You Can Grow That: Amaryllis re-bloom Part I

Year 1: Hippeastrum 'Lime Flare's first
stem's blooms.
I limited myself to just two new Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) this year, and one turned out to be a doozy. While many of the varieties I've grown have had one stem with several flowers, this one had two stems each with four flowers, providing color for the entire month of January.

Year 1: 'Amputo' is pretty but doesn't have
the impact I was hoping for.
Blooms of Hippeastrum 'Lime Flare' began to open Jan. 6, the second on the 28th. I like that in a winter-blooming plant, as at that time of year, it's all about the anticipation. I purchased the bulb from Easy to Grow Bulbs; it was just one of many Cybister amaryllis available from the southern California company.

The other one, while simple and lovely, didn't have the fragrance it advertised. I'll be donating the bulb from 'Amputo' to another gardener.

Year 4: 'Razzle Dazzle' bloomed its second and third years in
April, and now in its 4th year, mid-February.
Two more came from Edens Blooms in 2012--'Razzle Dazzle' and 'Pavlova'. The first year's blooms are always gorgeous--the bulbs have been treated just as they should by the growers. It's subsequent years that get a little dicey, and I've lost a few along the way. But starting with 'Razzle Dazzle' and 'Pavlova', it's as if I can't fail. Especially 'Pavlova', which seems to bloom no matter what I do. When it blooms is more of a mystery. 'Pavlova' is one of two double-flowered Amaryllis in my stable, and I love it. The other one, which has yet to bloom this year, is called 'Zombie' and is a bit more forward in its color.

'Pavlova' in year 2.
Year 2: 'Pavlova' sent up two flower stems
in March; in year 3, just one in early Feb., and the
following year the end of January. I see no activity
from 'Pavlova' so far this year.
Part of the mystery that runs through the Amaryllis season is that sometimes the labels get mixed up when all the pots you own are on the patio. So I got a nice surprise bloom the other day--a case of mistaken identity, which can happen when you have several. I'll post about it soon, as well as the two that are revving up to flower any time now. The identify of one of them is anyone's guess, but by process of elimination is 'Zombie', 'Pavlova', or 'Sweet Lilian'. But I'll leave that for the next post. This is my encouraging word for the latest You Can Grow That! blog.

I don't know what you spend a spare $15 on in January, but for my money, it will likely be another Amaryllis bulb I haven't tried yet. In exchange, you'll get at least two weeks worth of anticipation, fascination, and just plain enchantment, all from a brown, papery bulb. Go ahead and head over to Easy to Grow Bulbs, where they still have some available for this season.

Think You're An Impatient Gardener?

If you've ever wondered whether you're a patient or impatient gardener, try growing houseplants in the winter.

Even with lights on a 16 hrs on/8 hrs off timer, a heat mat, and frequent grooming and inspection, growth is painfully sluggish.

Well before the Slow Food movement, the slow houseplant crusade had already written its very own, very literal, manifesto.

Hippeastrum 'Razzle Dazzle' inspiring me in my writing room.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, I head immediately to the room where my plants are, a banquet table covered with an inexpensive plastic tablecloth beneath bars of lights strung from cords. Like my outdoor garden, it's more laboratory than it is landscaped.

The good news is that the blooming plants' flowers last a very long time. The bad news is that they seem to take forever to flower. I'm watching a slow-moving romance instead of an action flick, which I much prefer. So I've been making up for the lack of activity with the addition of new plants. When that fails, I play with my plants--which for the most part means I prune them, clean their leaves, and take their photos.

  This bulb's flower has been in a holding pattern for six weeks.
It's so embarrassed, I've had to disguise its identity.     
On ambitious days, I drag out the plant accouterments and repot them. This is a dicey operation in the middle of winter, though, because even with the lights, the roots don't grow that fast either! I'm waiting at least another month, when the days will be longer, before graduating any plant to a larger pot.

There is no doubt that the lights are encouraging my plants to remain green, perky and alive. I've set the table up against the south windows of the room, so their growth is also subject to day length.

         Episcia 'Alice's Aussie' in her plant sauna.        
Plants are grouped by light and heat requirements. And then there is height. Some pots are perched precariously on top of upside down vessels in order to keep them from becoming shaded out by their taller neighbors. Some are too tall to keep under the lights and are relegated to another room in the house.

Even more so than garden plants, houseplants are in-your-face humbling. You've let them into the house, for one thing. And there is no getting away from them. With the elaborate setup I've devised, I'd damn well better be successful. And I have been, for the most part.

So far, I've killed an Episcia, and have successfully nursed a tragic Begonia back to health. Another Begonia is still in intensive care. I've learned that some need to be left alone in order to strengthen their spindly stems. I've replaced the dead Episcia with another of a different variety called 'Alice's Aussie'.

For now, a foliage plant, I have high hopes for
Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star'
Inspiration for this exercise has been the books that display beautiful plants in imaginative and lovely containers "effortlessly" placed throughout the house in little vignettes. Two of my favorite books have been The Indestructible Houseplant, and The Unexpected Houseplant, both by Tovah Martin.

Unfortunately, this whole "houseplants as decor" thing requires clearing off a table or some other spot in the house where plants are viewed to their best advantage.
Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' looks best without the
flowers, which occasionally appear to let
me know I'm doing something right.

And here is the ugly truth--my house is a mess. Although far from being called a hoarder, I'm definitely cavalier about where and how I leave things. There are boxes on the floor with catalogs and magazines and books on top of them. A laundry basket holds clothes I washed last September and won't need again until May. They're held in place with books and then a layer of clothes I plan to take to the resale shop.

