How to Kill a Gardenia

Flowers are lasting longer now that the heat has gone from the ground. They also take longer to bloom, if that's what stage they were in when the last warmth of summer burrowed into their stems. It's like springtime in reverse, when I sleuth through the garden with my clippers in hand looking for a colorful remnant of the season.
Magnolia sieboldii, a species that actually blooms for us. 

The Gardenia I tried to assassinate has never looked healthier. I'm only admitting to it because my husband never reads my blog. He's the poster boy for Super Sentimentalism. Of course, this isn't all bad. I'd hate it if he tended toward the other extreme. But his sentimentality umbrella touches everything, from the old radio his Grandfather gave him to his favorite wool sweater his Mother accidentally shrunk 30 years ago. I understand these keepsakes; I still have one of the birthday cards my Mom gave me.

But plants? As much as I love plants, I can't become attached to them. Perhaps it's because plants tend to die--sometimes through no fault of my own. I also get tired of plants for various reasons. I got tired of the southern Magnolia that gave us three flowers in eight years. This spring I banished it to the edge of the woods, as it had become a hulking foliage plant that was horning in on its smaller neighbors.

Gardenia - age 20 - in big pot.
As for the Gardenia, I guess I should have more respect. After all, it's been with us for more than 20 years, spending winters in the sun room and looking like it's curled up and died from February through April. It unhappily hosts every sort of insect that happens by, from scale to mites to pill bugs. And did I mention this plant isn't small?

If I didn't prune it regularly, it would most likely reach 10 feet. I try to keep it under five feet tall and four feet wide. It's like having a very wide, slow-moving person camping out in our living space. The reason I tried to kill the original plant is that its baby has grown pretty large. And, while it hasn't really bloomed much, I was thinking we only need one Gardenia in our house in northwest Indiana.

The original 'Miami Supreme' was grafted, and I think that might be the key. Whatever it was grafted on has a really healthy and forgiving roots. That's probably why it took my generous application of 12-12-12 granular in stride. Yes, it's true. I dumped in a whole cup of the stuff on top of the soil. And I scratched it in, covered it with a thin layer of potting soil, and gave it a good watering.

Image from OSU showing a CRF prill.
As you can see from the photo, it actually boosted its growth. I would never recommend this cavalier behavior. Triple 12 granular isn't a cute little prill. And it's certainly not a CRF controlled release fertilizer. Ohio State University offers a nice explanation of this design, which can be found under many names, the best known of which is Osmocote. It has salts in it and actually resembles the stuff those snow plow trucks throw down on the ice.

One plant I'll always (disclaimer: until I get tired of it) have in my garden is a type of Zinnia called Raggedy Ann Mix from Renee's Garden. I've grown lots of Zinnias, but I'd recommend these without reservation, especially for cut flowers. They are of a form called a "cactus" zinnia, with quilled, squared and tousled petals lending a sense of motion to their charming bright colors. They're not all brightly-tinted, but come in shades ranging from deep orange to pale peach.

As the trees to the south of my garden grow ever taller and their ability to obliterate the sun increases, I will have to make some adjustments. My garden is in full sun. At noon. Before and after that, various and sundry trees and shrubs shelter my plants like a swim-proof SPF 30.

Also unbeknownst to my husband, I successfully sabotaged one of the trees he added to our already thick woods on the south side of my garden. Do I feel bad about it? I'd feel pretty bad if we didn't already have half a dozen of the same tree in various stages of their long lives. I feel just bad enough not to tell my husband about it. He's sentimental about white pines.




Thousands of Flowers Make Memories and Magic

The wind blew nearly 20 mph while temperatures lingered in the lower '50s, but even that couldn't dampen the excitement around The Flower House. Visitors, volunteers, designers, helpers, organizers, and neighbors mingled on the sidewalk, the empty lot and even in the street to gape, gawk, and in general become awestruck by the idea that became a reality on Friday, October 16 in the down-at-the-heels city of Detroit.
Enchanted visitors brave the cold to wait for the timed tours inside The Flower House.
From behind the house, a dining tent for 180 people.

Just a few days ago, I wrote about what was going on inside the once derelict house on a block that bordered one of the busier conduits through the expansive city. I imagined the floral designers putting up the bones of their creations, seeing into the structure behind the magic they would create with thousands of fresh flowers from all over the country.

I admit the downstairs bathroom, designed by Sweet Pea Floral Design, was one
of my favorites.
In the time I spent inside the house on Friday, I saw a few yards of of chicken wire, miles of string, a few staples and dozens of discreet lights powered without electricity. But what I mostly saw was the care and attention to detail in the choice and placement of blooms that languished in a corner, lined a toilet seat and draped along a line that led from one room to another.

