Fabulous Friday: Under the Storm

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The cloud shield of Hurricane Florence crept across our area in the night, blotting out the sun and bringing sporadic showers so that by the time we first looked out on Thursday morning, the world was damp and grey.

But quiet.  Very quiet, with barely a breath of wind.

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We watched the storm’s progress throughout the day as it slowly ground towards the coastal islands of North Carolina.  I’ve loved those broad, sandy beaches and beach towns since childhood and know them well.  I’ve seen many storms come and go there, and watched the tough, resilient folks of these communities re-build their beach cottages and their communities time after time.   They love the ocean in all of its moods and seasons.

Life along the coast is a gamble.  Only this monster storm has skewed the odds towards devastation.

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All was calm along the coast of Yorktown on Wednesday afternoon, before the storm moved in.

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I remember one childhood Sunday afternoon lunch at our favorite Topsail Island sound side restaurant.  Our family calmly ate hush puppies at a big, round table by the windows, as waterspouts whipped up on the Inland Waterway, spinning bright and beautiful against the black and purple storm clouds behind the trees.  The restaurant was packed; the staff calm and friendly as ever, the food delicious.  By dinner time we were back out walking along the beach, picking up shells, and admiring the sunset’s golden rays stretching towards us through the line of cottages.

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The ferry approaches the dock of Ocracoke Island, autumn 2007.  Ocracoke has been especially hard hit this time with overwash and torrential rains.

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We saw Topsail cottages dismantled by the storm surge’s waves on CNN last night.  Another reporter stood in the middle of the deserted road through nearby Hampstead, buffeted by the wind and rain as the hurricane’s eye paced slowly towards the coast a few miles further south.  When the eye of the Hurricane finally came ashore near Wrightsville Beach early this morning, it was so huge that the geography of landfall almost didn’t matter.

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Except it wasn’t here.  And for that we are enormously grateful today.  Tropical force winds haven’t quite made it far enough up the rivers to reach us, here in Williamsburg, and the rainfall has been relatively light.  The power’s on, the roads are clear, and our forest stands intact.

We keep in mind and heart everyone along the coast, and all those living on farms and in small towns whose lives are upended by the wind and rain.  We remember the thousands of workers even now rescuing families from flooded homes, patrolling the roads, running shelters and putting themselves in harm’s way to tell the story to the rest of us comfortably watching it unfold from home.

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Our appreciation to Lesley, Don and the gang at Classic Caladiums for their good luck wishes ahead of the storm.  This is our favorite Caladium this season, ‘Peppermint’, well grown now from a single tuber.

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The rain squalls come and go and the wind whips up from time to time.  The day is cool and fresh.  When I walked up the drive this morning a cloud of goldfinches startled from their morning meal in the Rudbeckia, flying in all directions to safer perches in the trees.  They chirped and chatted at the interruption, and I was so happy to see them still here.

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Can you spot the goldfinch in the center of the Rudbeckia? I caught his photo the instant before he flew away.  He was the bravest of his small flock, to linger this long as I approached.

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The flowers have taken on that intense hue that comes when they are well watered and the nights turn cool.  Gold and purples, scarlet, pink and purest white pop against fading leaves.  But also brown, as petals drop and seeds ripen in the undergrowth.

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Rudbeckia with basil. The goldfinches love ripened seeds from both of these.

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We’re happy to see that the routine continues in our Forest Garden.  Huge bumblies make their way slowly from flower to flower.  Birds peck at the muddy ground.  Clouds of mosquitoes wait for a chance to land and drink on unprotected flesh.  Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower.  But where are the butterflies?  Have they taken shelter, or taken wing?

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Native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Even as beautyberries ripen from green to purple, and the mistflower bursts into bloom, we anticipate our garden’s closing extravaganza of beauty.  Summer is passed, and Indian Summer is upon us.  Cooler, wetter, milder; this season is a celebration of the fullness of our garden’s annual growth.  It stretches from mid-September until first frost.  Some might say it is the best part of the year, when acorns drop and leaves turn gold and scarlet against the clear, blue sky.

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Mist flower grows among obedient plant, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod.  All are native to our region.

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Even as we sit and wait out this monstrous storm, we notice the subtle signs of change.  Dogwood berries turn scarlet as next year’s buds emerge behind them.  The first Muscari leaves emerge in pots, and the Italian Arum begin to appear in the shadows.  I’m looking forward to a trip to Gloucester next week to pick up some Cyclamen for our winter garden

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Oakleaf Hydrangea heads persist all summer, mellowing into shades of cream and brown towards fall.

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All things change to their own pace and rhythms.  Flowers bloom, berries ripen, families grow, and leaves turn and fall.  Storms grow and subside.   Sandbar islands move along the coast.  Communities suffer loss and rebuild.  And life grows richer and more beautiful with each passing year.   It is the way of things. 

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious;  let’s infect one another.

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Hedychium coronarium, butterfly ginger lily

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“There are times when the world is rearranging itself,
and at times like that,
the right words can change the world.”
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Orson Scott Card
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The first ever flower blooms on a volunteer seedling Hibiscus.

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“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change,
that is the dominant factor in society today.
No sensible decision can be made any longer
without taking into account not only the world as it is,
but the world as it will be…
This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman
must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”
.
Isaac Asimov
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Pot Shots: Bird’s Nest Fern

A young bird’s nest fern, Asplenium nidus, in a vase by potter Denis Orton.

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The bird’s nest fern takes its name from it rosette structure, with new fronds arising from its center.  In its native African or Asian jungle homes, these ferns most commonly grow high up in the canopy, anchored to trees or onto other large plants.  They enjoy high humidity and diffused, indirect light.  They catch rainwater in their central basin, or nest.

Most varieties will grow a bit larger with each passing year, with each frond of a mature plant unrolling to 2′ or more long.  Bird’s nest ferns may be grown in pots or may be mounted on a wooden base, with their roots wrapped in moist sphagnum moss, as you would mount a staghorn fern.

