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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Death on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Dead-ish Poinsettia

For me, Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is a bust this month. This poinsettia has been living happily on our dining table, in front of a big southern window since Christmas.  At night we close the lined curtains, to slightly moderate heat loss. I’ve kept it watered, but yesterday I came downstairs and when I opened the curtains I saw that it was withered and drooping. I don’t think it was below 32 degrees in our living space, but it was cool.  Did several nights of zero degree temperatures prove too much for it?  What happened?  Any ideas?

Cyclamen

This cyclamen did pretty well on this uncurtained windowsill, but a couple of weeks ago I noticed that the window side of the plant was dying. I suspect the plant will recover. In the fall. Unlike poinsettias, cyclamen don’t mind cold weather, although putting it right next to  window was probably too much to ask.

That is my sad report on this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in February 2014, but I am sure you will find many happier stories if you click here.  I can always count on our hos Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for optimism.

Spring is Coming – Time to Repot – Scented Geranium

Lemon scented geranium – unpruned

Spring is coming!  I was inspired to repot this lemon scented geranium, which I have only done once before in nearly ten years. You can see I did cut it back some in the fall. I was inconsistent in my watering all winter, but as the days began to grow longer new shoots came up.

Scented geranium – pruned

I cut out all the dead wood and could see nice healthy growth more clearly.

Scented geranium – unpotted

I took the geranium out of its pot, did  some root pruning and root disruption. I put together new potting mix with a little vermiculite, and a helping of vermicompost from my worm bin. The scented geranium, pruned top and bottom, then went into a  clean pot, same size.

Scented geranium – repotted

It doesn’t look very different, but I’m ready to watch it grow with new vigor.

Yes, I can feel spring coming. The high temperature today was 45 degrees with rain showers. It’s muddy! I know there will be more snow. I hope a lot more snow, but Punxatawny  Phil said winter will be over in 6 weeks!

Houseplants for Christmas

 

Christmas cactus

Plants, one way or another, play a big part in our Christmas festivities and gift giving. I can’t think of any other holiday when plants are so important. We decorate our houses with evergreen wreaths, and deck our halls with holly. Or at least with laurel ropes, evergreen boughs and swags, and forced bulbs on the festive table.

We also give plants as gifts, and may also receive a potted plant. The question is how can we choose a gift plant, or care for a plant we never imagined taking up residence on our windowsill? The answer is the same as it is for a plant in the garden. We have to know what the plant needs in terms of light, water and heat, and where in the house those needs will be met most easily.

When choosing a gift houseplant consider the home of the recipient. Is the house or apartment very warm or cool? In my house the downstairs is quite warm in winter because we have a woodstove and solar gain. Cooler at night, of course. The upstairs bedroom is cool during the day and much cooler at night. How bright or sunny is the house? Different plants have different light requirements from tolerant of low light, to bright but not sunny, to long hours of sun.

Choose your plants with those conditions in mind. The poinsettia is a tropical plant that requires four hours of sun, with daytime temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees, and nighttime temperatures 10 degrees cooler. This iconic Christmas flower has the advantage of coming in a range of colors and having a long period of bloom. The ‘flowers’ are actually bracts that will easily give a month of color. People do carry poinsettias through their dormant period to bloom another year, but most consider the poinsettia a living bouquet, and toss it without a pang when it begins to shed bracts and foliage.

A glamorous Christmas houseplant is the amaryllis or Hippeastrum. White Flower Farm offers a huge selection of large amaryllis bulbs, but you can buy these at local garden shops. They come in a full range of colors from pale white to rich red, and even candy-striped. They often come potted up ready to wake up and start growing once they are watered and placed in a bright, warm (70-80 degree) room. They need to be watered when the top inch of soil is dry.

After amaryllis bloom, they can be carried over by cutting off the flower stalks and putting the plant in a bright cool 50 degree room. Leave the foliage to gather strength for another bloom period, just as you leave daffodil foliage. When the weather is warm the potted plant can be put outside. In the fall, cut back the foliage and store the bulb, without watering, in a cool dark space like a basement for at least eight weeks. Then the bulb can be repotted and brought into a bright room. When growth begins you water the bulb and carry on as before.

Yes, amaryllis can be carried over, or as with any gift plant, you can chuck it, or make it a gift to a friend who is a patient gardener.

