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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Is Your Poinsettia an Annual or Perennial?



Do you treat your Christmas Poinsettia as an annual, and throw it way when it finally loses all those beautiful bracts, or do you care for it, baby it, and suffer its dormancy in order to bring it back into glorious bloom next December?

Can you guess which approach I take with a Christmas poinsettia?

I’ll give you a hint. This is my second poinsettia, a gift from my husband. I left my first one in the car. Overnight. Temperatures down to 10 degrees.


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?


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



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.

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

Christmas Cactus Right On Time

For more Wordlessness click here.

My Succulent Container

Last week I spent the better part of a day Christmas shopping. Needless to say I ended up buying a gift for myself. I have been so inspired by Debra Lee Baldwin’s book, Succulent Container Gardens, that when I found myself near the Hadley Garden Center I had to stop in and buy some succulents.  I had already bought this handsome classic container and potting soil at my ‘neighborhood’ Shelburne Farm and Garden Center. I did review Debra’s youtube instructions before beginning, and got very jealous about the nursery where she was putting together her container.

The Hadley Garden Center didn’t have a huge selection of succulents and none of them were labelled, but I dove in. Does anyone know what this is?  The roots were potbound and very dry, but I guess that is the way of these little plants.

Debra encourages the use of a top dressing to finish off the container. I used smooth pebbles from the shore of Lake Champlain, and the farm where I spent some of my childhood years. I collect a few every time I visit, full of memory.

I don’t know that Debra would give me high marks for design, but at least I began, and in my defense I didn’t have many choices at this time of the year when I could not make use of a specialty mail order catalog.  8 degrees here this morning. I can identify the burro’s tale or Sedum morganianum, and the haworthia, but the other two plants are a mystery. Who can help?

In this gift giving season I also want to mention that my friend Paula over at Birds on a Wire has suggestions for good reading, including my book, The Roses at the End of the Road. Be sure to visit. Our region is rich in artists and writers of every stripe.

Succulent Container Gardens

Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin

Houseplants have never been my strong suit. I rarely get cyclamens or amaryllis to rebloom, and I even gave up my everblooming abutilon this summer. I simply could not get rid of scale. I had to put it out of its misery.

And yet I have kept succulents alive and in good shape for decades. My jade tree is over 20 years old. It survived being moved to my daughters’ houses while we were in China, and it survived a winter in our unheated Great Room which caused severe frostbite. However, with a little spring warmth, radical pruning and gentle watering it revived and remains beautiful and indomitable.

I also have an orchid cactus and Christmas cactus that are probably about 15 years old. Still alive and healthy, and blooming on schedule with very little help from me. So you can imagine my pleasure when I opened “Succulent Container Gardens: Design Eye-Catching Displays with Easy-Care Plants” by Debra Lee Baldwin ($29.95) published by Timber Press.

Who among us is not familiar with the sempervivium hen and chicks? This common succulent is only one of the 100 genera, 275 species, and 90 varieties of succulents that Baldwin presents, alone and in combination, in containers plain and fancy, large and small, indoors and out, in a book that will inspire everyone who has ever put aside the idea of keeping houseplants alive for more than a year or two.

Baldwin gives advice about how to choose attractive pots for various succulents, looking at form and color. It is the varied forms of all these succulent species that fascinates me. I may not have been familiar with the terms graptovenerias or pachyforms or aeoniums, but now I love the graptoveria rosettes, the amazing exposed root of the pachyforms, and the graceful string of pearls, a senecio. And we haven’t even begun talking about spiky cactuses or agaves or trailing sedums.

There are over three hundred photographs of succulents potted in every style from traditional, classical, whimsical and moderne. They can make a sculptural statement planted alone, or arranged in a miniature landscape.

I have always looked at group plantings of succulents and wondered about how to arrange them. Baldwin gives advice about planting mixtures, and most importantly for me, advised that any planting should be full. These plants grow slowly so to keep a container from looking kind of pathetic, enough plants, or a big enough plant should be put in at the very beginning.

My Garden, The City and Me

Baldwin’s book makes me want to run right out and buy a big potful of succulents, but Helen Babbs’ charming little book of essays, “My Garden, The City, and Me: Rooftop Adventures in the Wilds of London” ($18.95 Timber Press) sends me to the armchair in front of the fire with a cup of tea to imagine her life in London where she lives in a gritty neighborhood and builds a garden in the three square meters outside her bedroom door.

Babbs is a young woman who is very aware of the ways that nature inhabits even the busy metropolis. Her London is set firmly within the greater natural world of plants and wildlife. She plants a garden in the hope that it will provide encouragement and sustenance for the birds and butterflies, for bees and other pollinators that are so important to her life, the life of the city, and the life of the planet.

Her book begins with a seed swap while winter is still ruling, then takes us through the seasons, through the days when, all unaware, she steps on her new seedlings and to full summer when she writes, “The roof has looked at its prettiest florally over the last few weeks. The flowering tobacco has been joined by yellow evening primroses, prongs of purple lavender and deep orange nasturtiums. I recently inherited a courgette plant that has five fluorescent flowers now.”

Her descriptions of the Thames and London’s historic parks and the wildlife she finds there are equally poetic. She writes about a damp autumnal ramble on the famed Hampstead Heath. “A sudden downpour left the leaf fall slick and gleaming, and the lichen on the tree trunks fluorescing lime green. Glossy droplets balled on fat, pink berries. When the rain returned, tree canopies made protective umbrellas over our heads.”

You don’t have to be a lover of English novels as well as gardens to enjoy this book, but it won’t hurt.

As her first year as a gardener closes she cannot help thinking of the coming spring  and growing carrots growing in a pair of leaky red wellies and potatoes in a hessian sack. I can absolutely identify with that kind of dreamy planning.

Babb ends with a short list of Things to Read and a list of Places to Go. I, for one, would not mind following in her London footsteps.


Between the Rows  -  December 3, 2011