Beautiful Plants without the Flowers: Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Hippeastrum 'Amputo' with Scilla madierensis.
Today, it's mostly about the Begonias. Sure, I have an Amaryllis in bloom. It's one that claimed it had a fragrance, but I'm not detecting a scent. No matter--it looks somewhat like an Easter lily, so I can just imagine it smells like that.

Another plant blooming alongside it is Scilla madierensis, a purple bulb that grows spotted leaves and a great purple spike of tiny flowers. I bought it from Easy to Grow Bulbs, and it is so unlike anything I've grown indoors, it doesn't need to be fragrant.
Begonia 'Plum Paisley' planted with a Phormium.

I don't really think about whether a plant will have edible fruit, fragrant flowers, culinary parts or stems you can pick your teeth with. For me, it's all about the looks. And that's okay. Plants are among one of the kingdoms that don't get up in arms when you choose them for the way they look.

The older I get, the more I avoid buying things I can't use. That is, unless, as I go through my life, I can look at them and enjoy them every day. Plants fit that bill very nicely. And the bonus is that they're one of the original interactive devices.

You can combine a plant with another plant and see how they get along. Snip off a branch or pinch a tip, and in just a few weeks you can see it react.

Begonia pustulata is a species from Mexico.

Feed it, give it extra light, warmth, humidity, and the rewards just keep coming.

Begonia 'Jabberwocky'
My Begonias are new this year, along with my lights, and I may be in love with a new genus. As soon as we get beyond this latest round of frigid temps, I'm pretty sure I'll be drawn back to the sources I've discovered that ship even in winter.

Begonia 'River Nile' has become one of
my favorites. I've had it for two years or so.
My new favorite of the week, ordered from The Violet Barn, is called 'Jabberwocky'. Just the name made me take a second look. Who cares if it blooms, with leaves like these? From the information I found, this cultivar was hybridized by Logee's.

Another great source for Begonias is Josh's Frogs. This site was lots of fun to look at--first for its frogs, and then, as I was about to click away, I realized they sell plants, too. This Michigan company is well worth checking into for a good supply of plants that frogs like to hang out in.

While my light system definitely has improved the chances of any winter-blooming plant to actually flower, they've also helped the flower stems remain compact.

As for the Begonias, they can be grown indoors without additional lighting, but the colors brought out by the lights sure make them prettier.

If you'd like to see what other plant-lovers are growing - even in the dead of winter, check out May Dreams Gardens, where a world called Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is going on. It occurs on the 15th of each month. Yes, I'm a little late, but anyone who understands plants knows you can't hurry beauty.

Change Outdoor Plants into Houseplants

Bay indoors
Like pathetic little strays, a few of my best-performing plants wormed their way into the indoor world. When I saw a spindly, barely-alive specimen of bay at a fellow gardener's house, I decided mine must be rewarded for just growing during the summer. It's a pretty happy plant now in my window.

And when  Calceolaria integrifolia 'Kentish Hero' failed to thrive throughout the summer, I gave him a second chance as a houseplant. I'd ordered this tender perennial from Flowers by the Sea to go with some Salvia.

Calceolaria integrifolia 'Kentish Hero' 
It took awhile to grow roots, but with some bottom heat and humidity, it's finally putting out new growth. Starting plants from cuttings requires a little patience plus the ability to know when to give that one up and move onto the next. If you haven't been successful, it's best to remove the soil from the pot and wash it out well before starting with fresh mix.
Plectranthus 'Cerveza 'n Lime'
As for Plectranthus 'Cerveza 'n Lime', it's such a cutie I couldn't bear leaving it to die so I potted up a cutting.

Plectranthus is one of the easiest plants to grow from a cutting. I just made sure there was one place on the stem where the leaves grow (called a node), after removing leaves, in the soil. There is a great guide to New Plants From Cuttings from Purdue Cooperative Extension that illustrates this.

Pelargonium 'Lotusland' as a houseplant.
Another little refugee from my outdoor containers is Pelargonium 'Lotusland'. It's leaves lose their burgundy centers in winter, but it's still pretty. It will hold its own as a houseplant until it can get back to its new spot in the spring.
Pelartonium Stellar 'Lotusland' in summer.

Peonies in May: A Springtime Flashback'

'Do Tell' is a Japanese style peony with a light fragrance. This bloom is from its second year in the garden. I cut it with a 4-inch stem so its energy could go toward root growth.

'Princess Chiffon' is a tree peony I like more with each passing year.
This is from year five.
It's great to be able to look back at photos taken the previous year. All of these flowers were blooming in May, 2015. I love to compare bloom dates from year to year, especially in the winter when there is not much color in the garden.
Magnolia 'Pink Charm' goes great with peonies.

Peony-shaded tulips

Geum 'Cosmopolitan'

Tree peony 'Calypso' looks great in its fourth year after planting.

Peony 'Roselette's Child' took a few years to get established. It's a floppy plant
even though the flowers are single.

'Al's Choice', my first intersectional peony and still one of my favorites. It came a bit on the early side in 2015.

'Ariadne', a tree peony that's just magical.

Having a Blast with SunBlaster Plant Lights

It's like spring again in January. Thanks to my plant lights, I wake up each morning to see if I can detect new growth from the last time I checked, about 14 hours earlier.

For one thing, grow lights are more accessible and less expensive. I have a set-up devised by a Canadian company called SunBlaster Lighting, which I discovered at Chesterton Feed and Garden Center.

I positioned my three-light Sunblaster combinations
at two heights, depending on plant height
and light requirements.
I purchased components a few at a time, so the eventual cost for two fixture combinations was spread over a few paychecks. Based on the size of the banquet table I was going to use for my plants, I opted for the 24-inch lights (the Sunblaster 904296 NanoTech T5 High Output Fixture Reflector Combo, 2-feet), three per fixture connected by Sunblaster light strip hangers, which hold up to seven lights per set of two. The total cost for my set-up, for six lights plus reflectors and two light strips was around $280, which less than what I spend each year on plants and tools for my outdoor garden.

The clips that come with the light strip hangers make it easy to adjust everything.
While my houseplants don't erupt into bloom each day, they actually grow, as opposed to what they were doing when left to fend for themselves with the light that came through the window. While I can't say what the best distance from the light or the ideal amount of time the lights are on for each plant, I hope to figure that out by the end of the winter. For now, I'm just happy to have color in the house and plants to play with for the next four months.