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These ferns may fool you at first sight, and may not even be recognized as a fern.  Their fronds are usually undivided, wide and shiny, often with ripped edges.  Many beautiful varieties may be found where houseplants are sold.

Bird’s nest ferns thrive in the warm, low light conditions most homes offer.  They naturally grow in tropical jungles, and so require minimum temperatures over 50F.  They like humidity and evenly moist soil.  They can take occasionally dry soil, however, especially if the surrounding air is humid and if they get water accumulating in their center from time to time.

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This bird’s nest fern is several years old and has been re-potted at least once.

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Bird’s nest ferns  look like a living sculpture.  They  add a naturally beautiful touch to most any room that gets some natural light.  But they also help maintain cleaner, healthier indoor air for their gardener.  You won’t see it, but tiny holes in each leaf draw air in from their environment, purify it, and then exhale cleansed, oxygenated air.  Each frond can filter and trap many pollutants, making the air you breathe indoors much cleaner and fresher.  All houseplants serve this function, even as they release water vapor back into the air each day.

If you have a loved one in your life heading off to a dorm room or apartment this fall, a small potted bird’s nest fern makes a great housewarming gift.  Small potted ferns like this are also good office plants, making a work space healthier and more beautiful, while taking up little space.  You might give a tiny mister with the fern along with instructions to mist the fern a few times each day.

I honestly rarely pause long enough to mist a fern.  But I do check on them every day or so and offer small sips of water.

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Water collects in the well at the center of a bird’s nest fern.  All new fronds arise from this central point.

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A bird’s nest or staghorn fern will grow happily in a closed container, without drainage holes, so long as you keep the soil at a moist but not soggy ‘sweet spot.’  Growing in the jungle canopy, these ferns evolved to get sporadic watering in a very humid environment.  Their roots are fairly small relative to the size of their leaves, and in nature burrow into bark or organic matter caught in the branches of trees.

You can grow these ferns in a mix blended for orchids, or in a more traditional peat based potting mix with perlite mixed in to retain moister.  If you’re growing your fern in a closed container with no drainage hole, put an inch or so of perlite or aquarium gravel in the bottom of the container to serve as a water reservoir.  Excess water will drain down to the reservoir when you water.  Perlite will absorb and hold that water, slowly releasing it back into the soil as the soil begins to dry.

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This fern has fronds similar to a bird’s nest fern, but each frond arises from a furry rhizome which creeps along the surface of the soil. These can be grown with roots wrapped in sphagnum moss, mounted with fishing twine to a board or a piece of driftwood.  I like them best in a hanging basket, where the rhizomes grow along the outside of the basket.

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Perlite is a naturally occurring volcanic rock.  The perlite you buy at the hardware store or nursery has been superheated at over 1500F until it expands.  (Think about popcorn, and how it expands when heated.)  Once processed, it looks like little Styrofoam pellets, and can absorb a great deal of water.  Perlite is used in potting soil to improve drainage, to keep it from compacting and to absorb and release water as needed.

You may be able to find a good source for ferns in little 1″-2″ pots, where they are grown in nearly pure peat.  Simply take the root ball out of its nursery pot, and tuck it into a prepared container that is at least a little larger than the original pot.  Give a tiny drink of water to settle the plant and to hydrate the potting mix, and then mulch with fine gravel.

If you are potting up a little fern for a gift, you will probably find some fun but inexpensive containers at a thrift store.  Think about little Asian bowls or other little ceramic containers.  You can also pot into a plastic cup or bowl, and then tuck that into a pretty basket or other container made of wood.

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Vase with prismatic  glaze by Denis Orton

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I was inspired to use this pretty little vase, crafted by our potter friend Denis Orton.  Denis is a chemist who is always working to create beautiful new glazes.  His prismatic glazes on porcelain fascinate me, and I’m always keen to collect a new piece or two when he exhibits in our area.

You may need to pot up a fern like this to a larger pot every few years.  But since the fern’s roots remain small, any re-potting will probably be to keep the container in scale with the expanding leaves.

Fertilize the fern with half strength liquid fertilizer a few times between April and September.  This improves leaf color and keeps the plant growing steadily.  Too much fertilizer may cause brown spots on the fronds.  Direct sun may also cause browning of the fronds.  Keep a bird’s nest fern where it will get natural light, but not direct mid-day sunlight, through your window.  The more light it receives, the faster it will grow and the more water it will require.

Consider a little fern like this a ‘green pet.’  Give it a little daily attention, and it will grow happily in your home or office for many years.

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Woodland Gnome 2018


 

 

Fabulous Friday: Appreciating Small Successes

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Every smitten gardener learns these two life lessons:  patience and appreciation.  Patience  helps one bide one’s time while nature’s processes unfold.  Sometimes the greatest skill in gardening is to simply wait and see what will happen.

I’ve been writing about the Alocasia plants that I saved over winter in the basement.  I didn’t have space to overwinter these huge plants indoors, and so allowed them to die back to just their tuber and roots in a paper grocery bag in our frost free basement.

When I brought them back outdoors and repotted them in May, it took quite a while for them to show new growth.  But, they finally  both awakened from winter dormancy and are back in gorgeous leaf again.

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Alocasia ‘Regal Shields’ grew beside our front porch last summer, and moved into this pretty new pot a few weeks ago. The little one beside it was also slow to return this summer, even though it overwintered in its pot in the garage. I was ready to dump out the contents and re-plant its pot with something new, when I noticed the Alocasia leaves beginning to emerge in mid-June.  Alocasia are jungle plants and need summer’s heat and humidity to thrive.

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I had potted them, this spring,  in black plastic nursery pots.  And then I found a great deal on a beautiful blue ceramic pot a few weeks back, and potted up the slower, smaller of the two plants in the pot and brought it out where we would enjoy it and it would be encouraged to take off.  Now it’s growing so fast, we can notice daily changes as it enjoys our Virginia summer heat and humidity.

