Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Unusual Geraniums - Pellies with Star Power

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to let you go," I told the orange Ornithogalum. "While you were really jazzy, cool and colorful when I brought you home, you're looking kind of ho-hum now next to the tulips."
The Ornithogalum as an Ingenue. 

I told the tired-looking plant I might consider keeping it around for a comeback--if I remembered to label the pot and remember where I put it. It's all about looks, after all. Talent comes into play as timing in the plant world. I wouldn't give the Ornithogalum a second glance in mid-June either, no matter how dazzling its blooms are.

And speaking of dazzlers, I wish I could recall which tulip this flamboyant wunderkind is. The show-stealer is a definite keeper. For now, anyway. What will turn this tulip into a timeless classic is its scent. A slight whiff will knock your socks off and make any encounter with it even more memorable. Oh, and there are the green streaks and elegantly-ragged petal edges, giving the flower a really classy look.

Although most of my tulips run out of steam after one or two seasons, there are hordes of varieties waiting in the wings (the wings of Holland, that is) for the next curtain call. It's hard to choose, but I always manage.

As stunning as they were when they made their floral debut, three of my Pelargoniums (pellies for short) will soon be entering re-hab. If you asked this lovely trio what it takes to look so gorgeous, they'd just giggle and blush. The truth is, it takes a toll.
Pelargonium ‘Fringed Jer’rey’ 

There is the sagging. Pellies might start out looking like model plants--all straight and elegant--but nothing lasts forever. 'Fringed Jer'rey' has an earthy style of beauty that depends on its looking fresh, with no yellowed leaves or broken stems. (Nobody wants to see Gidget in a baggy sweatshirt)

'Fringed Jer'rey' will get a new look soon, courtesy of a butch bob. Sometimes that shaggy look just gets out of hand.

Pelargonium 'Madame Layal'
She might not look it, but 'Madame Layal' has been around since the late 19th century. Upright and compact, with a face like an angel, this pellie definitely has the star power of Greta Garbo. With a rounded countenance coquettishly emphasized by a cerise flair and centered by a regally-curved stigma, it's no wonder she is regarded as an angel pelargonium.

'Pampered Lady' only looks pampered.
A relative newcomer is 'Pampered Lady', hailed as an angel type pelargonium at the turn of the century. The bottom of the flower is reminiscent of smudged raspberries outlined in the palest of pinks. At the top are undulating petals in smoldering shades of burgundy. Classy, upright, and no-nonsense, this lady could go toe-to-toe with two love interests, ala Philadelphia Story.

Author's note: These three are part of a group of 10 Pelargoniums I bought from Geraniaceae.com. The size and health of these plants are amazing, these three starting to bloom in less than a month. They were $5 each, so I ordered lots. I'd recommend this seller wholeheartedly.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bluebirds Make Garden Sing

It snowed a bit on April 8.
We wait a long time for the bright colors of spring. They come in spots--a clump here, a tuft there, a ragged, weather-worn flower you swear you never planted. It's all good. Especially coming from the ground so recently covered in snow.

My hands are strong enough for houseplants.
In preparation for doing work I ignored last season, I had carpal tunnel release surgery in both hands--the left in January, the right in March. I no longer have the tingling and numbness, but my strength isn't 100% quite yet. If I had to assign a percentage it would be perhaps 85% in the left and 50% in the right hand but improving bit by bit through exercise, ice and time.

The bottom line is this: I haven't clipped a dead stem or pulled a weed since last September. Instead of dwelling on it, I've been forced into the role of observer and houseplant hobbyist. My observer side has been rewarded with a bevy of birds that have passed through or, in the case of many, stayed to hang out in my garden.
This suet is made for bluebirds.

Birds arrive in flashes out of the corner of your eye. In the case of the Eastern bluebirds, my eye told my brain it was not a blue jay, which are pretty common in my garden.

I was so excited, I ran down the hall to get my camera and attach its long lens, grab the tripod and sneak outside for a better look.
As it turned out, the rush wasn't necessary. The pair of bluebirds were looking for food, which we'd provided by setting out some yummy suet. And it seems they've come to stay.

The male hangs out on a wire near the nesting box.
I made it more likely they would by buying a nesting box and locating it in a good spot. This was on the advice of a woman who works at the feed store I frequent. She told me she had been seeing bluebirds near her house and that she'd put up a nesting box. "I think they're building a nest inside," she said.

Operating on previous evidence that my life is a cross between a Seinfeld episode and a Dickens novel, I asked the woman a question. "Do you live near Dogwood Park?"
She looked at me somewhat suspiciously.

"Yes, I do," she admitted.

It was as I'd suspected. She lived a block away from me and we were likely both seeing the same pair of bluebirds. So the nesting box my husband installed would either be the neighbor's bluebirds second home, or there was more than two bluebirds in the neighborhood. Either way, I am happy to have the little blue guests.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Begonias Like a Bit of Tough Love

If ever there was a plant with members that prefer you take a hands-off approach, it is the Begonia. Not all of them, of course. Just the two that no longer grace my stable of houseplants. They arrived in very tiny pots in good condition considering it was November. Recommendations for Begonia masoniana 'Iron Cross' (rhizomatous) included keeping it warm (between 65 and 75 degrees F) and on the dry side.
Begonia masoniana 'Iron Cross'

Another variety called 'Plum Paisley' (Rex cultorum) also bit the dust. Its instructions included keeping the leaves dry, giving it high light and low moisture. 

Begonia 'Plum Paisley'
Both of these Begonias came from the same place and arrived on the same day. One of my first mistakes, in retrospect, was repotting them. 

The pots were so tiny, after all--barely 2" in diameter. But I remember now that a plant's roots should not be judged by its leaves or the size of the plant.

It's not that Begonias are all difficult. It's just that it's a huge family, and there are bound to be some divas in the clan.

Begonia 'Bower's Black'
I'm growing plenty of other Begonias that are amazingly easy going. 'Bower's Black', for instance, is still in the container it was in when I bought it Jan 23. This variety has become the poster plant for the rule that says you should avoid repotting most plants in the winter.

I'd put this one in the "slow grower" category along with another one called 'Black Fancy', which arrived with the two Divas listed above. 'Black Fancy' didn't seem to mind having a pot too big for its feet. Sure, I've had to be very careful not to overwater it. In fact, I pretty much ignore it.

Begonia 'Black Fancy' shares a container
with Oxalis and Paphiopedilum
Fancy-leaved Begonias play well with others, or look great by themselves. And while they do produce flowers, many are known better for their leaves. I found just the right container in which to place the tiny pot of 'Bower's Black'.

Begonia 'Black Fancy' has a completely different personality. It cries out for close friends like the nearly monotone orchid, Paphiopedalum 'Napa Valley' and Oxalis 'Plum Crazy'. This adorable shamrock look-alike has leaves nearly as dark as the Begonia's, but with lots of deep pink splotches and occasional and unnecessary bright yellow flowers. I tucked all three into a concrete planter with stones at the bottom to make sure they don't sit in water in case I get lazy and water them where they live instead of taking them each out individually.