Two plants that need very little care are the Thanksgiving (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (S. bridgesii). These two succulents are very similar, but the stem segments of S. truncata have points rather than the scalloped stem segments of the Christmas cactus. Both are available is shades pale and bright.

Christmas cactus bought now will probably be in bud or bloom that will last for a month or more. It is a cactus but needs bright light, not sun. While it does need to be watered, less harm is done by underwatering, than by overwatering. This is true of most houseplants. Christmas cactus stems will begin to soften or shrivel slightly if the plant has been underwatered, and will recover quickly when watering is resumed.

Once they have bloomed these houseplants can live in a sunny room, and live outside in light shade in the summer. They can be given a little fertilizer for flowering plants. Buds will set in the fall when nighttime temperatures dip to 55 degrees. Christmas cactus is so easy to maintain that it can be handed down from mother to daughter.

One of my favorite holiday plants is the cyclamen. Cyclamen is a cool weather plant so it loves my cool rooms. This is not a plant for an overheated apartment! I bring my cyclamen into the social area for brief celebratory occasions. The blossoms, white or pink, dance like butterflies above the heart shaped foliage. Water carefully around the edges of the pot so the corm does not become waterlogged and rot. Fertilize every two or three weeks with a soluble fertilizer for blooming plants.

The biggest challenge in carrying a cyclamen plant over is keeping it cool enough. When the bloom period is over the plant goes into dormancy. The foliage will dry and fall off. Repot the corm in a slightly larger pot, and put it outside for the summer in a shady spot. Do not overwater. By the end of the summer new growth should have started. Fertilization can resume when buds are set. It is hard to say exactly when a carried over cyclamen will bloom, but if it comes out of dormancy you should be assured of another bloom season. Just remember. Keep it cool.

Of course there are many other houseplants available for gift giving, but any of them will give pleasure throughout the holiday season and beyond if you keep their needs in mind when making a choice.

Between the Rows   December 7, 2013

 

 

November Bloom Day Comes With A Promise

Thanksgiving cactus budding

On this November Garden Bloggers Bloom Day I only have a promise. I just brought my little Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) in from the unheated Great Room. Now that it is in the warm I think it may actually bloom on the appointed day. Early in my blogging career (almost 6 years ago) I was assured that ‘buds count.’  Lucky for me. I visited a neighbor recently and her beautiful pale pink Thanksgiving cactus was in full glorious bloom.

The big beautiful Christmas cactus  (Schlumbergera bridgesii) in our bedroom, which is very cool, is also budded, but the buds are so  tiny that they do not photograph. I think there will be a magnificent show by Christmas, perhaps even by December Bloom Day.

All Thanks with a capital T to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day all these years. She has given us an opportunity to create our own record, but even more to visit all manner of gardens and garden rooms during every season.

Surprising Blossoms

Our first dandelions

There are surprising blossoms in the garden right now. Yesterday I found my first dandelions growing against the house foundation. None in the lawn but it won’t be long.

Orchid Cactus blossom

I never know when the neglected orchid cactus in the guest room will bloom. Surprise!

Orchid cactus buds

The orchid cactus is loaded with buds waiting to come into bloom.  More surprises to  come

My Succulent Container Garden on Wordless Wednesday

Succulents planted December 19, 2011

I just realized that I planted my succulent container on December 19 last year. This was a new project for me.

Succulents on February 2, 2012

I posted an update in February when the succulents looked like this.

Succulents on December 19. 2012

Today the succulents look like this. I love being able to put together this series. With so few words.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

How to Give a Gift Plant

Jerusalem cherry

A living plant can be a wonderful holiday gift whether it is chosen for its flowers or for its foliage. However, before you give a plant think about the recipient. Will she accept the plant as a long lived bouquet and then let it go to its eternal reward in the compost pile? After admiring the plant will she feel overwhelmed by the necessity of caring for the plant? Will she weep because she wanted to keep it alive, but to no avail?

Many blooming houseplants are given with no expectation that they will be kept for another blooming season. Forced amaryllis and paper whites may be among this category. The amaryllis is a spectacular holiday plant with blossoms that comes in a range of shades from brilliant red to pink to white, and some with stripes. It is easy to find large prepared and potted amaryllis bulbs online or in local garden centers. All you need to do is water the bulb well, and then wait for growth to start. The recipient will only need to water the plant regular and the reward will be large glamorous blooms that can last over a month.

Sun and cool temperatures, 55 to 65 degrees, will help produce sturdy flower stems, but the plant should be turned regularly so the plant is not always reaching in the same direction for sun.

