Fabulous Friday: Pitcher Plants

Sarracenia flava

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, really, pitcher plants grew wild in the boggy wetlands along the Atlantic coast.  They grew right around here, along the banks of the James River and the many creeks that feed it.

The yellow trumpet pitcher, Sarracenia flava, is native to our part of coastal Virginia.  Most species of pitchers grow from Virginia south to Florida, and west along the Gulf coast.

Only one species, Sarracenia pupurea ssp. purpurea, grows from Virginia north to Canada and west to the wetlands around the Great Lakes.  Most of these species live in bogs and wetlands at sea level, but a few species grow at higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia south into Georgia.

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It’s rare now to find a pitcher plant growing wild.  Over 97% of their habitat has been drained and developed.  A few species and natural hybrids are all but extinct.  These beautiful carnivorous plants are sustained these days mostly in private collections.

And the good news, gardening friends, is that these striking plants are easy to grow!  Anyone with a sunny spot can participate in keeping these beautiful and unusual species going.

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If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow most any of the North American pitcher plants outdoors year round.  If you live in colder climes, you probably can grow the species and hybrids of Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia oreophila, or Sarracenia montana.  Even if you live a zone or two colder than your plants are rated, you can find ways to insulate them over winter.

These easy to please plants simply want wet, acidic soil and as much sun as you can give them.  Grow them in pots filled with a mix of half peat moss and half sand, or three quarters peat and 1/4 perlite or fine gravel.    Keep the soil moist by growing in a glazed ceramic pot with no drainage hole, or a glazed ceramic pot with a deep, water filled saucer beneath.  Peter d’Amato, owner of California Carnivores and author of The Savage Garden, recommends growing potted Sarracenias in glazed pots kept standing in  2″ of water at all times, so the soil stays evenly moist.

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These are definitely tough, outdoor plants and prefer full sun.  If you grow them indoors, keep them near a window with bright light for at least 6 hours a day, or in a greenhouse.

Never use commercial potting mix, compost, or commercial fertilizers with pitcher plants.  Peat is closest to the soil of their natural habitat, and provides the acidic environment they require.

The only pitcher plant that has ever failed for me came from a local grower.   He cut corners, and blended his own compost based soil mix rather than using good peat.  He admitted this to me when I returned the plant to him the following spring after I bought it, because it hadn’t begun new growth.  He replaced the plant, and I immediately re-potted it into the proper mix.  It is thriving still.

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There are several distinct features to the different species of pitcher plants.  The pitchers can be as short as 5″-6″ or as tall as 48″ depending on the species.  Each hollow pitcher is actually a leaf.  The most common pitchers, the S. purpureas, are also some of the shortest.  They are usually a beautiful red or purple and have red flowers.

S. flava, S. leucophylla and S. oreophila produce some of the tallest pitchers.  Some pitchers stand up tall, and others form recumbent rosettes of pitchers.  Pitchers may have wide mouths with fancy, frilly openings, or may have wide open mouths that catch the rain.  S. minor and S. psittacina pitchers have hooded openings.

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Some pitchers are mostly green, others are red or purple.  S. Leucophylla have white around the openings to their pitchers.  S. flava is also called the yellow pitcher plant, and they are a beautiful  chartreuse yellow.

Sarracenia flowers may be red, purple, white, peach, yellow or some combination of these colors.  There are so many interesting hybrids and cultivars that a pitcher plant enthusiast has many choices of which plants to grow.

I ordered two new pitcher plants from Sarracenia Northwest, in Portland OR, this spring.  I’m now watching S. ‘Bug Bat’ and S. leucophylla ‘Tarnok’ begin to grow.  Both were very carefully packaged and arrived in growth and in perfect condition.

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And then earlier today, I found an interesting carnivorous plant terrarium kit at Lowes, with a dormant Sarracenia and a dormant Dionaea, or flytrap; little bags of peat and sphagnum moss.  There were potting instructions and a clear plastic box to hold the plants until they begin to grow.  At under $10.00, this looked like a pretty good value.

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Our newest pitcher plant  came in a carnivorous plant terrarium kit found at Lowes.  I’ve planted it, and a dormant flytrap in this bowl given to us by a potter friend.

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I potted the little dormant plants in my own mix of peat and sand, in a beautiful bowl our potter friend Denis Orton gave us at the holidays.  The bowl has no drainage and is a perfect first home for both plants.  They may need potting on next year or the next, but that is the way of things, isn’t it?

It will be a surprise to see which species of pitcher plant grows from this start, but I’m guessing it is most likely the most common, S. purpurea.

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Pitcher plants have various ways of luring insects into their open mouths.  There are nectar trails that lure insects up the pitchers and into their open mouthed leaf.  Each species has ingenious ways to keep them from escaping again.  These plants catch and digest every sort of insect from crawling ants to mosquitoes and flies.

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There is no shortage of insects in our May garden!  We have come to the part of summer haunted by every sort of bug imaginable, and it’s fabulous irony that one of our most beautiful native perennials also helps control the bug problem!

Our little collection of pitcher plant is growing now, and it is fabulous to admire their fresh new pitchers on this very muggy Friday afternoon.  I am looking forward to watching the new ones grow and show their special colors and forms.