Our house is too big for us, apparently, as I only spend time in three out of the seven rooms (not counting bathrooms) that make up our 60s-era ranch. And those three rooms are heavily lived-in. I could put plants in the other four rooms, but since I don't spend time in them, there is little point.

This in-situ vignette contains Oxalis 'Plum Crazy', Paphiopedilum 'Napa Valley'
and Begonia 'Black Fancy'. 
So I'll create my vignettes in situ, occasionally bringing them into the room where I write. For inspiration, or simply to give me something to feel good about. And isn't that the basic reason for growing them?

The Cancer Survivor's Garden Companion

I'd agreed to review this book, The Cancer Survivor's Garden Companion, before my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.

My older sister, Alice, lost her battle with the disease in 2000, and now another sister has entered the fray. So, it was from this perspective that I read Jenny Peterson's book.

The Cancer Survivor's Garden Companion is written from Peterson's point of view, as it could only have value from that perspective. She's a gardener first, and her struggle against being defined by the cancer is heart-clenching. Do any of us know if we would be able to get on with our lives while our bodies betray us? We don't unless it happens.

I thought back to Alice, as she went on with her job as a local university reference librarian, banishing the discomfort of anyone who didn't know what to say by asking how they were doing.

At the time, I was going through a stage in my life when I was between houses, and in the summer of 1999, asked if I could plant a tree I didn't want to lose in her yard until I found a permanent place for it. She agreed to host the crab apple for me.

Throughout that year, when our father died as she underwent stem cell therapy, and through the next, Alice went to work until the cancer invaded her bones and lungs.

One morning in late March, she called me, excited because she thought she could see buds on what she'd come to call "our tree." At that point, she could barely walk, and she'd been keeping an eye on the tree with the aid of binoculars. I came over on that cold morning and, along with her husband, helped her walk out to the tree. A big smile lit up her face when she saw and touched the tiny green buds. Seeing that smile was a wonderful gift. She died a couple of weeks later.

And now another sister is going through radiation--five times a week--on her lunch hour. She has a very responsible, highly-stressful job, and she also has Multiple Sclerosis. In her third week of treatment, the effects are tiring her out. But she still makes time for friends and family. And she won't miss Yoga at least twice a week. Her prognosis is good, though.

So, the take-away on Peterson's book? I'd recommend it not only for anyone with cancer, but anyone who loves someone battling the disease. The book has given me invaluable insight into what my younger sister is going through. And I wish I'd had it when Alice was going through her struggle.

With the death of a loved-one comes guilt. With Alice, I felt that I didn't spend enough time with her. It ended way too quickly. The Cancer Survivor's Garden Companion is a precious map of instructions and insights into what might be expected, what could be comforting, and how to deal with not only the physical, but the psychological effects of the disease and its treatments.

Peterson includes others' perspectives in the Survivor Spotlights. And from the practical advice about using gardening activities to stretch muscles and remain active, to practicing Yoga to help with flexibility and balance, Peterson's pages help guide us through diagnosis, treatment, and the aftermath of this terrible journey. Smoothie recipes, aromatherapy recommendations, and plant-centric distractions like photography, and putting plans to paper came to the author's rescue, and she shares these options in her book.

And finally, this book has helped me--as it would anyone who is experiencing, whether first hand or through a loved one, the ups and downs and hairpin turns that go with receiving a cancer sentence.

Exotic Purple Bulbs Are Fun to Grow

Valentine combo includes Cyclamen, Alocasia, Begonia, Plectranthus, a stem of
Hippeastrum  'Lime Flare' in a vase, and a little Valentine dog.
     The same Cyclamen on Dec. 28, 2015                          
Adding lights to my indoor gardening repertoire has really given me lots of options. The SunBlaster components really opened up a whole new winter world for me.

I dove into the exotic bulb world and purchased some unusual bulbs that promised winter to early spring blooms.

I also bought two Cyclamen plants in full bloom in mid-December, and guess what? They're still in bloom! Usually by this time, they've not only gotten tired of pumping out blossoms, they apparently just plain got tired of being alive. The lights go a long way toward keeping them alive and growing.

About a month before I brought home the Cyclamen (mid-November), I planted six bulbs of Scilla madierensis. I was so excited about them I ordered three each from Longfield Gardens and Easy to Grow Bulbs. Before you decide to try these, you need to know they've sold out and will hopefully be available again in the late summer/early fall.

Dec. 28, 2015
This bulb is home to the island of Madeira off the coast of Morocco. It's related to hyacinth, and flowers in its natural location in the fall. But since I didn't plant the bulbs until mid-November, they gave me a great show from late December until now, pretty much.
By Jan. 6, I had two flowering stems.

They seemed to stage themselves, the first flower showing up slowly right around New Year's, and the stem on the last bulb just beginning to unfurl and show its flowers.

I might have had earlier flowers, but for a bag of wet potting soil that I purchased in September. When it came time to plant the Scilla bulbs, I opened it up and found it was wringing wet. I scooped out a large potful and spread it out on a flat and put it on a heat mat for two days and it still didn't dry. I put it back in the bag and tried to return it to the garden center, but all the bags were wet there, too.
LESSON LEARNED: don't buy wet potting soil, even if it's still very warm out. I won't be buying soil from this particular garden center. I will only buy potting soil if the bag is light and dry. I'll add my own moisture, thank you.

Unfurled to maximum size on Jan. 17, this
Scilla makes a good companion to
Amaryllis 'Amputo'.
Scilla madierensis likes excellent drainage, and prefers to have its neck and "shoulders" above the soil line. I planted the bulbs in a mixture of Happy Frog Potting Soil, some pine bark fines (I used Orchiata from Josh's Frogs), and a handful of coarse poultry grit. I also use some of the grit on the soil's surface near the base of the bulb to give it support.