In A Pot: Asian Violet

Primulina ‘Loki’ , Asian violet

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Certainly you, or someone you love, has grown an African Violet.  These colorful, highly hybridized South African native violets have enjoyed popularity in the United States since the 1930s.  If you have the right, bright spot away from direct sun, you have probably enjoyed success with them.

Having grown many different African violets over the years, I’ve been curious about the Asian violets displayed on the same table at The Great Big Greenhouse, in Richmond.  Both Gesneriads, along with Gloxinias and Streptocarpus, these highly ornamental flowering plants with thick, hairy leaves, make excellent houseplants.

I was considering the various Asian violets on display when a Chesterfield County Master Gardener struck up a conversation.  It turns out that he grows quite a few Gesneriads, including the little Asian violet in my hand, and he encouraged me to give it a try.  Known as Primulina ‘Loki,‘ I was intrigued by its beautiful leaves.  I like the silver markings, so much like Begonia leaves.

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According to the friendly Gardener, these little violets make nearly perfect houseplants.  They enjoy low light, aren’t particularly thirsty, and will bloom when they feel like it with beautiful little blue flowers.  He answered all of my questions, and even showed me a few photos of his collection.  How could I not give it a try?

Gary’s Specialty Plants, who raises and markets these little gems, explains on the plant tag that Asian violets are like African violets, but better!  If you click the link, you’ll find one of his photos of the violet in bloom at the top of the page.

This little plant will spread over time, but isn’t expected to grow but a few inches tall.  It can thrive in low light.  The only admonition on the tag warns not to get cold water on the leaves.  This is also true of African violets, as it can spot and damage the leaves.

I’ve planted the new little violet into a Bonsai tray and just set it into a bright spot to watch and see what it does.  If I like this one, The Great Big Greenhouse has two other cultivars in stock.  I’m thinking this might make a good gift for a gardening friend, or a nice little plant to decorate place settings at a dinner.

If you’ve grown Asian violets then please share your experience in the comments.  If you’re interested in locating one to buy, then Gary, who is based in PA, has a list of retailers on his site.

It is always fun to find a new plant to grow!  This one looks very promising.  Houseplants keep us sane during winter, and this one might brighten up a dim corner of your home.  I wonder how well these grow in a terrarium?

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Fabulous Friday: Bonus Days

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Winter is already closing in on so many parts of the country, bringing snow to areas where the leaves haven’t even fallen.  With less than a week left in October, every soft, warm, late autumn day feels like a bonus day on the season.

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It has looked like rain all day, with only an occasional glimpse of sunshine breaking through the gloom; perfect weather to putter around outside.  And ‘putter’ is a good description of the bits and pieces I’ve strung together to make a day.

I’m in process of digging Caladiums.  It is always tricky to catch them before they fade away, leaving no trace of where their plump rhizomes lie buried.  But just as they leaf out on their own varietal schedules, so they fade according to their own rhythms, too.

While many in pots still look very presentable, and I’m procrastinating on digging them, others have already slipped away.  I need to sit awhile and study photos of their plantings to dig in the right places to recover them.

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A gardening friend and I were puttering together yesterday, at the Botanical Garden.  I was digging Caladiums as she was planting Violas.  I was digging Caladiums from her bed, and she gently suggested that I not waste too much energy digging until I knew I was in the ‘right’ spot.  That was good advice, and gave me a good reason to dig less and chat more.

Today hasn’t been much more productive, I’m afraid.  Until the forecast calls for colder night time temps, I won’t feel motivated to begin hauling in the pots and baskets.

And yet the signs of autumn are all around in the brown, crinkly leaves skirting the drive and softly gathering on the lawn.  Bare branches come into view all around the garden, as their leafy garments slip away for another season.

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Instead, I’m watering, admiring.  I spent a while potting up Arum tubers in the basement, and planting Violas from their 6 packs into little pots, to grow them on.

These are the bonus days when I can daydream about where I’ll plant them, even as summer’s geraniums and Verbena shine again with their vivid cool weather blooms.

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It is a relief, quite honestly.  The plants have perked up in the cooler, damper weather of the last two weeks.  The Alocasias are sending up new, crisp leaves.  The Mexican Petunias bloom purple as the pineapple sage proudly unfurls scarlet bloom after scarlet bloom.

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Every sort of little bee and wasp covered the Salvias yesterday, reveling in warm sunshine and abundant nectar.  A brilliant yellow Sulphur butterfly lazed its way from plant to plant, bed to bed, and I found some fresh cats here and there.

The Monarchs are still here, though I’ve not seen a hummingbird since early October.  Perhaps they have already flown south.