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Pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, native to the Southeastern United States

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If you’ve not yet tried growing pitcher plants, I hope you’ll think about giving them a try.  These endangered species need all the help adventurous gardeners will give to keep them going on into the future.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Heritage

 

Fabulous Friday: Growing Herbs

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One of the nicest things about summer is the garden filled with fresh herbs.  Most herbs prove very easy to grow.  They enjoy full sun, can stand a little dry weather, naturally repel pests, and smell delicious.

Herbs have such beautiful and interesting foliage, that I enjoy using them in containers and in the perennial garden. They also add an interesting touch in a vase.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows with parsley and fennel.

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Evergreen perennial herbs, like rosemary, often maintain a presence through the winter.  Even when frost damaged, most will begin to recover and grow again by early spring. Although many Mediterranean herbs are marginally hardy in our climate, we’ve had enough success overwintering them that it is well worth making the effort.

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Overwintered Lavender and Artemesia. Artemesia propagates easily from stem cuttings in early spring.

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Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Artemesia, culinary sage, Santolina, germander, oregano, chocolate mint and many varieties of Lavender remain evergreen in our garden.  Other herbs, like comphrey, dill and fennel, return with fresh growth once the weather warms.

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Comphrey is one of our earliest herbs to bloom each spring.

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We’ve had mixed experience in overwintering one of my favorite herbs, scented Pelargoniums.   I’m always thrilled to see tiny leaves emerge in early spring where one has survived the winter.  Perennials, they aren’t fond of winter indoors, unless you have a spot to keep them in bright light.

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Thyme provides lots of early nectar for pollinators. It grows into an attractive edging for perennial beds and borders.

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Scented Pelargoniums rank high on my spring shopping list, as I scout out choice varieties wherever herbs are sold.  P. ‘Citronella,’ sold to ward off mosquitoes, can be found in many garden centers and big box plant departments.  But I am always watching for the rose scented varieties and an especially pretty plant called P. ‘Chocolate Mint.’ 

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Pelargonium ‘Lady Plymouth’ has the scent of roses

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Basil grows particularly well for us here in coastal Virginia.  It really takes off quickly in our late spring and summer heat.  Sometimes I begin with seeds, but most often watch for my favorite varieties at herb sales.  Some varieties, like African Blue Basil, are hybrids and can’t be grown true from seeds.

African Blue and Thai Basil quickly grow into small, fragrant shrubs.   I let them flower, and then enjoy the many pollinators they attract all summer.  Their seeds attract goldfinches and usually stand in my garden until after the holidays, when I finally pull the plants once the seeds are gone.

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Basil gone to seed, delighted our goldfinches and other small birds last September.

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Our garden is filling up again with growing herbs, now that we are into mid-May.  Taking some time to enjoy our herbs makes this rainy Friday fabulous.  The perennial herbs are into active growth now, and I’m finding and planting choice varieties of Basil, Salvia and Pelargonium.

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Newly planted Santolina and purple Basil will grow in quickly.

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We experimented with a relatively new Lavender cultivar last year:  L. ‘Phenomenal.’  This very hardy (Zones 5-9) and disease resistant cultivar was introduced by Peace Tree Farms in 2012. Hybrid ‘Phenomenal’ can take our muggy summers, so long as it has reasonably good drainage, and doesn’t die back during the winter.  It will eventually grow to a little more than 2 feet high and wide.  I was curious to see how it would grow for us, and bought a few plugs through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs last spring.

I was so pleased with how fresh they looked all winter, that I ordered new plugs this spring.   The plugs are still growing on in pots, but I look forward to planting them out before the end of May.

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Culinary purple sage grows well with German Iris and other perennials.

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If you have faced challenges in past years overwintering your Lavender, or losing them during a muggy summer; you might want to give L. ‘Phenomenal’ a try.  These will work nicely in a good sized pot if your space is limited.  Add a little lime to the potting mix or garden soil, and try mulching around newly planted Lavender plants with light colored gravel to reflect the heat and protect the foliage from splattered soil.

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Spanish Lavender also proves very hardy and overwinters in our garden.  This is my favorite Lavendula stoechas ‘Otto Quast.’

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Herbs prove such useful plants.  They nourish, they heal, they repel pests, and they thrive in challenging garden conditions.  Their unique leaves and healing scents add beauty to our lives.

Do you rely on herbs in your garden?  Wild at heart, they simply want a place to grow.  Why not try one this summer you’ve not grown before?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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August herbs in a vase

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Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Sunday Dinner: Small Worlds

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“The world is awash with colours unseen

and abuzz with unheard frequencies.

Undetected and disregarded.

The wise have always known that these inaccessible realms,

these dimensions that cannot be breached

by our beautifully blunt senses,

hold the very codes to our existence,

the invisible, electromagnetic foundations

upon which our gross reality clumsily rests.”

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Russell Brand

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“Infinity is before and after an infinite plane.”

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RJ Clawso

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“It is frightfully difficult

to know much about the fairies,

and almost the only thing for certain

is that there are fairies

wherever there are children.”