This was so much more than decor. I think the designers each captured a snippet of a life's chapter from this home's former residents. I can imagine a young bride from the early '60s looking for ways to brighten up a drab bathroom without spending too much money. She'd choose rugs and towels of a certain color and texture, happy that they accented the wallpaper that was a bit too bright, but that had been left by the former resident and deemed too much work to pull down. She might have had a taste for whimsy, but buried it for the sake of her autoworker husband and his preference for plain.

I imagine how her downstairs bathroom would make her smile for its bright whimsy and detailed decorations.

Holly Rutt of Sweet Pea Floral Design (left) chats with dahlia grower
Michael Genovese of Summer Dreams Farm

A canopy bed fit for a druid princess
occupied an upstairs bedroom.
I took so many photos but still feel I didn't capture the feel and intent of the house. It's hard to explain, but volunteer Katherine Seeburger gave me some insight. She was one of the docents for the morning tours, and asked people as they emerged from the house what their impressions were. "No one was responding with whole paragraphs," she said. "It was 'wow' or 'awesome.' For most of them, it was an emotional experience."
Flowers light up a table created from a beehive box complete with honey frames.
Even veggies served as beauty queens.


So for now, I'll just post a few photos. I expect the experience will settle in a little more and transform a bit each time I tell someone about it.
Mexican spiced chocolate cake from
Sweet Heather Anne

Inside Detroit's Flower House

When I first heard about The Flower House, the idea just spoke to me. Filling a house with flowers? Literally? There is absolutely no downside.

American florists rising to the challenge of making a neglected room look gorgeous would have been amazing enough. But Lisa Waud, owner of Pot & Box and architect of The Flower House figured why not go for 15 rooms instead. I wrote about it back in July, and you can read my first post here.

Blame it on Dior, whose fall/winter 2012 couture show massed flowers like they'd never been gathered before. As shown in just one video of the idea, take a look at the G-Fresh Flowers sponsored clip.

The floral rooms Dior envisioned and realized in Paris three years ago showed Lisa it could be done. She merely changed the venue to Detroit, and inspired dozens of designers from North America to lend their imaginations to every flower-lover's dream. No small effort any way you cut it.

A preview installed in May lends a touch of reality to the fanciful presentation.
The first person I thought of when I read about The Flower House was Debra Prinzing, champion of the fresh flower movement, and founder of Slow Flowers: the conscious choice for buying and sending flowers.

Would the Seattle writer, even one who has her finger on the pulse of all things floral, know about the Detroit project? Turns out I needn't have doubted it. I e-mailed Debra, who I'd met through Garden Writers, and asked her about it. She'd already interviewed Lisa on a recent podcast, gave me a little info, and invited me to the Field to Vase Dinner, which will be held Friday. Tickets to the dinner, my first foray into field to vase, are already sold out.

So I've been e-mailing back and forth with Lisa about the project and the future of the land on which The Flower House sits. After the big event this weekend, the house will be torn down to make room for Lisa's fresh flower farm. And she'll be growing peonies! Of course, I'm always excited when my favorite flower is recognized for its beauty, and growing peonies for cut flowers is perfection personified!

Jamie Platte with Larissa Flynn and Jennifer Riley-Haf of Bloom
(photo by Megan Newman, Weber Photography)
Growing fresh flowers for use in professional arrangements has caught on like a tsunami hitting the beach. It's hard, dirty work, but the payoff is not only pretty, it's fresher and more unusual than anything in a typical commercial florist's flower fridge.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the designers for The Flower House when I was in Michigan last month. Jamie Platte of A. R. Pontius Flower Shop in Harbor Springs, MI was more relaxed about the process than I thought she'd be.

But she's had nearly a year to think about it. Jamie will pair up with Liz Andre-Stotz, of Parsonage Events to create their room at The Flower House. They met during the preview design work in May. Jamie also knows Lisa, who she went to school with, and Larissa Flynn and Jennifer Riley-Haf of Bloom Floral Design, who also will take part in The Flower House design.
Jamie Platte


"We will work together and come up with something colorful representing the seasons of Michigan," Jamie said. "We might go with fruits and vegetables for color."
Designers won't be using the typical oasis for their creations, so they'll need to choose flowers with some staying power. 
"We've been collecting vials for the flowers, but mostly we’re planning to use flowers that won’t be hurt to be out of water," she said, mentioning Ruscus, Hydrangeas, Alstroemeria

As an actor and musician, Jamie is familiar with improvisation. She recognizes the opportunity to design a room in The Flower House as improv in the extreme, because it's really impossible to imagine what the end product will be. But with as many flowers as Lisa is expecting from growers throughout the country, it can't help but be beautiful.