I left the larger, more developed Alocasia in its nursery pot, tucked back into a stand of Canna lilies.  And my patience paid off on Saturday when I discovered the ‘scratch and dent’ pots at one of my favorite Richmond area nurseries.  The perfect blue pot sat there waiting for me, shining in the sunlight, with only a little chip out of its rim.

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Checking the fit, to make sure Alocasia ‘Regal Shields’ root ball will fit into its new pot.

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It is a good thing that I finally found the right pot and took care of re-potting our larger Alocasia, as its roots were already growing out of the drainage holes of its nursery pot.  Funny how quickly they grow, once they get started and have moisture and heat!

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I always like to line my pots before planting them up.  I’ll use anything from coffee filters to paper towels, plastic mesh, fine wire screens, or burlap.  Lining the pot keeps fresh soil from washing out of the drainage holes before the roots can fill in to hold it.

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A scrap of burlap lines the pot to prevent loose soil from washing out of the drainage holes before the roots can grow in.

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The lining also serves as a barrier against the small creatures who might want to crawl up into the pot and make their home among the roots.  How often have you unpotted a plant and found the soil rife with pill bugs, ants, or even earthworms?  All sorts of creatures can find shelter in a pot, given the chance.

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The soil in the bottom of the pot is important. I like to mix some gravel or perlite into the bottom inch or so for drainage, and mix fertilizer into all of the extra soil added to the pot around the root ball, to empower new growth.

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Burlap lasts longer than paper. And it also absorbs excess water, holding it, and then releasing it back into the soil as the soil begins to dry.  It is especially useful in a pot that doesn’t have drainage, as it helps to keep the whole pot evenly hydrated.  I’ll often cover the burlap with a shallow layer of perlite or gravel, to make a little reservoir in the bottom of a solid bottomed container.

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Remember to finish a pot with a mulch of pea gravel.  This helps keep the plant clean on rainy days, reflects the sunlight up into the plant and holds moisture in the soil.  I transplanted cuttings of Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ to add a little graceful ‘spiller’ around the edges of the pot.

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Eventually, even the burlap will break down.  Use the plastic mesh or metal screen to hold roots in and creatures out on a more lasting basis.  This is a good way to recycle those mesh bags our bulbs come packaged in each fall.

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Patience nearly always pays off in the garden.  We watch and wait as our plants grow and the creatures come and go among them.  And that is where we also learn appreciation.  I’ve come to notice that the more we slow down, the more appreciation we can savor.

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I was ready for the butterflies and hummingbirds this morning, camera in hand, and stood waiting in the front garden near the Lantana patch to see who might visit.

I noticed a friendly little Silver Spotted Skipper watching me from the highest point of the Lantana, and she let me take her photo.

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We played for a while, with her flying around a bit before coming back to rest on the Lantana, a little closer each time.  She paused while I snapped, and then took to the air once again.

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I heard the buzzing beside me even before turning my head to see the female hummingbird hovering near my shoulder, watching us.  She was very interested in our play, and waited until I began to turn my camera her way, before looping up and away, back to the comfort of a large Rose of Sharon.

Again, no photo of a hummingbird!

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Hibiscus coccineus

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But she and her partner have been hovering nearby most of the day.  They came to play in the spray of my hose this morning, and have been making the rounds of our garden’s Hibiscus offerings.  She paused to sip from the Salvia while I was working nearby.  Perhaps she and her partner can feel how much I delight in seeing them nearby.

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Our hummingbirds visit these blue Salvia flowers regularly. Conventional wisdom tells us that hummingbirds prefer red flowers, but that isn’t always the case.

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Why else would we expend such effort to tend a garden, if not for an August morning such as this, to stand in the midst of it all and appreciate its beauty?  We can savor the fragrances of herb and flowers, listen for the birds and watch the progress of each plant’s unfolding.

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It is when we slow down to appreciate such rare beauty, that we may notice the  creatures who share it observing us, in return.  The skinks skitter away as we approach, watching us from beneath and behind their shelter.  Later, we may notice them peering in through the glass doors to the deck.

The birds follow us around from shrub to tree to see what tasty bit we may dig up and leave behind for them.  And now even the butterflies want to play, posing for the camera, and waiting patiently for us to see them.

Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday: 
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!
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Growing Sweet Potato Vines For Beauty and Dinner

A newly planted sweet potato vine grows with a scented geranium in this full-sun hanging basket.

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Do you ever buy ornamental sweet potato vines for your hanging baskets or pots?  These have become more popular in recent years, and several beautiful varieties with variegated or purple leaves have come on the market.   I  planted a few in our large planters on the front patio a few years ago.  They looked gorgeous… until the deer snuck into the garden and had one for a midnight snack!

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A variegated sweet potato vine grows in a mixed container with summer annuals (2015).

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But no worries, these are prolific growers.  The vine grew back in just a few weeks.  That’s not to say that it didn’t get grazed again from time to time!  As it turns out, sweet potato vines are both delicious and highly nutritious!  We know that sweet potato tubers are packed with vitamins and minerals.  Turns out, their leaves are, as well!  The deer were onto something!

But the real surprise came in the fall, when I lifted the summer annuals out of their pots to re-plant hardy ornamentals for winter.  My ‘ornamental’ sweet potato vines had quietly gone about their business of making huge, lovely tubers!  Their tuberous roots are edible, no matter how fancy the leaves might be.

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July 2015

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I never bought any sweet potato vines at the garden center this spring.  But I noticed a sweet potato in our pantry sprouting vines a few weeks ago.  I moved it into a shallow tray of potting soil, in the light, and let those vines continue to grow.