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J.M. Barrie

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“It didn’t seem possible to gain so much happiness

from so little.”

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Peter Lerangis

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Do the little things.

In the future when you look back,

they’d have made the greatest change.”

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Nike Thaddeus

 

Blossom XXIV: Amaryllis in Summer

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Like seeing an old friend, in an unexpected place, our winter Amaryllis bravely blooms again in the midst of early summer perennials.  How often do we assume that the stately Amaryllis we buy for a holiday gift or decoration is simply a disposable house plant?

As their pale leaves stretch and flop in January, most of would gladly chuck the whole thing once its blooms have finished.  But a gardener’s patience is usually rewarded, and so it is for that Amaryllis bulb that we care for through the winter.

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Bulbs always have some months of awkward growth when their leaves fortify the bulb for the next season’s bloom.  You probably are wondering what to do with the floppy foliage of spring’s daffodils right about now, just as we’re still letting it rest in annoying disarray.

An Amaryllis is no different. If you allow its leaves to grow for several months, and then force it to go dormant; it will reward you with even more blooms the following year.  And like other bulbs, Amaryllis form offsets as they mature.  Read that, “Free bulbs!”

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Amaryllis bulbs, freshly dug up from the garden last December.  After allowing these to rest for several weeks, I potted these up to bring them back into growth.

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Amaryllis, more properly called  Hippeastrum reginae, come to us from the southern hemisphere.  That is one reason they are so popular during our winter; they still believe it is early summer, and time to bloom!  And however huge and exotic an Amaryllis may appear, they are very easy to grow.   All they require is water, light, and space to grow.

Once the weather warms enough and frosts have finished in mid-spring, simply plant the Amaryllis into good garden soil in full or partial sun.  Leave any remaining leaves intact.  They will soon be replaced with sturdier, brighter leaves anyway.

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Hippeastrum ‘Tres Chic’

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Planting depth depends on your plan.  If you plan to bring your Amaryllis back inside in August, cut away the foliage, and let it rest dormant until late autumn; go ahead and plant it so the leaves emerge right at soil level.  When potted, most Amaryllis are planted shallow.  So dig a hole large enough to accept the root mass, and plant it only slightly deeper than it was in its pot.

If you live in Zone 7 or south, chances are you may be able to leave your Amaryllis outside permanently.  Check the zone of your bulb to make sure it is hardy to at least Zone 8.  Then plant the bulb a few inches deeper than it was in its pot, and mulch with another inch or so of whatever mulch you use.

Like with so many bulbs, you will likely forget where you planted the Amaryllis once it goes dormant.  And then one early summer day, “Surprise!”  Your Amaryllis will sprout thick, sturdy stalks topped with large buds, and you will be thrilled with its beautiful blooms.

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H. ‘Tres Chic’ in bud in late April

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Plant in rich, well drained soil.  Bulbs don’t like to sit in wet, soupy soil; especially when they are dormant.  I like to add a little Espoma Bulb Tone, dug into the surrounding soil, when I plant the Amaryllis out in a perennial bed.  Use a little when you pot up a new Amaryllis, too.

Since Amaryllis are poisonous, they won’t be bothered by grazing rabbits or deer.  Finally, a lily we can grow that won’t become ‘deer candy!’    Once their blooms have finished, cut back the bloom stalk, and let the leaves grow on.  They won’t require much space, and will provide structural foliage during the rest of the season for whatever else you have going on in that perennial bed.

I find an Amaryllis’s summer blooms to be even more spectacular than its winter show.  We may appreciate them more in winter, when most flowers have finished for the year.  But little else grab’s one’s attention quite like the elegant trumpet shaped blossoms of an Amaryllis.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Evolution Of A Container Garden

April 2, 2017

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It is a rare gardener who doesn’t enjoy designing container gardens.  Whether filling a barrel or a basket, a simple clay pot or a beautiful glazed pot from Asia; we can try out ideas for plant combinations in a perfectly controlled environment.  Whether you are simply filling the pots by your front door, or creating an object of art for the season coming, container gardens give us months of enjoyment.

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November 27, 2016 soon after planting H. ‘Snow Fever’ along with some Viola starts and Creeping Jenny Vine.

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Container gardens made in autumn, for enjoyment during winter and early spring, present special challenges and special opportunities.  Finding plants which will grow and look good from December into March can be a challenge.  Ice, snow, and frigid, drying wind present challenges for most plants.

But the ability to spice up a potted arrangement with spring bulbs presents a challenging opportunity for the gardener to plan in four dimensions. We can look forward in time to how the bulbs will grow into their potential, interacting with the other plants in our arrangement, months into the future.

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November 30, 2016

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Autumn planted container gardens give me particular pleasure.  Planted in late October or November, once summer’s annuals have grown shabby, these arrangements will grow and enliven our comings and goings for the next six months.

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Our beautiful geranium in June, which lasted well into fall and past the first few frosts.

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It was already well into November of 2016 when I finally emptied this large white pot of its geranium.  We enjoyed this particular geranium all summer for its vivid, generous flowers.  After it survived the first frost or two, I moved it to a nursery pot in the garage to hold it over for spring, and re-did this pot which stands permanently on our driveway near the back door.