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Like a band playing one more encore, reluctant for the evening to end, and then leaving the stage to party on with friends; I’m reluctant to admit the season is nearly done.  I don’t want to rush it away, in my haste to prepare for the coming winter.

It is a calculation of how many hours, days, weeks might be left of bonus time, before the first frost destroys all of the tenderness of our autumn garden.

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I’ve been content to admire it all today, and make a few efforts to prepare for the changes to come.

Flocks of goldfinches gather in the upper garden, feasting on ripe black-eyed Susan and basil seeds left standing.  Pairs of cardinals gather in the shrubs, sometimes peering in the kitchen window or searching for tasty morsels in the pots on the patio; sociable and familiar now in these shorter, cooler days.

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We rarely have frost until November, here in coastal Virginia.  But colder weather is on its way.  Snow this week in Texas, and Oklahoma, and a cold front on the move promise changes ahead.   I’m hoping that we’ll have a few more sweet bonus days, before ice transforms our garden’s beauty into its bony, frost kissed shadow.

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Begonias and ferns sparkle in today’s dim sun, enjoying another day in the garden before coming indoors for winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

“The strangeness of Time.

Not in its passing, which can seem infinite,

like a tunnel whose end you can’t see,

whose beginning you’ve forgotten,

but in the sudden realization

that something finite, has passed,

and is irretrievable.”

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Joyce Carol Oates

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious. Let’s infect one another.

Butterfly Musings

Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on Lantana

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I took a break from watering the garden Sunday morning to spend some time with the butterflies happily feeding in the late September sunshine.  Their movement enlivens the space as they drift and swoop from flower to flower.

I’m always a bit surprised when one takes off and floats up into the surrounding trees, or across the roof and out of sight.  For all of their apparent fragility, they are surprisingly resilient and tough.

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Judith tells me that the 30 odd Eastern Black Swallowtail cats she adopted from our fennel plants a few weeks ago have all gone into chrysalis now.  She has been feeding them organic parsley as she fattened them up and prepared them for their magnificent metamorphosis.

What a wonderful process to observe.  I can’t wait until they begin to emerge, and at least a few of them ‘come home’ to our garden once again.

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I wonder whether this beautiful swallowtail I photographed Sunday might have been one of the little cats I found on some of our parsley in August.  I just left them be, hoping they would survive to one day fly.

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Living in such close relationship with these beautiful butterflies has transformed my idea of tending a garden.  Now, if I could plant only a single type of flowering plant in summer, I would plant Lantana.  I would plant Lantana because it is such a magnet for butterflies.  They love it, and growing it almost guarantees there will be winged visitors all summer long.

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But beyond planting the best of the nectar plants:  Lantana, Agastache, Buddleia, Hibiscus, Verbena, Zinnia. One also needs to have a selection of host plants.  Yes, butterflies want to eat.  But they really want a home where they can shelter, lay their eggs, and raise their generations.

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Planting host plants implies accepting that the butterfly larvae will eat their leaves.  They may be unsightly for a while.  But that is a reasonable trade-off when one considers that all of those cats have the opportunity to become butterflies.

Please understand that wildlife gardening requires a complete re-thinking of what traditional gardeners assume and expect.  Rather than trying to eliminate insects and their ‘damage,’ we invite and welcome them.  We look after their needs as faithfully as we put out food and water for our cat or dog.

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Black Swallowtail cats enjoy the parsley. Find end of season parsley on sale now. A biennial, it will return next spring.

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Many native trees and shrubs serve as host plants for native butterflies.  If you want to know more about what to plant to host and feed butterflies commonly seen in coastal Virginia, please see the list compiled by the Butterfly Society of Virginia.  Even if you only have space for a flower pot or two, you can enjoy the magic of caterpillars by growing host herbs like parsley, fennel and dill for swallowtails; some milkweed for Monarchs, or even a few native violets.

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Monarch cats on potted Asclepias

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Once we better understand insects, and the crucial role they play in our environment, we come to understand their interrelationships with one another, and with the plants in our garden.  We welcome the many sorts of bees and wasps, feed the butterflies, admire the beetles and listen for the music of the crickets and katydids.

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I’ve found the secret is to plant a tremendous diversity of plants, and plant abundantly, so that what damage there  may be to certain leaves can be overlooked or at least put into context and accepted.

Once one decides to welcome and nurture butterflies, bees, and the many other insects who show up for dinner, it is crucial to abstain from using insecticides and avoid herbicides.  The more one observes, the more one realizes that insects are an intricate part of the web of life.  Birds will turn up to feast on some of them, and their own food webs will develop to keep everything in balance.  Diversity leads to sustainability.