Like you, I’ve wrestled a sweet potato suspended in a Mason jar of water a time or two.  They are very entertaining for the little ones, who love to watch how fast they grow.  This works great for a while, until the potato inevitably begins to rot.  But placing a potato in a pot of moist sand or soil is a more reliable way to encourage it to sprout.   The long, sinuous vines quickly fill a window sill with beautiful heart shaped leaves.

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If you’ve contemplated their leaves, you probably noticed how much the leaves and vines remind you of morning glory vines.  Turns out, the plants are related!  A sweet potato’s botanical name is Ipomoea batatas.  Most of the morning glory, moonflower, or bindweed species belong to the genus Ipomoea.  If your ornamental sweet potato vines have bloomed, you probably noticed that their flower is very like a morning glory.  There are over 500 species in the Ipomoea genus!

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Moonflower, Ipomoea alba

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I decided to let my sprouting potato grow in order to transplant those beautiful vines into hanging baskets on our deck.  It is probably a little late in the season to plant with potatoes in mind, but I knew we could enjoy the vines.

I waited for a wet and cloudy day, and then simply twisted and pulled each stem away from the potato, and planted it into a little drill made into the wet soil in the basket.   What could be easier than poking one’s finger into the dirt, planting the vine, and firming it up?  That is all there is to it!

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Sweet potato vines serve as a host plants and nectar plants for some species of butterflies and moths.

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If you don’t have a wet and cloudy day in the forecast, some gardeners twist the vines from the potato and then leave the vines in a glass of water for a week while roots begin to grow, before transplanting the vine into a pot, bed or basket.

This is the way all vegetable gardeners start off their sweet potato patch each spring!  Some may mail-order their slips, or starter vines, to procure a particular variety of sweet potato.  If you’re not choosy, then buy your starter potato at the grocery store and start your own slips.

Sweet potatoes, also known as ‘yams,’ want a light, sandy, quick draining soil in the garden; if you’re growing them for a fall harvest of sweet potatoes.   If your main interest is their beautiful vines, you’ll plant into any good potting soil already in your containers.

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To make a long story longer, I bought a few fresh sweet potatoes at the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago.  I’d left them in their plastic bag on the kitchen counter.  I hadn’t gotten around to cooking them, when I noticed their little purple leafy stems pushing against the bag.  It doesn’t take long this time of year for things to get growing, does it?

Since I have plenty of vines myself now, I’m sending these newbies to my daughter.  It was humid enough in the plastic bag that these vines have even started sprouting roots along the base of their shoots!

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I’ve wrapped the bits of potato I trimmed away, still supporting their shoots, in a moist towel and sealed them into a zip-lock to prepare them for their journey through the US Mail.  She can twist each stem loose and plant it in a pot.   And, I finally cooked those potatoes today!

If you live in an area where you don’t have the 4-6 months of warm weather required to raise sweet potatoes in your garden, you might consider growing them in pots for their leaves.

The leaves can be steamed or sauteed.  I bet they would be good dipped in a tempura batter and fried, too!

This is a prolific ‘cut and come again’ veggie treat.  It is an edible that can be grown in a very small space, even on a windowsill or balcony, by someone who wants a steady supply of fresh greens.

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For the cost of a single potato, you can fill several pots or baskets with beauty and a delicious crop that will produce indefinitely.  The sweet potato is a tender perennial, and so will continue to grow so long as you protect it from frost.

The vining stems will sprout roots at every leaf node, and so stem cuttings will root easily in water or moist soil.  Plant vines into window boxes, tubs, or large pots to grow a crop of sweet potatoes on your porch or in your sunroom.

We get so accustomed by buying our veggies at the market that we sometimes forget how easily and affordably we can grow our own food.   It’s always comforting to have a trick or two tucked up our sleeves, and a ready source of food we grow for ourselves at home.

What could be easier than starting a sweet potato vine?

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Pot Shots: Alocasia

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Sometimes good intentions and a little informed effort pay big dividends.  Last fall, I wanted to save the two huge Alocasia plants that flanked our front porch through the summer.  But we’d planted them in very large pots; pots that hold their positions by the porch season after season.  I wanted to re-plant the pots with small variegated holly shrubs for winter, and didn’t have a plan in my back pocket for overwintering these 4’+ beauties indoors.

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Our Alocasia last November

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After a little research, I learned that they could be stored through the winter, root balls intact, in grocery bags kept in our frost-free basement.  All of their leaves had finally died back by early May, when I moved their root balls back outside, temporarily housed in large black plastic nursery pots.

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It’s alive! June 26

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It has taken several months for these Alocasias to wake up and grow again.  One responded weeks before the other, and it is easy to see the difference in their growth.   Their differing responses remain a mystery as the two plants have been treated much the same.  And so when I came across a huge bargain on a beautiful pot large enough to hold their roots, I was left to choose which plant to move into the roomy new pot.

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This is the faster growing Alocasia on July 10.

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Which would you have chosen? 

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The second pot is also showing growth on July 10, but is coming along more slowly. A Zantedeschia shares the pot  These are all pups… notice there is no sign of new growth from last year’s stem.

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I chose to give the advantage to the plant which is lagging a bit behind its mate, in hopes of inspiring it to catch up and grow into its potential this year.

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The larger plant now rests between a stand of Canna lilies and a mass of Lantana in partial sun.  Its nursery pot is less noticeable, tucked among these larger plants, and its leaves are stretching up for their share of the sunlight.  A nursery pot isn’t beautiful, but it serves the purpose and the plant is happily growing.

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This pot of Alocasia usually rests among the plants in the background, but is pulled forward here to observe its growth.  It is doing very well and growing quickly, now that it is finally awake for the summer!

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The plant I repotted (out in the pouring rain, mind you) this morning  is showing growth around the neck of last year’s growth, but not yet from the neck.  I suppose that means that the original plant didn’t fare as well in storage, but is valiantly trying to survive through its pups.

As a bonus, there is a Zantedeschia from last summer’s pot that remained embedded in the Alocasia’s roots over winter.  It is awake and growing again, too.