And I refilled the pot with a beautiful Helleborus cultivar that I spotted for the first time this fall, at a local garden center.  I was intrigued by its variegated leaves, and wanted to watch it grow and bloom close up, in this pot we pass daily.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ shows intriguing new growth by January 4, 2017.  The Muscari have grown leaves through the moss mulch.

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It was quite small when we purchased it, but its few leaves promised a beautiful display coming.  This cultivar is a Corsican Hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, which is a bit more tender than the Helleborus orientalis we more commonly grow.  Corsican Hellebores generally have white, or green tinged flowers.  These were advertised as creamy white, outlined in rosy pink.

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By late January, we could  see the beginnings of flowers and tender new leaves.

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When I re-worked this pot in November, I removed most of the Creeping Jenny vine, leaving only a little to grow on through the winter.  Creeping Jenny can take a pot with its extensive root system.  I planted some of the little Viola starts I had on hand to provide a little additional interest while waiting for the Hellebore to bloom.

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February 15, 2017

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I had not yet purchased any Grape Hyacinth bulbs, but knew I wanted them in this arrangement, too.  It took me several weeks to finally buy the white Muscari, plant them, and finish the soil surface with moss.

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February 23, 2017, on a rainy day, the flowers have begun to bloom.  Holly berries fall into the pot and need picking out from time to time.

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It was already mid-December by the time the potted arrangement was completed.  The Hellebore, ‘Snow Fever,’ was beginning to show some growth.  In a partially sunny spot, warmed by the drive and the nearby garage, this potted arrangement has shelter from the wind on three sides.  Even so, it has weathered inches of snow, night time temperatures into single digits, ice, and wind.

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By late March, a month later, the Creeping Jenny has grown in and the Muscari have emerged. Grass, embedded in the moss, has grown in, too.

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I am very happy with how the whole arrangement has come together.  I’ve not only come to love this cultivar of Hellebore, but I’ve also learned that this combination of plants looks great together. ( In retrospect, I almost wish I had planted a white Viola rather than the red.  But the red certainly ‘pops!’ against the other colors!)

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April 2, 2017

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I will plan to plant more white  Muscari this fall  around Hellebores out  in the garden.  Moss makes a beautiful ground cover around Hellebores.  And for all of its vigor, Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, works well in winter container gardens.

It began growing quite early and has filled out nicely this spring, in time to compliment the flowers.  Its chartreuse leaves work well with the pale Helleborus’s colors and with the Muscari.  Creeping Jenny remains evergreen when planted out in the garden, and forms an attractive ground cover around perennials and shrubs.

When planning your own container gardens, especially ones to enjoy through the winter, remember that foliage is as important, or maybe even more important, than flowers.

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This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs. Its new leaves begin almost white, and green up as they grow.

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The foliage in your arrangement will fill your pot for many weeks longer than the more transient flowers.  So try to include a  plant or two with showy, interesting leaves.  Besides Hellebores; Arum italicum, Ajuga, Lysimachia, Heuchera and evergreen ferns do well in our climate.

It is only early April.  This container garden will continue to grow and change until I reclaim the pot for another geranium.  When I do, everything growing here now will be planted out into the garden.  All are perennials, save the Viola, and will grow for years to come.

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When constructing your own container gardens, follow a few simple tips to get the most from the plants you choose:

  1.  Choose a large enough container for all of the roots to grow.  Bulbs produce large root systems.  If you plant a lot of bulbs, the pot will get very congested unless you begin with a large pot.
  2. Choose plants with similar needs for light, moisture and soil PH. Plan for your plants to grow to different heights for an efficient use of space.  Soften the pot’s edges with a vine or other plant which will spill over the side.  Plan for a succession of interest falling on different plants as the season progresses.
  3. Don’t overstuff the pot.  Magazines and books on container gardens often feature mature plants packed in tightly.  If the pot looks ‘finished’ from day one, your plants aren’t left with much room to grow.  The strong will crowd out the weak, and none will grow to their full potential.  Leave room for growth in your designs.
  4. Begin with a good quality potting mix, and stir in additional fertilizer at planting time.  I often re-use at least some of the potting mix from the previous season.  But I stir in Espoma Plant Tone before adding new plants, finish with fresh potting soil, and generally top dress the finished container with a slow release product like Osmocote.
  5. Mulch the top of your finished planting with gravel, moss, or some other mulch.  It keeps the foliage cleaner in heavy rains and helps conserve moisture.
  6. Boost the plants from time to time with an organic liquid feed from a product like Neptune’s Harvest.  Fish and seaweed based products add important trace minerals and help the soil remain biologically active.
  7. Groom plants regularly to remove spent flowers, brown leaves, and any trash which has blown or fallen into the pot from other nearby plants.  Pull small weeds or grass as they sprout from a moss mulch.  If a plant is struggling or dying, don’t hesitate to pull it out.
  8. Place your pots where you will see them daily.  Enjoy their ever changing beauty as they brighten your days.

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    Woodland Gnome 2017

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Dense And Durable

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Dense planting not only looks nice, it protects our garden’s most precious resource, our soil.