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Wildlife seek shelter, food, water, places to rest and safe places to raise their young.  The more of these our gardens provide, the more we can assist in helping diminished and endangered populations rebound.

Each of us with a bit of land to garden can help restore the web of life so often broken by over development and encroachment on wild spaces.  As if by magic, we find turtles and toads, lizards, many sorts of birds, squirrels, and butterflies sharing our garden with us.

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When the butterflies come home to our garden spaces, we know we have been blessed with their beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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“I love nature dearly and all creatures
that contribute to make it what it is.
I see the beauty in all expressions of life,
and I see how blind so many of us still are.
Our planet is remarkably abundant
and there’s more than enough for us all.
It is greed and shortsightedness that create the illusion
of scarcity.”
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Yossi Ghinsberg
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Pot Shots: Rescue Plants

Hosta ‘Halcyon’

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Maybe your soft spot is homeless dogs at the Humane Society.  My soft spot is clearance shelf rescue plants.  It is hard for me to walk past that clearance shelf without pausing to assess what is on offer.

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I went to Lowes in late August for gravel, potting soil and landscaping blocks, and happened upon hundreds of struggling plants loaded on rack after rolling rack out in the full sun.  Oh, the indignity of once beautiful plants ending up in such straits after just a few short weeks in a big-box store.

I couldn’t avert my eyes.  I couldn’t just walk past.  I had to scan the shelves to see what I might salvage.  That is where I turned up two Fortune’s holly ferns that I planted to help control erosion, a flat of mixed Sedums, and this poor little Hosta.  Marked down to only a dollar, how could I not give it another chance at life?

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The Hosta has grow several new leaves over the past three weeks. It could be divided next spring.

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The day it came home with me, it had exactly three leaves left, and those were scalded from sitting in full sun with dried up soil.  That’s not a promising start.  But I knew that if those three leaves were alive, then the roots were alive.  And you buy a perennial for its roots.

Before adopting a dog or a plant, there are a few questions one must address:  Does it have fleas, or other insect infestation?  Any signs of disease?  Will it fit in with the family?  Can it be saved?

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Two Athyrium ‘Bradford’s Rambler’ that I picked up on an August clearance in 2018 yielded several plants, after division.

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With a plant, my next question is its expected life-span.  Only the perennials are worth the effort, to me.  An annual is only expected to live a few months, anyway.  Late in the season, it usually isn’t worth it to purchase and rescue an annual plant.

Now, a marginally hardy perennial might be an exception.  I recently bought a couple of flats of stressed Salvia coccinea, a native perennial to our south.  This red hummingbird Salvia is hardy at least to Zone 8, and might make it here with a good mulch.  The plants were still in 1″ cell packs, root bound, and stunted.  I took a chance.

I freed each one’s roots, loosened the root balls, and planted them into rich potting mix in larger pots.  After a good feeding and watering, I set them into a protected spot in partial sun to recover and begin to grow.  After giving away more than half of those I bought, I still had a few Salvia plants left to use in a bed, and others left for pots.

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Salvia coccinea, Hummingbird Salvia, have prospered now that they have room to grow and reasonable care.

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The key to reviving a rescue plant is to meet its needs and give it space and time to recover.  Rescue plants have sat in a shop for too long.  They may have gotten too much or too little light, been allowed to dry out, and they are almost certainly root bound.  Most have lost a lot of their leaves and may have stopped growing due to extreme stress.

So the first thing I do with a plant, after looking it over carefully for any sign of hitch-hiking insects or disease, is to water the root ball.  First thing, before I even go in the house.  I may even water the plant before I leave the nursery, if I have some water in the car.  Water is life for a plant, and it can’t carry out any of its life functions if it doesn’t have moisture.

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I enjoy miniature Hostas, but they can be pricey. All of mine came as gifts or as clearance plants. I found this one in late July, with its own culture of moss, and simply repotted and fed it.

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Next, I usually cut away and throw away any broken or dead stems and leaves.  Pruning stimulates new growth, and the plant needs healthy new tissue to begin producing sugars and cellulose again so it can recover.

If a plant has grown way too much top growth, for the size of its roots, you might cut it back by a third to a half to stimulate new growth.  It is possible that the stems you cut away will root, given a chance, to give you even more new plants.

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After several weeks of care, it is producing new leaves and may fill the pot before frost.