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The new pot is resting, for the moment, at the base of our white crape myrtle tree near a grouping of Begonias and Caladiums.  I expect that we’ll move the pot to the upper garden next week when things dry out a bit.  It’s too heavy to move around on a whim, so I’ll want to make a good decision on where the plants will show to best advantage, and make the move once.  Partial sun, with some afternoon shade seems to work best for this Alocasia.

Who knows, maybe this spot will work out for the remainder of the season?

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These Colocasias also overwintered in a bag in the basement, and are growing well again. C. ‘Coffee Cups’ divides itself prolifically and sends out runners all season.  A. ‘Stingray’ is the only one of these plants I’ve not found growing again this year.

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A lot of gardening friends shy away from growing Caladiums, Alocasias and Colocasias because most of these plants aren’t hardy in our area.  Overwintering them is more of a challenge than they want to take on each autumn, and the alternative of losing them to the frost isn’t acceptable.  I can understand their caution.

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This is a single bulb of Caladium. ‘Florida Moonlight’ saved from last year’s garden.  It certainly is putting on a beautiful show in an 8″ ceramic pot.

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On the upside, these aroids are all easy to grow, require minimal care during the season, and aren’t grazed by rabbits or deer.  They divide themselves generously and are very adaptable to varying amounts of light.  Overwintering is a fairly easy thing to do and takes very little space.

I think it is a good investment of time and effort that pays a tremendous benefit in stunningly beautiful plants that grow better each year.

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A new Zantedeschia leaf emerges from a clump of Caladiums in the large pot by our front porch. Too bad it was already filled with these beauties when the Alocasia came up from the basement this spring….

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We were at Trader Joe’s last week when I spied another gorgeous Alocasia in a little quart sized pot, all wrapped up in pretty paper.  A good friend had just had her birthday, and I couldn’t resist bringing the sweet little Alocasia to her as a gift.  I’ve warned her, mind you, that like a little greyhound puppy, her ‘sweet little Alocasia‘ won’t stay small for long.  She is a gifted green handed gardener and I can’t wait to see how the Alocasia grows in her care!

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C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ must be stealing all the rays from C. ‘Desert Sunset,’ growing below it. This pot sits in a shady corner of the patio.  C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ is in its third season in our garden.

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If you want to grow an absolutely stunning potted arrangement that holds its beauty all season, you won’t go wrong by choosing any of these gorgeous aroids.  They may look exotic and difficult, but they are quite easy once you understand their needs for steady moisture, nutrition, filtered sun and frequent admiration.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ is growing into a spectacular display alongside Zantedeschia. This photo was taken in early July, and all of the plants continue to sprout new leaves weekly.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Green Thumb Tip #21: The Mid-Summer Snack

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A snack makes us all feel a little better, doesn’t it?  If you want the plants you tend to have that ‘Wow!’ factor as summer relentlessly wears on, give them a tasty pick-me-up.  There are several good choices, and it’s easy enough to add care and feeding into your routine.

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Although plants ‘make their own food’ from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water on a daily basis, they also need an assortment of other elements and minerals for optimal growth.  Plants rooted in the Earth likely find most of what they need dissolved in the soil.  When we grow a plant in a pot or basket, anchored in potting mix, we need to provide those important minerals and extra elements to support their growth.

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Nitrogen is the most important element to support lush growth.  Phosphorous and potassium (K) support blooming, fruit formation, and healthy tissue development.  You’ll find the percentage of these elements listed on any fertilizer you might buy, in the formulation of N-P-K.  A fertilizer labeled 10-10-10 is a balanced fertilizer.   Since only 30% of the product is labeled as one of the key elements, you know that 70% of the product is filler, which may contain other necessary elements and minerals.

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Still waiting for the first blooms to appear on this new Begonia….

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But your plants might need a ‘pick me up’ that has more of one element than another.  You will find lots of specialty organic and inorganic fertilizers formulated for different uses.  Savvy gardeners would never  apply a standard lawn fertilizer to a flowering potted plant, for example.  Read the labels on the products at your favorite nursery or big box store to find the right product for the right plant.

When you potted up your plants in the spring, you likely added a little Espoma Plant Tone or Osmocote to the mix.  Or maybe you used a potting soil advertised to have fertilizer already mixed into it.  That is fine, but most of the pre-mixed potting soils feed for roughly 90 days.  That means that they’re beginning to lose the umph right as we hit the heat and dry spells that summer always brings.

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Many products are water soluble and can be mixed into a watering can and applied as a soil drench or foliar feed.  These give the quickest ‘pick me up’ results.  I learned about Neptune’s Harvest from a trusted nurseryman many years ago, and have used it ever since.  This is my ‘go to’ product for most pots and baskets out of doors, and I use it at least a couple of times a month in June through September.

The numbers on this fertilizer are relatively low (2-3-1), in part because it is an organic fertilizer made from seaweed and fish emulsion.  Yes, it smells terrible.  But because it is made from these organic materials, Neptune’s Harvest also delivers many trace minerals for stronger, healthier growth.

Plants can access the nutrition very quickly and show results very quickly.  Plants show better leaf color, put on stronger new growth and set more blooms after a dilute application of this mix.

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For plants indoors, and those plants I’m growing mainly for their flowers, I prefer to use Orchid Plus plant food (20-14-13) from time to time.  This is a reliable way to induce the plants to set buds and produce flowers.

This is one of those ‘light blue’ chemical fertilizers, and I mix it up much weaker than the package suggests.  If you feed too frequently, a mineral residue will build up on the pot, or even the potting soil.  Use this when watering only about once every two to three weeks.

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Plants are under a lot of stress in our area right now.  Rain has been scarce in our neighborhood, and temperatures regularly reach well above normal.  The garden looks a little tired and wilted.  The first line of defense is hydration.