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Vinca minor forms a dense ground cover in this mixed border beneath shrubs, spring bulbs, Violas and emerging perennials.

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A newly planted bed, whose perennials and ground covers haven’t yet grown in, looks rather naked and unfinished.  But all of that exposed soil provides a receptive spot for weed seeds to germinate with abandon.  It takes a great deal of time and effort to keep the weeds pulled.

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Ivy

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Naked soil also runs off in heavy rain, dries out quickly, and can get compacted.  Mulch helps, but living mulch in the form of ground cover and dense planting holds the soil and looks far more interesting.

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That is why most experienced gardeners will recommend dense, close planting in beds and pots.  And most experienced gardeners also plan for a low growing ground cover plants as the ‘shoes and socks’ of their designs.

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Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ fills this pot planted with bulbs. Bits of Sedum Angelina poke through the dense mat of Ajuga.  A Zantedeschia will soon emerge, if it survived winter in this pot.

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In a pot, some ground covers will eventually take over, given the chance.  Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, will eventually fill a pot with its own roots.  But it is a beautiful plant in its own right.

Gardeners willing to dig and divide the plant seasonally, and re-plant the design, find it very useful.

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Creeping Jenny spills from the white pot, planted in November beneath the Helleborus “Snow Fever.’ Moss (center) also makes a good, dense ground cover in pots and doesn’t compete with other plants in the container.

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Vinca minor also grows aggressively, striking new roots from its leaf nodes as it creeps along the ground.  It loves our garden. 

I frequently find myself weeding out clumps of it in newly established beds where I want other plants to establish.  And yet, I must admit that it looks beautiful growing beneath spring bulbs and around shrubs.

When it blooms each spring, its flowers contrast beautifully with daffodils.  But its evergreen leaves also give the garden color and structure throughout the year.

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Ajuga reptans, another low growing, flowering perennial, remains one of my favorite ground cover plants.  It forms dense mats of beautiful, colorful leaves which look good throughout the winter months.

And then it blooms with gorgeous flowers for a few weeks in the spring.  I would grow it for its flowers, even if it weren’t such a wonderful ground cover plant.  Is use it in pots, beds, and for edging.

Its dense mat of leaves protects the soil from erosion in heavy rain and cools the soil in summer’s heat.  It helps retain moisture, a living mulch, around shrubs.

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Perennials like Ajuga, which spread with runners, eventually form dense, ever growing clumps.  When planted, it is wise to space them a bit apart, knowing they will soon grow together.

Once you have plants like Ajuga, Vinca, Ivy, Lysimachia, and many Sedums established in your garden, you can easily divide them and spread them around.  Many of these root easily in water or damp soil.  Their interesting colors provide interest and contrast when paired with other plants.

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Another beautiful ground cover vine, Lamium also forms a dense mat in partial shade, protecting the soil, and  blooms in the spring.

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So go dense when planting.  Protect the soil, conserve water, and create a rich tapestry of form and color in your garden.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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for the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Dense

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Imperfect

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“I always find beauty in things that are odd and imperfect-

-they are much more interesting.”
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Marc Jacobs

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For all we might celebrate spring, in reality it often appears rather ragged.  Especially when the weather is a bit off, as it has been this year, there are scars here and there where we might hope for more beauty and less brown…

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Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’ now fully in bloom

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We have such hopes for spring.   The ‘catalog perfect’ images of bud and flower live in our imaginations through the long months of winter.  We watch for those first signs of color to break the white/grey/brown/ green monotony a new year brings.

But stems fall over in the wind, dropping daffodil flowers to the ground.  Frost bites, brown leaves lodge in unwelcome spots, and even winter bugs gnaw through leaf and petal.

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It’s the transition which remains a bit rough around the edges.  The garden beds sprouted some lively weeds, perhaps.  There are newly fallen leaves to rake.  A few dead stems remain in beds and pots from last year’s growth.  There is so much still to tidy up when one takes a good look around in mid-March!

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Ajuga with just emerging Muscari

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And there’s the mud.  Perhaps your garden is perfectly mulched or paved.  Ours is not…  and perennials and ferns have begun to re-appear from the wet earth.  The photos aren’t so picture perfect as perhaps they’ll be a few weeks on.

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A newly emerged Japanese fern unfurls beside HelleboresIt may be Athyrium niponicum ‘Burgundy Lace.’

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We visited a garden Friday, and felt a bit relieved to find the same flaws there we find at home:  Toppled, frost kissed daffodils; spent perennials; broken twigs on shrubs; and copious blooming weeds feeding deliriously happy bees.  Somehow, the imperfections added charm.

We were just so very happy to be there, and to feel the sun through our coats, and to count the reassurances of spring’s victory over another winter.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The question isn’t whether the world is perfect.

The real question to consider is:

If it were, would you still be in it?”

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Eric Micha’el Leventhal

Fabulous Friday: Muscari

Muscari armeniacum

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Snowdrops, Crocus, Narcissus, Muscari…..

That is the usual order of early spring bulbs unfolding in our garden.  By the time the Muscari bloom, we feel that spring has arrived.

