at speed 3 for one minute. Add flour and salt and mix at speed 2 for 30 seconds; scrape sides and continue mixing at speed 2 for 15 minutes. Scrape down sides and add nuts. Mix at speed 2 for 15 minutes.
Eggs seem to add a personality to the batter.

Scrape batter into bowl. To make this easier, turn the bowl upside down and remove the blade. It's simpler to scrape the area of the bowl under the blade this way. Scrape the batter from the blade
into the pan.

Spread the batter into the pan so that it is level. Take a look at the brownies at 22 minutes, at which time it might need an additional five or six minutes. It is always best to err on the side of underdone with brownies. Let the edges of the brownies be your guide.
Ready to go into the oven

Teeny Tiny Shade-loving Plants

Anemonella thalictroides 'Shoaf's Double'
I never mastered the army crawl. But if I had, or found I could, I'd be doing it around my garden to get a better look at the new guys I planted last spring. The most surprising was Anemonella thalictroides 'Shoaf's Double'. This diminutive anemone-relative immediately disappeared right after I planted it last May, so I didn't count on its return.

I spotted it because I was searching the area for the Epimedium I'd also planted in the area, so I had the typical hunched-over posture of a gardener in springtime.

Epimediums aren't flashy plants, but they really know how to put on a show. On 'Candy Hearts', the leaves emerge like elongated purple hearts
Epimedium 'Candy Hearts'
At the same time, taller stalks appear with clusters of dark buds bending them gently toward the ground. By the time the flowers open, the leaves take on their summer color, in the case of 'Candy Hearts', a deep green gently edged in purple. The flowers have the typical winged petals that I imagine is part of what makes them popular among fairies looking for a new chapeau.

Two others are taking their times waking up to the off-and-on spring weather. 'Bandit' is easy to remember because of its dark-ringed leaves. 'Domino' has speckled leaves.

Flowers of Epimedium 'Bandit' are quite large for the plant's leaf size.
Epimedium 'Domino'

Flower close-up of Epimedium 'Domino' just before opening fully.

Unusual Container Combination

I'm not big on recipes, whether they're for a meal or a planter. And when it comes to creating a combination planter, I like to step away from the quotidian. (Also, I like the way quotidian sounds.) The humongous and well-made Lechuza planter I've had since at least 2011 is one of the most fun to work with because of its size.

Mixing it up in a Lechuza planter.
And because of its size, I left it out last winter without any damage at all. To prepare it for this year, all I did was scoop out the top six inches of soil, remove any plant skeletons, and mix in a good dose of Dr. Earth potting soil.

I also added Growstone Soil Aerator, concentrating it toward the center where I planted a Eucomis pole evansii. Eucomis loves excellent drainage, and this 5-footer is no exception. Just to be sure no water would pool at the base of the plant, I mixed in a bit of Growstone's Gnat Nix. Growstone's products are manufactured with 98% waste materials, replacing strip-mined materials like pumice and perlite, reducing environmental degradation. The product consists largely of recycled glass bottles, allowing for a large amount of waste out of the landfills. I was sent a few different sizes to try this year, and it's really looking good as a drainage improver. When my seedlings were growing indoors, I sprinkled about 1/4" of Gnat Nix around my seedlings, and didn't see any more fungus gnats, which were a real problem through the winter.

I love Colocasia, and this year I've planted a variety called 'Coffee Cups', with dark-hued cup-shaped leaves on a plant that can grow up to five feet tall. I know it's unorthodox to use so many different plants in one planter, but I just can't help myself.

Eucomis pole evansii
The Eucomis could spread out, its leaves eventually covering most of the planter, but until that happens, I've added some color around the edges, including a Gomphrena 'Pink Zazzle', which offers a whole new look for Gomphrena.
Gomphrena 'Pink Zazzle' (photo by Euro American)
Photos I've found of Eucomis pole evansii shows the leaves arching upward. If that's the case, all of the goodies around the edge of the planter will have the opportunity to shine.

Springtime Partnerships - You Can Grow That!

Getting a great pair of plants to enhance one another is a challenge for any gardener, whether she is new to the game or an old hand. Even though I've gardened for a couple of decades, many of my best combinations come by accident. One that grabbed my attention in a subtle way was a self-seeded Hellebore with a common Brunnera.

Because I have so many self-seeded Hellebores, they're pretty much everywhere, from sun to shade. I also have Epimedium 'Sulphureum', a variety that isn't shy about spreading.
If you're looking for a great perennial ground cover that blooms in spring, you can't go wrong with any Epimedium. I have other varieties, some of them I'd planted just last year, that I'm keeping away from 'Sulphureum' lest the vigorous variety mow it down and smother it. It mixes well with Hellebores because of the contrast in leaf and flower shapes in the two of them. 

Two tulips that bloom around the same time and create an elegant pairing are 'Montreux' and 'Exotic Emperor'.  The taller of the two is 'Exotic Emperor', a pure white semi-double with green streaks on the outer petals. 'Montreux' blooms just a bit later and starts out pale yellow before fading to ivory and then a very pale pink on the outer petals.

My garden had entire swathes of Brunnera--the species with solid green leaves and gorgeous blue flowers. This is a nice plant for even deep shade, but there are so many varieties that make great foliage plants after the blooms fade away.

Brunnera 'Hadspen Cream' is an old variety, but still one of the best for brightening up a shady spot. Another of my favorite improvements on the original is Dicentra 'Gold Heart', a bleeding heart with outstanding golden foliage.
Brunnera 'Hadspen Cream' receives an extra dose of brightening from Dicentra 'Gold Heart' in the background.
As exciting is it is to see anything growing after the long winter, it's even better when there are pretty little partnerships. For more ideas and inspiration that celebrates the joys of gardening, click on the logo below where gardeners from all over pitch lots of great ideas.


Spring is Full of Surprises

We lost a few things in the garden over the winter. The southern magnolia might have taken a hit; I cut it back to a stem around three feet tall after looking at it slowly drop its brown leaves without even hinting at new life. I wouldn't call it a great loss. In the eight years it's been here it gave us around four or five flowers. Spectacular as they were, they were pricey, the tree having taken up too much space for the number of blooms.
What's having a great year are the spring bulbs I've planted over the years, with hundreds of daffodils reigning over the backyard and into the woods.
The great Daffs-In-A-Box experiment
Even my daffs-in-a-box experiment worked out. Actually, I'd just gotten tired of re-planting the ones I'd dug up last year and set the remaining bulbs free to fend for themselves in a cardboard box.

The bulbs got plenty of cold treatment, having spent their winter beneath a constant snow cover. At least this way, I'll know where to find them when it comes time to re-plant them.

I tend to disrespect plants that reward me with such undeserved increase. Okay, so they're not like lemon balm or The Ivy, but dying leaves left after bloom detract from the fresh growth of their neighbors.

Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades' would look even better with some tulips hovering over them.

Tulip 'Montreaux' blooms near a tree peony.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, and giving me lots of bang for the buck is a clutch of Anemone blanda Blue Shades. Brent and Becky like to call them "socks and shoes" for taller spring bulbs. The tulips I meant for them to go with are not cooperating, and by the time 'Honkey Tonk' bloom, the Anemone will be finished.

I have some Tulips called 'Montreaux' in the same bed as the Anemone, but they're stubbornly staying closed up tight. Those planted elsewhere in the garden are already open.

Tulips seem to be extremely sensitive to location. Given the warmth and reflected heat from a structure or stone wall, they'll get a move on more quickly than the same varieties in the center of the garden.