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Plants are mostly water, and water pumps through their tissue from the roots, up through every cell until water is released as vapor through the leaves.  When a plant wilts, it means that its cells are collapsing for lack of enough water.  Some plants can perk back up once water is available  again; others won’t.

Water helps in the short term, and in this sort of weather, small pots or baskets may need hydration every morning and evening.

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Without sufficient water, their colors look dull, leaf edges may burn, and growth slows down.  New leaves and flowers may be small.  It’s not a very pretty sight!  If you have time to do nothing else, at minimum keep plants as hydrated as you can until it rains again.

Too much water causes its own set of problems, including root rot.  As in all things, we seek balance. 

Keep in mind that when there is a lot of rain and frequent watering, soluble fertilizers will wash right out of the soil.  This is another reason to give light supplemental fertilizers on a fairly regular basis, while plants are responding to summer’s bright light and warmth with active growth.

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You may have noticed that each day grows a little shorter, now that we’re nearly to August.  We’ve enjoyed a few cool nights, and the garden is preparing for its late summer show.

It’s a challenge to help our plants survive right through the season and have enough strength for a beautiful late summer and autumn display.  We have to keep them actively growing despite the challenges our weather may present.

Regular care and careful observation  are the secrets to success.  Hydration, feeding, deadheading and a little grooming ensure that our gardening investments pay generous dividends in beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!  
Green Thumb Tip #19: Focus on Foliage  
Green Thumb Tip #20: Go With The Flow

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Variegation Variations, Another Plant Nerd Mystery….

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When the first red Caladium leaf with white veins and a green and red border opened, I was puzzled.  It didn’t resemble any of the 14 different varieties of Caladiums I had ordered this spring.

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And so I assumed that maybe I’d received a serendipitous bonus; a rogue bulb of a different variety had made it into one of my bags.  I headed back to the Classic Caladiums website in search of the variety to learn its name.  I searched the site every way I knew how, and yet still came up empty handed.

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’

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By then another leaf had opened, and another, all from different bulbs.  I knew that it was indeed a mystery, but not a mistake.

When I heard from Lesley, in internet sales, on another matter,  I sent her a photo of my mystery Caladium.  She indicated that it might be C. ‘Peppermint,’ but promised to check with their CEO, Dr. Robert Hartman, and get back to me.

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I went back to the information on C. ‘Peppermint,‘ which I remembered as a mostly white leaf with a little green and touches of rosy pink.  This is a 2011 Caladium I’ve admired for a while, but ordered this year for the first time.  Sure enough, the photo resembled the mostly white leaves I remembered. (In re-checking the page tonight, at the very bottom of the webpage I see a photo of C. ‘Peppermint’ with the mostly rosy leaves I’ve observed.)

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All the while, our Caladiums kept growing and pumping out new leaves.  By the second week of June, I found a plant with both forms of the variegation on different leaves from the same tuber.  Now how odd is that?

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C. Carolyn Wharton in late May

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The older, traditional Caladium varieties are pretty dependable.  There will be some slight variations in the variegation on a plant like C. ‘Carolyn Wharton’ or C. ‘Miss Muffet,’ but not so much that you wouldn’t recognize them as clearly the same cultivar.  The leaves are more like each other and different from all other Caladium varieties.

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C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ in September 2016 shows a lot of variation in its variegation, too.

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But I’ve noticed a wider range of variations on leaves within a cultivar from Dr. Hartman’s new Caladium introductions.  I noticed it first on C. ‘Sweet Carolina.’ 

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C. ‘Sweet Carolina’

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Depending on the amount of light, moisture and nutrition a plant received, it may vary drastically in both basic leaf color, and also the pattern and amount of variegation.  I find this very entertaining, and I learned to really appreciate this decidedly odd and very large full-sun tolerant Caladium.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter’ June 2017

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When I grew out C. ‘Highlighter’ the first year, I didn’t recognize the plants for a few weeks because the color of the leaves was so variable.  I assumed that some were C. ‘White Delight.’  Some leaves were nearly white and creamy with few markings.  Others were richly colored with many strokes of pink.  But I could trace those variations to culture, because the plants were grown in different locations in the garden.

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Caladiums Chinook and Highlighter blend together well June 2018

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On the same plant, growing in the same conditions, the leaves were similar to one another.

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The first leaf to open on a newly sprouted C. “Desert Sunset’ in late May appears as the reverse image of the C. ‘Peppermint’ leaf….?

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And then came C. ‘Peppermint.’  I was doubly puzzled because the variegation on the mostly rosy leaves was like a mirror image of some of the early leaves on C. ‘Desert Sunset,’ when grown in deeper shade.  How could this be?

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I hope to have the opportunity to discuss this high weirdness with Dr. Hartman some time.  He is the guru of Caladium breeding, and I am positive he has some wonderful stories to tell about new Caladiums he is breeding and the odd variations that he has observed.

I am wondering why two leaves from the same tuber would end up so different from one another.

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Calaldium, ‘Desert Sunset’

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I’m also wondering why the earliest leaves were rosy with white veins, but later leaves emerged mostly white, with some green and rosy pink markings.  What is going on in the plant?   Do growing conditions tip the tuber to produce one sort of leaf over the other?

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C. ‘Peppermint’

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There are many, many mysteries in the plant kingdom; I am only beginning to scratch the surface of the wonders of horticulture.  As with a child, what part of a plant’s growth is nurture, and what part is wild and crazy nature taking a leap to manifest as something entirely new?

I am endlessly fascinated by the work of hybridizers who delight in introducing new colors and forms of beloved plants, and new strains that are stronger, healthier and more versatile than older varieties.  They work with nature and natural processes to give us the great gift of a new and useful plant.

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I love the new Caladiums that can take several hours of sun each day because there are more ways to use them in the garden.