Our odd 2017 roller coaster weather has the usual order of things disrupted a bit.  We’ve found precious few Crocus flowers thus far, and we have a standard Dutch Hyacinth in full bloom, already, in a pot on the patio; while others are just crowning through the soil.  Most of the Daffodils are a month ahead of their 2016 appearance.

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Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Chicago’ in full bloom last Monday

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“Location, location, location!” as the realtors say.

Bulbs kept in pots often bloom a bit earlier than those in the open garden.  Anything which holds heat, like stones and paving, speed the unfolding, too.  This one has extra protection because we pulled its pot right up against the house, in full sun, during the last cold snap.

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We search, each spring, for the emerging Muscari, or ‘Grape Hyacinths,’ like a toddler searches for Easter eggs.  We love their bright perfection as winter fades into early spring.  These tiny perennial bulbs, originally from Europe, naturalize easily.  They crop up in unexpected places in the lawn, always giving a moment of pure joy as we discover them.

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After blooming, Muscari’s leaves grow on for several weeks as offset bulbs grow around the original.  We lift them in clumps as we replant their pots for summer, planting the Muscari  ‘in the green’ elsewhere in the garden.

Potted Muscari sometimes begin their growth in late fall. Their leaves grow on for months before their flowers bloom, persisting through winter.  Sometimes they turn brown around the tips and edges from the cold.  A more fastidious gardener would likely trim them up for spring, but I let them be, knowing the leaves fuel the flowers.

Hardy in Zones 4-9, Muscari always emerge early, well before the season has settled.

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Muscari armeniacum ‘Venus,’

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Muscari remain one of my favorite bulbs to tuck into potted arrangements each fall.  They are so tiny that they can be planted with one finger poking a little hole into the potting mix.  Drop one in, smooth the soil, and you’re done.

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This pot holds white Muscari, too. The leaves emerged in January, and white flowers will appear any day now. Grown in partial shade, this pot is a little behind the others.  Creeping Jenny spills over the front edge.

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Once the winter shrubs and perennials, Violas, ivy and moss have been settled into the pot, little Muscari bulbs can still be added, weeks later.

I’ve been wanting to grow white Muscari for a few years now, but they are hard to find.  I finally picked up these M. ‘Venus’ on a late trip to the Heath’s bulb shop last fall.

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These white Grape Hyacinths appeared yesterday, just in time for the wintery blast coming this weekend. They should do fine in the cold. But our Hydrangeas, already in leaf, will have their first leaves frozen without some protection.  We wrapped the smallest of the Hydrangea macrophylla in plastic bags first thing this morning.

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We nearly forget about our bulbs  over winter.  Their appearance in February and March comes as a little bit of a surprise.

We believe that is the appeal of spring bulbs, anyway.  “Plant them and forget them.”   Bulbs are one of the few things you plant with absolutely no expectation to enjoy them for the next several months.

When they finally emerge, often from the bare ground with little  warning, they feel like a special gift of nature.

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Muscari with Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ which turns a beautiful shade of burgundy in winter’s cold.  The Ajuga will bloom, soon, with flower stalks of about the same height in blue.

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Seeking out, and photographing the Muscari early this morning, got our Friday off to a fabulous start!

We went out first thing, knowing the temperatures would drop throughout the day.  It was already drizzling as we began covering the Hydrangeas and sliding empty pots over the little perennial starts I’ve been planting this week.

We’re taking precautions since we have some nighttime lows forecast in the 20’s over the weekend, and the “S” word lingers in the forecast for the days ahead.  A winter storm may form up off the coast and touch us with its icy fingers early next week.

That said, we decided to photograph the many flowers blooming in our garden this morning.  We’ll keep spring in our hearts even with wintery winds blowing around the doors and windows.

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I am setting an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to write about each Friday. 

Now that the Weekly Photo Challenge has moved to Wednesdays, I am starting  “Fabulous Friday” on Forest Garden. 

If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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 Woodland Gnome 2017

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We invested  yesterday in creating a new garden feature. Warm and sunny, we enjoyed another perfect day working  in the garden.

 

Ordering Caladiums For Our Summer Garden

Caladium 'Desert Sunset,' introduced last season by Classic Caladiums.

Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ introduced last season by Classic Caladiums.

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Again this year, I am organizing a large Caladium order for friends, neighbors  and family.  By combining our orders, we can buy large lots of 25-50 tubers of each variety which gives us a lower price per plant.  We also save on shipping costs.  I’ve selected a dozen different varieties to order this year.

Six varieties are new hybrids on offer from Classic Caladiums.  All of these were  developed by Dr. Robert Hartman, CEO of Classic Caladiums,  to withstand more direct sun and produce more leaves than older Caladium cultivars.  These six varieties have only been available commercially in the last few years.

I grew C. ‘Desert Sunset’ last summer, and was very happy with how it looked and how it performed.    One of the benefits of these new Caladiums is the introduction of some new patterns and even new colors into the world of Caladiums.

I am most interested in growing out  the new C. ‘Peppermint’ this year.

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Caladium 'Sweet Carolina'

Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ sports chartreuse leaves and bright rose pink spots.  C. ‘Miss Muffett’ was a  parent of this new hybrid.

