Streptocarpus: You Can Grow That!

The Streptocarpus I ordered came in plastic shot glasses.
Happy New Year! Here is to eventually being able to call myself a neophyte in growing gesneriads. First of all, the term "neophyte" is from the Greek, meaning literally, "newly planted." What is a gesneriad? The term refers to plants like African violets, Gloxinia, and Streptocarpus among others. It's like the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals share the same division (East) within the National League team structure. (This is my contribution to the sports-themed analogies that most people seem to spout, like, "it's the size of a football field," which just means "big.")
Streptocarpus 'Bristol's Boomerang'

One of the best-known gesneriads is the African Violet (Saintpaulia), which I have been struggling to grow for awhile. Another member of the group--Episcia--has also come here to die. If you think that, just because they're in the same group they'd have the same requirements, you'd be wrong.
I finally seem to have hit upon a plant in this group that actually likes it at my house. Streptocarpus is really easy to pronounce once you know how. I think of strep throat-toe-fish-infection. (Okay, so maybe that's not the best way to remember, but maybe it will help someone.)

I ordered two from the Violet Barn, an online shop in Naples, NY that carries a nice selection of gesneriads. These two were hybridized by the shop's owners, Ralph and Olive Robinson, and are designated with the preface "Bristol." I really don't know how I was able to limit myself to just two plants--the variety is astounding!

Streptocarpus 'Bristol's Sally Mander'.
Okay, so they've only been under my care for a little over two months. But they weren't blooming when they arrived and they're blooming now and showing no signs of stopping. I left them in their little plastic shot glasses with the holes in the bottom and slipped them into small ceramic planters filled with between 1/4 to 1/2-inch of drainage material. (In this case, decorative crushed seashells.) This layer serves to keep the pot out of excess water, and brings the plant up to viewing level.

I grew them adjacent to a plant light that was about 10" above them until they started to bloom, which is when I moved them both to my office where they receive light but no direct sun. This is just temporary, a move that will allow me to give myself a pat on the back while I'm ever-so-gently tweaking their really cute little petals. As for culture, I let them get pretty dry before I water them with a dilute fertilizer for blooming plants. 

Streptocarpus 'Bristol's Boomerang' and 'Bristol's Sally Mander'.

After an hour or so of bypassing the completion of this blog, I paid $25 for a one-year membership in The Gesneriad Society, because I wanted to learn more about this fascinating group of plants.

Even if you have trouble with African Violets, give Streptocarpus a try. It's the theme du jour, kind of a post-holiday battle cry:

Off the Rails Pierogi Recipe

I know this has nothing to do with plants, but I'd like to share the recipe and instructions for making Auntie Mary's Pierogi recipe. This is a recipe passed along several generations, culminating in this one given to my husband, Dave, from his Auntie Mary, one of the sweetest ladies I've ever met, and whose sister, Eleanor, Dave's Mom, was one of the most generous and selfless people I've ever had the pleasure to call Mom.

For those who would like to go to the trouble to make pierogi, here is Auntie Mary's recipe with instructions gleaned from the years I learned to make them with Dave, his Mother Eleanor and Dad Don. I snapped photos and wrote instructions down for a magazine in 1992, and luckily, kept a copy.  

Pellies: Just Misunderstood Geraniums

Pelargonium 'Crystal Palace Gem' shows off its
central butterfly blotch
Geraniums as part of my wintertime repertoire?  Yes and no. The plants commonly referred to as geraniums have been living in our minds under assumed names. They are, and have been, correctly called Pelargoniums. I like their shortened moniker, "Pellies," and use it liberally because, let's face it, Pelargonium just doesn't trip lightly off the tongue.

Pelargonium 'Mosaic Silky' has veins to die for.
Admittedly, December isn't the best time to buy these tender beauties, especially in the Midwest. But it's a time when our outside world goes all Ansel Adams on us, and we really crave some color.

I sent for seven additional varieties from a mail order plant emporium that seems to be the most interesting game in town where pellies are concerned. has a huge selection of Pelargonium you've never heard of--which makes me want them even more.It's a huge family, consisting of varieties grown for their fancy leaves, those that look more like succulents, still others with flowers resembling Azaleas or even roses. In short, there is a pellie (or six) for every taste.

For growing indoors in winter, you can't beat the fancy leaved varieties.

Two of my latest acquisitions have a chartreuse tone going on. 'Crystal Palace Gem' is an old variety, named in the late 19th century, possibly in reference to the Crystal Palace that was built to house the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1861. And 'Mosaic Silky'? Who could ignore the lemon-yellow veins coursing along the chartreuse leaves? And although they both have respectably fancy flowers, I'm just fine without them for the time being.
Pelargonium 'Cy's Red' in November.

'Cy's Red' flowers, mid-May.
My first foray into the fascinating world of pellies was early March, when 10 varieties arrived on my icy doorstep. Well grown and well packed, they all perked up at different speeds and gave me something to look forward to, as they all were spring bloomers.

The most unusual and least attractive when not in bloom (IMHO) is 'Cy's Red', a gangly, awkward-looking plant that will stretch even further if not given adequate light. Come May, however, make sure you have it in a spot where you can appreciate the bi-colored flowers up close.

The Geranium family is huge and varied, which makes them even more fun to collect. I'll never have the time, space or money to "collect them all," but I'm pretty sure I won't get tired of them any time soon.

Keeping Weird Plants Wonderfully Alive

Scilla madierensis in January,
In case you hadn't noticed, I love (can we even say "thrive on?") trying new plants--the weirder, the better.

Late last fall I ordered six bulbs of Scilla madierensis. Five of the bulbs bloomed, which was more than I expected. They came from a place known for its wine and its weather--Madiera--a tiny archipelago consisting of four islands. The tourist attraction is part of Portugal and west of the northwest coast of Africa.
Scilla madierensis in November, 2016.

After blooming in pots through the month of January, I watered them lightly, just enough to keep their leaves growing, and put them outside for the summer. I kept their pots in sun and fed them on occasion with all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer.

I had to finally cut the foliage off the bulb in August, putting the pots under cover so they wouldn't get any water. They started sprouting in October, and finished blooming in early November.

Next spring, I'll put them outside but won't water or fertilize them at all. I think their blooms were on the small side this year, possibly because I didn't let them go dormant earlier.

Begonia 'Dotsey': one of the easiest.
Out of nearly all of the Begonias I bought last year, only two continue to grow. One happily, the other grudgingly. 'Dotsey' is a cane-type with cheery pink dots speckling its angel-wing leaves. It came to live with me in late March and remained indoors when other "houseplants" summered on the patio.

According to the Begonian (a publication of the American Begonia Society), they are called cane types because, with their straight stems and swollen nodes, they resemble bamboo.

Begonia 'Bower's Black' January, 2016.
Begonia 'Bower's Black' arrived at the end of January. By mid-February, I decided it needed a larger pot. Now, nine months later, it's still showing its resentment. It had dried out so quickly, I thought I was doing a good thing to upsize its accommodations. Wrong.

The container it's currently calling home is at least three times as large in diameter than its original pot. It's also too deep.

Begonia 'Bower's Black' November, 2016.
If this Begonia was a person, it could appear in one of those before-and-after photos showing how large its size 22 sweatpants had become.

Some plants are more forgiving than others, and I'm lucky this rhizomatous Begonia species B. bowerae has allowed me a few stumbles.

I felt vindicated about its pokey growth when I learned this particular species is recommended for fairy gardens because it's a slow grower.

No, I won't be posting the obituaries of the plants that didn't make it. I prefer to put those failures (that are in no way my fault) into the "don't ask don't tell" category.