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And I am thoroughly enjoying watching all of my Caldiums grow into their potential this summer.  An ‘outed’ plant nerd extraordinaire, I just can’t get enough of observing the wonderful variations of their lovely variegation.

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’ left, and C. ‘Berries and Burgundy’ right

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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C. ‘Desert Sunset’ is one of the most beautiful Caladiums we have grown… what color!

 

 

Fabulous Friday: Rain and Lizards

Hosta in (soggy) bloom

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Our garden is thoroughly watered, I’m happy to share!  And it’s unlikely that any of my gardening friends will be spending chunks of their weekend with a hose in their hand watering after the several inches of rain that we’ve had this week.

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Zantedeschia ‘Memories’

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In fact, the sound of pouring rain roused me well before sunrise this morning.  Downpours have come and gone today, interspersed with glimpses of blue sky and brilliant sunshine.

I appreciate the rain, of course; but am well aware of the flash flooding many have to deal with this week.  It has snarled the local airport with delays as the runway and access roads flooded early this morning.  Local roads flooded out again, and the chocolate milk brown James River is churning very high against its banks.  It is a good day to stay at home!

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Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ after this morning’s rain

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Plants hate too much rain, and may perish from their roots up when the soil stays saturated for very long.  I’ve emptied saucers under a few of our pots twice already today, and know I should do the tour and check them all again this evening.

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Artemisia prefers dry conditions. I have potted this one up from its nursery pot into a small ceramic pot just until I can prepare its new place in the garden. 

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All of the small creatures must cope with too much rain, as well.  While there is plenty of fresh water to drink, there is also the small matter of flooding in the nooks and crannies where they generally hide.

We came home mid-day to find our resident lizards enjoying their privacy, sunning themselves on our side porch.  One after another scampered away for cover as we approached.  They know us, and that we bring them no harm.  The boldest held her place on the step making eye contact as I greeted her.  She didn’t scamper into the vines until my shoe touched her step.

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These small lizards are known as skinks.

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Lizards crave warmth and laze about on all of the hardscapes around the house and garden.  Since they gladly eat up insects, spiders, slugs and worms wherever they can find them, I am quite happy to see them hanging around our potted plants.  We have an understanding, as these little guys are quite harmless.  Our cat is in on the bargain and watches them closely, but leaves the lizzies strictly alone.

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It is challenging to plant for the weather and our ever variable ‘climate.’  Those of us who planted drought tolerant perennials, like lavenders, Yucca, and other succulents are watching them try to cope with the saturated soil.  Sometimes herbs will get moldy or turn to mush in our steamy wet spells in summer.

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Spanish lavender wants great drainage and bright sun to thrive.

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That is why it is smart to consider drainage when planting them in the first place.  Plant a bit high, on a bit of a mound, and incorporate sharp sand or small gravel into the surrounding soil to improve drainage.  Mulch with grit, crushed oyster shells or gravel to keep soil and pathogens from splashing up onto their lower leaves in heavy rain.

Sun reflecting off of the gravel mulch will also help dry the plant’s inner foliage more quickly.

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A tiny dragonfly happily hovered around the pots on the patio during a break in the rain this afternoon.

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On the other hand, we have plenty of plants just loving the reliably moist soil.  The Caladiums and Colocasias like even moisture, though even they may rot if the soil stays too wet too long.  When the weather turns dry, these want watering most days to keep them growing happily.

They have a system:  Their large leaves, covered with tiny openings called stomata, allow water transported up from their roots to evaporate into the surrounding air.  So long as their leaves are growing and working in the sunlight, their roots can pump large amounts of water out of the soil and into the air.  Trees do this on an industrial scale!

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Caladium ‘Carolyn Wharton’ and Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ both enjoy moist soil.

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The smaller or more protected a plant’s leaves, the less water they will release from soil to atmosphere, and the better they tolerate drought.

It is smart to learn about a plant’s tolerance for wet soil and humidity just as we learn about its needs for sunlight, warmth, PH, and trace minerals in the surrounding soil.  That way, we can give them the conditions they need and keep them growing.

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Succulents with thick, waxy leaves release very little water into the air. They are built for hot, dry conditions and may rot of their soil remains saturated for too long.

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A plant with particular needs, or one that doesn’t thrive in local conditions may still be grown well in a pot.  And of course, pots can be set back under the eaves when the skies open and a downpour comes.

And believe me, our little lizards and toads find lodging in the pots sometimes.  Somehow, it seems to work out pretty well, no matter what strangeness the summer brings.

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“Breathe deep…
The rain falls but a moment,
and in a moment, gives life to another day.”
.
Laurence Overmire

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious. 
Let’s infect one another!

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’ left, and C. ‘Berries and Burgundy’ above and right

Blossom XL: Zantedeschia

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The first of our overwintered  Zantedeschia  opened its first blossom this morning.  I might have missed it, had I let the misting rain keep me indoors.  This cool, foggy morning coaxed me outside to do a little planting; a little moving of pots from their protective shade into their permanent summer spots.

Feet damp, and camera covered in raindrops, I was taking a quick turn around the upper garden when the pure white elegance of it caught my eye.

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Zantedeschia albomaculata is named for the white spots on its leaves.  Spotted leaf calla lilies want wetter soil than those without spots.  Both want full sun, and reward good care with elegant flowers.

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Zantedeschia looks so tropical.  And yet, they survive our winters, here in the northern reaches of their hardiness zone (Zones 7-10).  Their elegant leaves never fail to surprise me when they finally emerge each spring.  The leaves would be enough, some would say.  That is, until their blossoms begin to appear.

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Zantedeschia ‘Memories’ will have deep purple flowers when it blooms.

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Although we have Zantedeschia blooming in shades of purple, pink, rose, peach and white in the garden; the pure white flowers remain our favorites.

Many people call these flowers ‘calla lily,’ especially when ordering stems from the florist.  There is actually a North American Calla palustris, which grows in bogs, swamps and ponds.  A near relative, it looks very similar, but is not as refined.