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You might have seen my posts last summer about C. ‘Sweet Carolina.’  I’ve saved the tubers I grew last summer and hope they survived winter in our garage.  That cultivar isn’t on the list, although the Caladium proved to be a strong grower.

Our friends who grew the tubers I shared with them weren’t very enthusiastic about it; likely because of its truly unusual appearance.

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Caladium, 'Cherry Tart'

Caladium, ‘Cherry Tart’ is a fairly short variety, but produces lots of intense, red leaves.  These plants were vigorous and vibrant until frost.

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They were much happier with C. ‘Cherry Tart.’  A gorgeous deep red Caladium, I would recommend it to anyone.  You won’t find it on this list because I want to see the new 2017 red Caladiums C. ‘Fireworks’ and C. ‘Flare.’

Here are the varieties I plan to order for 2017:

New Caladium Hybrids from ClassicCaladiums.com 

(Please follow the links for photos)

White Delight   ( part sun 18”-24”)

White Star  ( full sun/part shade 12”-18”)

Peppermint  ( shade/part sun 12”-18”)

Desert Sunset ( sun/part shade 12”-18”

Fireworks  ( full sun/part shade 18”-24” )

Flare  ( full sun/part shade 12”-18” )

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C. Florida Fantasy appreciates a little afternoon shade, but performs well in morning sun.

C. Florida Fantasy appreciates a little afternoon shade, but performs well in morning sun.

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Older Caladium Hybrids

Florida Sweetheart ( sun/ part sun 12”-18”)

 Lance Wharton ( sun/ part sun 12”-18”)

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C. Florida Roselight

C. Florida Sweetheart

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 Florida Fantasy (shade/ part sun 12”-15”)

 Florida Moonlight ( shade/ part sun 18”-24”)

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Caladium 'White Christmas'

Caladium ‘White Christmas’

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 Florida Roselight ( shade/ part sun 18”-24”)

 Miss Muffet ( shade/ part sun 12”-18”)

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Caladium 'Miss Muffett"

Caladium ‘Miss Muffett”

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All six of these older varieties are beautiful, strong growers.  It is very hard for me to choose a favorite.  Thankfully, we enjoy them all in different parts of our garden. 

All four varieties with ‘Florida’ in the name were developed at the University of Florida. They are fairly new hybrids with pretty good sun tolerance, vigor, and good health.  C. ‘Miss Muffett’ is a gorgeous Caladium, and one of the parents of the improved C. ‘Sweet Carolina.’

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Floriday Moonlight really lights up a shady spot!

Caladium ‘Florida Moonlight’ really lights up a shady spot!

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Although I shared an email invitation last week with a few friends and neighbors to join this year’s Caladium order, I am posting the list of Caladiums, and a few photos,  again here.  Some folks had trouble opening the page I sent with photos of all six varieties.

If you live in the Williamsburg area, and would like to participate this year, then please contact me sometime this week by email.  We will get in touch with one another and you can join our order anytime between now and next weekend.

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Caladium 'Lance whorton

Caladium ‘Lance Wharton’

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Caladiums prove a great plant for our hot Virginia summers.  They thrive in our heat and humidity!  Once they get going in May or early June, they keep giving and just grow better with each passing month until the weather cools in October.  Whether grown in a pot or in a bed, Caladiums have few problems and generally are left alone by deer and other wildlife.

These are a good choice for busy gardeners who don’t have time to fuss around with high maintenance plants.  Foliage plants have staying power in the garden.  These are some of the easiest and most interesting foliage plants we’ve found.

And now is the time to plan for the coming season.  Order yours now, while the selection is still good.

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Ajuga reptans 'Black Scallop' proves a hardy and beautiful ground cover in pots and planting beds. Evergreen, it blooms each spring. Caladiums love our summer weather!

 Caladiums love our summer weather!

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2015- 2016

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Caladium 'Desert Sunset' develped by Dr. Robert Hartman of Classic Caladiums LLC.

Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’

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CC banner-1

 

Water-Wise Pots

february-23-2017-potting-027

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Keeping potting soil well hydrated presents a challenge when the mercury rises and the gardener gets busy.

I’m always open to new ideas which allow me to use less water and keep my potted gardens happy.  I hate to water deeply, only to find a growing puddle seeping out of the pot.  Water is a precious resource, and grows more so each year.

I’ve used water globes in some pots and hanging baskets for a few years now, especially when the pots are indoors.    They deliver just the amount of water needed over several days, reducing both evaporation and the inevitable mess watering can make.  The large one I use to keep our Norfolk Island Pine happy through the winter is a two piece contraption.

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Yes, I realize the spike should be deeper into the soil. The tree's roots are so thick this was the best I could do! And it still works....

Yes, I realize the spike should be deeper into the soil. The tree’s roots are so thick this was the best I could do! And it still works….

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A terra cotta spike, about an inch in diameter, stays embedded in the potting soil.  The stained glass globe reservoir lifts out for filling.  You invert the filled globe into the spike (very carefully) and then allow the water to wick through the terra cotta spike, into the potting mix, as the plant needs it.  The tree grows happily, and I fill the globe about twice a week.