Many people are perfectly happy to say good-bye to an amaryllis after it blooms, or pass it along to a friend who really wants to keep it going.

Less spectacular, but no less delightful are forced daffodils (narcissus). It used to be that people were happy to half-bury some paper-whites in pebbles in a pretty shallow bowl that could hold some water and stored in a cool basement while roots form. Nowadays, all manner of daffodils can be potted up from miniature brilliant yellow Tete-a-tetes, to the tall paper whites. They can be planted in planting mix along with a little bulb fertilizer. While they do need cool to cold temperatures to start root growth they do not need basement darkness. Give them light. The soil should be kept moist.

Conventional wisdom says these forced bulbs will never bloom again, but if you, or the recipient, want to try to bring these forced bulbs into bloom again the foliage should be left to ripen after the bloom period. Then in the spring the yellowed foliage can be cut back and the bulbs can be planted in the garden with a little bone meal or bulb fertilizer. They may come back, or they may not. I have experienced both outcomes, but there is nothing to be lost.

I just bought myself the gift of a Jerusalem cherry for my bedroom because the red ‘cherries’ make it look like a little Christmas tree. This plant, like the ornamental pepper is an annual, just like the petunias we enjoy in their season. There is absolutely no expectation that it will have a life much beyond the holiday season. It can be tossed with no regrets. Be aware that the fruits are not edible and children should be warned.

The Jerusalem cherry is perfect for my bedroom because nighttime temperatures are very cool, down to 50 degrees. Ornamental peppers need warmer temperatures even at night, and both plants need at least four hours of bright sun.

Another plant that needs cool temperatures, preferably day and night is the beautiful cyclamen which is available in shades of red, pink and white. I keep cyclamen in my bedroom or the sitting room (where no one ever sits, but just passes through) because these rooms have bright sun, but are cool day and night. However, I do bring the pot of lovely blooms out into the living area when we have holiday guests. Short periods of warm temperatures will not shorten bloom time very much.

I have noticed that kalanchoe are beginning to appear at the supermarket as well as at the garden center. These easy care succulents have thick, waxy foliage that stores water and make them relatively drought resistant. The tiny flowers growing in little bunches in shades of red, orange and yellow.  When choosing a gift kalanchoe look for one that still has most of the flowers in bud, and whose leaves are nice and plump showing that it has been cared for properly in the nursery. They need at least four hours of sun and cool nighttime temperatures.

Of course there is always the Christmas poinsettia in red, pink or white. It’s blooms last for a very long time because the flowers are actually bracts. When they finally fade, I always just throw the plant on the compost pile. Easy enjoyment with no second thoughts. A good attitude for beginning the holiday season, I think. Is a gift plant on your list this year?

Between the Rows  December 1, 2012

The Unexpected Houseplant by Tovah Martin

The Unexpected Houseplant by Tovah Martin

We’ve had frost and feel the outdoor growing season closing. Tovah Martin, author of The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home reminds us that we can now concentrate on the indoor growing season.

I confess that I have never been much of a houseplant person. In the past I have grown spider plants, asparagus fern and grape ivy in pots hanging by holders I macramé-ed myself, supermarket cyclamen, avocado pit seedlings and occasional begonias. Currently, in the house, I only have a 25 year old jade plant, two Christmas cactuses and a huge orchid cactus that I pay so little attention to that it blooms inexplicably on some schedule that makes sense only to itself.

Earlier this year I became newly fascinated by succulents and planted a succulent bowl, and two hypertufa troughs. These spent the summer outside on our Welcoming Platform, but will come in to spend the winter in our unheated, but very sunny, Great Room. Succulents are great plants for those who fear they have brown thumbs or who know they are not always attentive to the living creatures on their windowsill.

Though my passion for houseplants has always been limited, The Unexpected Houseplant may change all that. Martin has enough passion to convert the whole country to houseplants and she makes suggestions that will tempt the new, as well as the experienced indoor gardener.

Martin’s prose is a delight and she paints a gloriously verdant picture of her own home. “Basically, if you don’t like plants, don’t bother to enter. . . within that unassuming exterior resides a wonderful world of roaming vines and hairy stems. Leaves of all shapes, sizes textures, scents and combinations of colors are given free rein. . . Watch how you angle the groceries around the kalanchoe, because clumsily maneuvered baggage will bring it down. Only dogs with short tails are allowed in.”