The newest Zantedeschias  in our collection are called Z. aethiopica ‘White Giant,’ and may eventually grow to 5′ to 6′ tall in good soil and consistent moisture.

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Z. ‘White Giant’ is still a very young plant in our garden. We expect the leaves to grow larger as the weeks go by, and hope it will bloom this first year. Here, it grows with Caladium ‘Burning Heart.’

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Like this beautiful blossom in form and color, they will grow more like the tremendous clumps of white Zantedeschia aethiopica I’ve admired in front gardens in coastal Oregon, where the hardy clumps expand a bit each year.  Mature clumps grow 3′-4′ tall there, already blooming by early April.

We have our new Z. ‘White Giant’ all in pots at the moment, but I plan to plant most of them from their pots into the garden this fall, and expect them to grow a bit better each year..

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Like other Aroids, Zantedeschia is a good plant choice in areas grazed by deer.  They have tiny calcium oxalate crystals in their leaves which will irritate the mouth and upset the stomach of any who try to eat its leaves.   Zantedeschia belong to the same family and subfamily, Aroideae, as Caladiums, Colocasia, and our beautiful Arum italicum. 

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Do you see the family resemblance to this Arum italicum, which is preparing to go dormant for the summer?  As the leaves die back, the green berries will grow bright reddish orange, when ripe.  Its flower is also the simple spadix and spathe form, in a creamy green.

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Their leaves are large and beautiful.  Their flowers are the simple ‘spathe and spadix’ form, which in many genera turn into green, berry covered stalks after fertilization.  Other than calla lilies, most of the plants in this family are grown for their leaves or for their edible tubers.

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This Caladium flower isn’t nearly as sturdy or long lasting as a calla flower. Most gardeners cut Caladium flowers away so all the plant’s energy goes into leaf production.

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Natives of southern Africa, these elegant callas enjoy full sun and consistently moist soil.  Buy them as dry tubers in the early spring, or as potted plants at many nurseries and grocery stores.  Plant tubers near the soil’s surface in good potting mix, and keep just moist until growth begins.

If growing callas in pots, make sure to add fertilizer to the soil to keep them at their best.

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I’m not sure where these peachy orange calla lilies came from…. I was expecting them to be purple when I planted their tubers earlier this spring….  Is this Z. ‘Mango’?  At any rate, we will enjoy them and appreciate their generous blooms.

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Zantedeschia are often grown commercially for their flowers, much loved by florists world-wide.  Calla stems are long-lasting in a vase, perhaps for several weeks if one changes the water and re-cuts the stem every few days.

If you love their flowers, why not grow them yourself, and enjoy the beauty of the entire plant?  This is an easy plant if you give it the sun and moisture it craves.  Whether you grow it in a pot or in a bed, it will reward your efforts with many years of gorgeous foliage and elegant blossoms.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Rooting Caladium Leaves

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“Oops!  I didn’t mean to do that!”

Sometimes when I am transplanting a Caladium, a leaf will break off in the process.  No matter how careful I’m trying to be with moving the plant from where it has been growing to where it will be growing, a piece will sometimes break away.

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And with such a lovely leaf, why would anyone simply throw it away?  And that is how I discovered a little discussed secret about Caladiums. 

A green-handed gardening friend had a rooted Caladium leaf on her kitchen windowsill when I visited with her last summer, and I learned that it is possible to root a Caladium leaf from her.

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A Caladium leaf grows on a petiole that is connected, below ground, to the Caladium’s tuber.  The tuber is a fleshy storage organ which helps the plant survive while it is dormant, without active leaves or roots.

It is from the tuber that new roots and stems emerge when there is sufficient warmth and moisture to support growth.  New leaves emerge from the tuber at a growth point called a ‘bud,’ which is rich in growth hormones.

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Late October 2017, tubers were still in active growth when I dug them up to store over winter.  Tubers tend to grow in segments.  Larger tubers may be broken apart into smaller sections, especially when digging them in the fall.  This is another way to propagate more plants.

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When a Caladium leaf, and its petiole, break off with a bit of the brown tuber still attached, there is potential for this ‘division’ to grow new roots.

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These leaves have been rooting for only a few days. On a rainy humid day like today, there is a good chance that these rooted leaves will establish quickly in a pot in a shady spot.

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Once the roots form, the leaf is likely to survive.  The leaf has to be able to absorb enough water to prevent it from wilting, as water evaporates from its surface.   A new tuber begins to grow at the point where the roots are growing from the petiole.

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Once this new tuber is actively growing, new leaves will begin to emerge.  The more leaves in active growth, the more photosynthesis will occur.  The sugars produced during photosynthesis will be sent to the new tuber for storage.

Depending on how many weeks the new plant can grow before it goes back into dormancy, the tuber may bulk up enough to survive until spring.  If it doesn’t, you will still have enjoyed the rooted Caladium leaf for that season.

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I transplanted the newly rooted leaf into this shady spot on the deck where it can continue growth. If it needs more space in a few weeks, it will be easy enough to transplant it to a pot of its own.

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One must be careful about respecting plant patents in any home-grown propagation efforts.  That said, I have been carefully saving any leaves that break away while I am transplanting Caladiums this spring, and placing them in clean bottles filled with fresh water.

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Small bottles tend to work well, and I change out the water every few days to minimize any bacterial growth that would stop the process before the leaf can grow new roots.

Keep this technique in mind if you are designing pots or making floral arrangements and don’t have room for a fully established Caladium plant.  Maybe you do have room for a rooted leaf to make your arrangement sparkle with that special flair a Caladium leaf always brings.

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 September 2017, a successfully rooted leaf grows on. I hope it will emerge again this spring.

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I successfully established this rooted leaf last summer, and stored its tiny tuber in its pot over winter.  I’m still waiting to see whether it survived, and will leaf out again this year.

“Fingers crossed…”

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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