This is a neat system, and got me to wondering whether I could construct something similar for the large pots I keep out on our patio and deck all summer.

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My favorite, clean, pea gravel, with a lot of fine grit.

My favorite, clean, pea gravel, comes with a lot of fine grit.

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I’m not keen on buying more globes for the outdoor pots.  For one thing, the kit runs around $20.  For another, our squirrels might just knock the globe out and  shatter it while they explore the pots.

But tiny terra cotta pots are fairly cheap at the big box stores.

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Burlap over the drainage hole keeps potting soil from seeping out of the pot's drainage hole.

Burlap over the drainage hole keeps potting soil from seeping out of the pot.

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I found stacks of little pots today for about 40 cents each at WalMart.  So I’ve dreamed up a little gadget which should work reasonably well to help keep a pot hydrated in summer.  I am going to try it out this spring and see whether it works.

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february-23-2017-potting-012

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My idea is to construct a hollow, terra cotta column towards the middle of the pot, that will hold a reservoir of water.  The water will then wick back out into the soil as it is needed.   Unglazed clay, like these little pots, absorbs and holds water easily.  Although solid, they work much like a sponge.

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I've positioned the terra cotta pot a little off center, on about 2" of potting mix. There is a little scrap of burlap in the bottom, covered with a very shallow layer of pea gravel in the bottom pot.

I’ve positioned the first terra cotta pot a little off center, on about 2″ of potting mix.

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That is the main reason I generally avoid unglazed pots for planting anything except succulents:  water evaporates from the clay pot pretty quickly.  They need constant monitoring in summer’s heat.  But that porous clay, which allows water molecules to pass quickly and easily through the pot’s walls is exactly what makes terra cotta  good for watering devices.

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february-23-2017-potting-014

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I put a few inches of potting mix into the bottom of the pot, and then began the tower.  There is a little square of burlap in the bottom pot to slow water from simply pouring through its little drainage hole.

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I've added some slow release plant food in the next to the top little pot, and also sprinkled some into the potting mix.

I’ve added some slow release plant food in the next to the top little pot, and also sprinkled some into the potting mix.

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A thin layer of pea gravel in the bottom of each pot in the stack helps space the pots apart and again, slow the movement of water.

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february-23-2017-potting-016

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I filled in with potting mix, as I built the tower, to hold it steady.  This pot is planted up with Lily of the Valley roots, Convallaria majalis, found bare root in one of the little packs you find everywhere each spring.  Lily of the Valley grows and spreads from rhizomes, and so should be planted shallowly.  The package said to plant them an inch deep.

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The pot is topped off with potting mix, covering the newly planted roots about 1" deep.

The pot is topped off with potting mix, covering the newly planted roots about an inch deep.

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After topping off the pot with soil, I added a few little Strawberry Begonia divisions and a few Arum italicum seedlings.  These have small root systems still, and so planting didn’t interfere with the Convallaria roots just beneath the surface.

It is still a little early here for planting up pots.  Our last frost date, in April, is weeks away.  Whatever goes  into this practice pot has to be hardy!

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Strawberry Begonia divisions and Arum itallicum seedlings can be tucked into the pot without disturbing the Convallaria roots below.

Strawberry Begonia divisions and Arum itallicum seedlings can be tucked into the pot without disturbing the Convallaria roots below.

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All three of these plants may be transplanted out into the garden in a few months when I want the pot for something else…. or not.

Maybe I will like this perennial arrangement enough to just leave it to grow through until next spring!

The very top little terra cotta pot is filled up with gravel.  Although I watered the whole pot in thoroughly to settle the plants and wet the potting mix, I paid special attention to filling the little terra cotta reservoir.

In retrospect, I wish I had thought to soak the terra cotta pots before using them.  Next time, right?

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february-23-2017-potting-024

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Finally, I laid a layer of moss over all of the exposed soil to further slow evaporation.  Mulching pots gives a nice finished look even as it reduces the need to water.  The potting mix won’t splash around when it rains.

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february-23-2017-potting-026~

In full sun, I would have mulched with gravel.  But since these plants prefer partial shade, the moss will work just fine.

You might notice a few decorative stones in the finished pot.  I often put stones beside little transplants to protect them.  The stones give a little obstacle to curious birds and squirrels and protect the plant’s tender roots as they establish.  Stones also tend to keep the soil beneath cool and moist.

I like how this pot came together.  As all the plants grow, the terra cotta reservoir should disappear behind their foliage.  But it will still be easy enough to find when I’m watering.

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february-23-2017-potting-028

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In summer, or when I’m traveling,  I could remove most of the gravel from the top terra cotta pot to make enough room to upend a plastic water bottle into the reservoir.  While not pretty, the bottle would feed water, as it is needed, to keep the pot going when I’m not here to water! There are lots of possibilities here.

What do you think?  You are probably clever enough to already see ways to improve this scheme.

Please share your ideas, and we’ll tinker around to make an effective, affordable, water wise system to make summer a little easier on us all.  I’d love to see photos of your pots if you try out this idea.

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february-23-2017-potting-029

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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