Flower Favorites for Fall

Dendranthema 'Pumpkin Igloo'
I'll admit to being a snob when it comes to fall mums. They're not my favorites. Oddly enough, I like their fragrance, which many people do not, but I'm lukewarm on the typical form on the typical bedding mum.

That is, until this year when I grew 'Pumpkin Igloo' from Blooms of Bressingham. I didn't expect to like it, but planted it after receiving it from the company to try in my garden. Instead of the muddy burnt orange I'd expected, these little beauties featured a glowing deep peach--just enough saturation to make them stand out on a gloomy day, but with a softness that puts them above the rest.

I especially love their bright yellow centers and double-ish form. Like a button in the center of the cushion, the center of 'Pumpkin Igloo' does what it's meant to in keeping back the perky, partly quilled inner petals.

Franklinia alatamaha in bloom
Taking a page from fellow-blogger Carol Michel in May Dreams Gardens, not to brag but my Franklinia alatamaha bloomed this year. I had two flowers on this mysterious disappearing native tree. For details, see the Penn State Extension tree site. With this tree, it's just a matter of keeping it alive. It's not thriving, though it seemed to have been able to take care of itself at one time on the banks of the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia in 1765. That's when two explorers discovered it and brought it back to civilization.

Although its blooms are said to be fragrant, I've not detected a scent, but there is no denying its beauty.

Passiflora 'Lambiekins'
It wasn't its beauty that attracted me, but its name. Who could resist a flower called 'Lambiekins'? Passiflora 'Lambiekins', to be correct. I ordered one from Grassy Knoll Exotic Plants, knowing I couldn't give it as much sun as it would like.

It is extremely vigorous and generous in its size. My plant was stingy with its flowers, but through no fault of its own. It only gets about three to four hours of direct sun, after all. Its first bloom didn't arrive until late August. I probably got about half a dozen flowers from this tropical passion flower.


Two varieties of Salvia provided me with great color and entertainment through the late summer/early fall season. The giant of the two is 'Amistad', a deep blue variety that's covered a space of six feet by six feet, providing a succession of blooms by July. It hit its stride in August, stretching its stem and becoming the obsession of our two resident hummingbirds.

Its Salvia companion, called 'Love and Wishes' didn't get as large but performed like a trooper despite its raucous neighbor. Both Salvias came from Flowers by the Sea, a place with some really cool plants.

The cool back story about 'Love and Wishes' is its parentage. According to Flowers by the Sea, it was hybridized by Australian retiree John Fisher when he crossed it with Salvia x 'Wendy's Wish'. He decided its sales, like its parent plant, should benefit Australia's Make-a-Wish Foundation.

I grew 'Wendy's Wish' a couple of years ago in a very large container and loved it. The only variety of this special trio I haven't grown is 'Ember's Wish'--and yet another plant to look forward to growing next year.

Bouquets are Made for Smiles Now and Later

Simple or exuberant, contained or sprawling, making bouquets is my way of preserving the bounty. Since most aren't necessarily good at drying in situ, I take their photos. Why? I enjoy looking at them. Not examining them for balance or color coordination. Just looking and smiling. 


I'll look back at the shot of Rose 'Buttered Popcorn' with a mum called 'Pumpkin Igloo' and catch the phantom scent of roses.

Salvia 'Amistad' with Chuckles.
Late fall is, by virtue of my garden's overgrowth, a blowzy, full-blown time of year, and it's reflected in my tousled bouquets of wild-looking asters and grasses. Sometimes I can inject a bit of decorum with a Hydrangea or two, and Eucalyptus is always a welcome architect of tranquility. While tempting to cut and stick in a vase, Salvia 'Amistad' isn't one to hold onto its flowers for long, leaving deep purple, papery flowers at the vase's feet.

The Puzzle Pooley and Brayshaw vase.
I'm sure they've been visited by our resident hummingbirds. I'm calling them Chuckles and Pesky--Chuckles for the sound the tiny birds make while zooming about the garden--Pesky for Chuckles' sidekick who dive bombs Chuckles at every opportunity.

I've started collecting vases, especially from the local resale shop. I was lucky to find one made by British ceramic artist, Alison Brayshaw. The colors on the vase are like nothing I've seen before--they blend well with any color of flower as you can see in the Zinnia arrangement.

For an article I just finished on growing your own flowers for cutting, I requested some vases from Chive. I especially loved the little component vases, like the Pooley line, including the Puzzle Pooley and the Pooley Two 8-tube vase. I like these little vases because you can always find something with a short stem that won't work in a regular-sized arrangement. They're even pretty on their own.


Some arrangements showcase my favorite flowers: Raggedy Ann mix Zinnias and Aster 'Little Carlow'