Martin divides her book into seasons, beginning with autumn which is when many often start thinking about houseplants. In her charming style she touches briefly on basic concerns like temperature, light, pot and saucer size, location with regard to heat sources, watering, and aesthetic arrangements, but goes into all these important issues with more comprehensive chapters towards the end of the book.

I was a bit alarmed to see that the table of contents lists many plants by their genus name, cissus (grape ivy), plectranthus (Mexican mint), selaginellas (Irish moss), etcetera, but each genus section does give the species names, common names and specific cultivar names. Martin describes the appearance and needs of several species and cultivars that are desirable as houseplants along with directions for their care.

Many of the plants she describes are familiar, hens and chicks, orchids, a whole variety of herbs, as well as bulbs that can be forced in the winter. Others are not plants I would have considered as houseplants. Calla lilies! I checked and found that I can buy bulbs for calla lilies from Van Engelen now even though it will take them 14 weeks or so to bloom. They can then be carried over from year to year.

Neither would I have imagined primroses as a houseplant, but the cover photo of Primula denticulatas ‘Confetti Blue’ and ‘Rubins’ is truly unexpected and equally irresistible.

The name Anigozanthos favidus would have scared me off but it is another of Martin’s special enthusiasms. Even its common name. kangaroo paws. wouldn’t have excited me. Do I know what a kangaroo paw looks like? No.

Martin says Anigozathos flowers in fall and sporadically all year, with “flowers that are long, fuzzy tubular affairs groping out in elongated clusters. Each flower is only the size of a tootsie roll, but the tip opens up into something that resembles groping animal claws (without the barbs). The interior is green; the exterior might be golden, orange or pink . . . The blossoms are brandished on strong foliar spikes, which do not need staking, held above clumps of leathery pointed leaves that resemble fuzzy grass. . . . Who doesn’t love an oddball, especially in spring?” Surely, all of us.

The photographs  by Kindra Clineff, all of Martin’s own plants in her own house, are gorgeous and as seductive as Martin’s prose. An element of that seduction is in the choice of plant containers. As Martin says, you don’t need to look far for wonderful plants. Think of the supermarket cyclamen. Our task is to “jazz it up.” Certainly the photos of plants in antique pots, bowls, urns, jars, tubs and vases are enough to send us on a hunt through our own cabinets for some long forgotten item, or a ramble through an antique shop or even a second hand shop.

This book is just a lovely long conversation with a knowledgeable, but candid friend who doesn’t want you to get into something you can’t handle. She shares her enthusiasm for certain plants, like the calla lilies, but also warns you about the particular problems she sees in abutilon, bougainvillea, heliotrope and hibiscus.  I know I finally gave up my abutilon which is a beautiful ever-blooming plant, but the bugs finally did me in, even though the abutilon limped along.

This is a book to use now, and a book to put away in the gift drawer. The gift giving season is drawing

My orchid cactus April 2012

 

A Surprise on Bloom Day

Forsythia

Bloom Day and I have the most respectable forsythia ever. Which isn’t saying too much. A little rain would probably have helped. We haven’t had any real precipitation since two inches of snow on March 8.

Van Sion daffs

The Van Sions, an old early blooming  variety were here when we moved in, have been blooming for a couple of weeks.

Daffodils

Now other daffodils are just starting to bloom as well. Lots more to come. Rain would help.

Glory of the Snow - Chionodoxa

I have little bulbs, Glory of the Snow, scillas, and grape hyaciths in the grass at the end of the  Rose Walk. The grape hyacinths are not blooming yet.

Scillas

Dandelion and ground ivy

Not all the bloomers are quite as welcome as welcome as the daffs. You can’t really see the blue ground ivy blooms. The dandelions began blooming three days ago.

The surprise came when I went to water a pot of annuals and prostrate rosemary that had spent the winter in our unheated, but very sunny, Great Room. Amazingly the prostrate rosemary survived with occasional watering and temperatures that did dip to 32 degrees. This morning I noticed that last year’s lobelia revived and is blooming again.

To see what else is blooming around the country visit May Dreams Gardens. Thank you, Carol, for hosting this great meme.

Orchid cactus

Another surprise. I went into the guest room, where this orchid cactus lives. I pay no attention to it. It is such a big plant I don’t really have a good place for it,. It is rarely watered and I am amazed it is still alive. And yet – every once in a while it bursts forth. One huge blossom and twelve more buds still to open.

I Become a Judge at the Boston Flower Show

Boston Flower Show and Blooms!

Spring was in full bloom inside the Seaport World Trade Center where the Boston Flower Show and BLOOMS! featured display gardens with reflecting pools, landscapes fit for a hobbit, Japanese maples, fountains, school gardens with veggies and flowers, as well as rooms filled with specimen plants and flower arrangements awaiting the intense gazes of the judges.

This year I was not attending the flower show merely as an admirer, but as a volunteer judge. Earlier this spring I was invited to join the judging panels by Libby Moor of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. While I was happy to accept I warned her I had no training. She seemed to be satisfied that on-the-job training would be sufficient so I looked forward to enjoying the whole event from a whole new perspective.

I met the two other members of my group, the elegant Jocelyn Sherman who was a trained and official judge, and Rick Peckham who was good humored and incredibly knowledgeable, understandably enough because he is the fifth generation to operate Peckham’s Nursery in Rhode Island.

It was quickly apparent that judging is all about details. We were to judge entries all grown by amateur gardeners. Our first category was hanging plants, separated into groups, those grown under lights, in the window or in a greenhouse. The conditions are considered to be sufficiently different to impact the growth  patterns. There were also categories of hanging plants: flowering; foliage; or ferns.

We began by looking over all the plants in a general way and then hunkered down to attend to detail. I was instructed to look at the shape of the plant – was it balanced? Was it leggy? Was it healthy? Was there insect, disease or sun damage? Was it well groomed with all dead leaves, stems and flowers removed? Was it mature, or a young plant? Was it rare or common? Was it hard to grow?

In one category we gave a blue ribbon to a beautiful Swedish ivy. This is obviously not a rare plant, but the condition of the plant, its balanced form, health and good grooming, trumped slightly more uncommon plants.

Halfway through the judging my colleagues gave me a plant to judge all by myself as a test to see if I was catching on. I passed! Thank heaven! I did notice the lopsidedness of the plant with most of the foliage on one side, damage to leaves, and bits of leaves on the soil.

In one category we gave a blue ribbon to a mature rattail cactus. Again this was not extraordinarily rare, but its maturity and health were the winning traits.

Rattail Cactus

Later, while on another panel with two other judges, Jane Cary and Sandi Joyce,  I went around the room full of entries by individuals: hanging plants, begonias, succulents, and terrariums and more. There were foliage plants and flowering plants, all beautiful. I joined these two in choosing candidates for the Cruso Award which is designed to honor the outstanding effort of an individual. Then I remained silent as we narrowed down our deliberations while my two new colleagues conferred and agreed that the same rattail cactus we had chosen for a blue ribbon, was also worthy of the Cruso Award.

After attending to the hanging plants, my colleagues and I went to the four Small Bay Window Displays. Again, we looked the four large displays over in a general way, and then concentrated on each individually. Three of these windows contained between 20 and 40 plants and it was our job to evaluate each individual plant as well the whole. In this category we had to use a point system. Sherman and Peckham said to look at each judging criteria and remove points for problems.

I already knew from watching judges at the Heath Fair that consistency is a vital component in judging. We had to take off a couple of points in one display because not all the pots were plain terra cotta, and some of the pedestals were wood, some were upended pots.

We gave one display created (we later found out) by the Cactus and Succulent Society the full 100 points. Our immediate reaction (all three of us) was Wow! This was a fabulous collection of healthy plants beautifully arranged. We could not find a single thing to quibble about in any of the 30 or so plants or their arrangement. When we had recovered ourselves sufficiently we read the Statement of Intent. The intent of the creators of this display was to have viewers say Wow! Never was an intent so fully achieved. We gave this display a Blue Ribbon and the Advisor’s Award for excellence in this class.

When I checked back at this display of succulents before I left I saw that it had also won the National Garden Clubs Medal and the Garden Club of America Certificate of Excellence in Horticulture.

However, no matter how picky we got, the other three bay window exhibits also got more than 90 points. In this category if a display gets more than 90 points, it gets a blue ribbon. Four blue ribbons! Wow!

Visitors to our own gardens don’t come armed with blue ribbons or medals, but we all feel great satisfaction if they give us an occasional wow. Or maybe an admiring sigh. Still the greatest satisfaction and pleasure I get is working in the garden, kneeling to examine the details of each unique plant, reveling in its own particular beauty.

Reflecting Pool and Boston Flower Show

Between the Rows   March 17, 2012