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If a plant is severely root bound, with roots showing on top of the rootball and hanging out of the pot, it needs repotting or planting as soon as possible.  Gently tease out the roots, trim away any that look damaged or dried up, and give the plant a new, larger pot.  I usually pot up all rescue plants and leave them in shade to partial sun, away from other plants, until they show signs of growth.  This allows the plants a rest, a chance to convalesce, before I expect them to perform.  While they all need light, placing them in a little more shade than they would normally grow in gives them a chance to recover without the stress of full sun exposure.

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This little Alocasia was a rescue plant last summer. It has many beautiful leaves, but is still much shorter than most cultivars of this species.

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Finally, I give a good foliar feed with fish emulsion, such as Neptune’s Harvest.  Drench the plant’s remaining leaves and root ball with this gentle, mineral rich fertilizer.  Do it once every week or so, and watch the life return to the plant as it sends up new leaves.

Remember, with a perennial, you are buying the root system.  If there are some leaves or buds, that is just a bonus.  After working with bare root starts for a while, one comes to realize that the roots and crown are the main things required for a plant’s survival.  Most perennials die back to just their roots and crown during the winter, or their period of dormancy anyway.  A stressed plant may go dormant in the summer, too, and will reawaken with new growth when conditions become favorable once again.

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Late summer and early fall are prime time to find good rescue plants.  Discounts may range from 15% up to %75.  Sometimes I’m even given plants for free, where I have a relationship with the staff, especially if the plants are already destined for the compost pile.

This is a good way to acquire plants when you want to experiment with a new cultivar, when you need a large quantity of a specific plant, or when you’re on a budget.   A little TLC and a lot of patience make those horticultural dreams come true, as plants bounce back and grow in your care for many, many years to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Six on Saturday: Fragrant Foliage

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Have you ever bought a little ‘Citronella’ plant, sold to keep mosquitoes away from your deck and picnic table?  I’m not sure whether they work well or not.  How many mosquitoes might there be without one growing nearby?  But whatever their effectiveness with mosquitoes, I enjoy growing scented Pelargoniums for their many other benefits.

First, their textured leaves come in varied shapes and sizes, each exquisitely sculpted from the moment it begins to unfold until its eventual demise.  The variety of shapes is matched by the variety of scents these special geraniums offer.

Citrus scents come in orange, lemon and lime.  Then there are minty scents, rose perfumes, clove, apple, chocolate mint and more.  The leaves release their scent on hot summer days, and when you rub them between your fingers.

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Some leaves feel velvety, others are more roughly textured.  Some have dark maroon markings, others have lighter variegation, or even grow in shades of grey.

Dry them as they grow to use through winter.  Their strong essential oils hold a scent for years.  In a sachet or bowl of pot purri their scent recalls a summer day.

Most are edible, and may be used in teas or as garnishes.  Some people even add a few fresh, small leaves to salads.  Use scented geraniums as you might use many other herbs.

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I rarely get around to harvesting these delicious, scented leaves.  I grow them for their beauty, fragrance and their resilience.

I’ve not yet found any wild creature that will bother them.  Because deer, rabbits and insects leave them strictly alone, some gardeners plant scented Pelargoniums to shield and protect tastier garden plants.  The theory of confusing ‘the nose’ of grazing animals works some of the time.  I suppose it depends on the strength of the scented geranium’s fragrance, and how hungry a rabbit or deer may be for what is behind it.

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Most of these geraniums are hardy to Zone 8 or warmer.  I’m sometimes fortunate enough to have one return in spring from its roots, but that is a rare bonus.  They can be brought in as houseplants through winter, or they root easily from cuttings and may be overwintered as much smaller plants.  All have small, but showy flowers in shades of white, pink or red.

Scented Pelargoniums are consistently agreeable and easy to grow in full sun or bright indoor light.  They don’t easily wilt in summer sun and heat, and aren’t particularly thirsty.  I like to grow them where more tender plants might falter, and use them in full sun pots and hanging baskets, knowing they will survive through until fall.  As with most herbs, they don’t want much fertilizer.  Perhaps mine would bloom more if I fed them more often, but I grow them for their delightful foliage.

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Every spring I’m looking for the new year’s scented geraniums at every garden center and herb display I visit.  There is very little consistency in finding a given variety year to year, beyond the ubiquitous ‘Citronella’ that seems to be everywhere each spring.

It is a bit of a game, or perhaps an obsession, to find my favorites again each year.  One day perhaps I’ll perfect the art of keeping the plants going through the winter.

Until then, I’m delighted and surprised with whichever varieties appear, and I’m always tempted to try something new I’ve not grown before.  There are so many different scented Pelargoniums in cultivation, including antique varieties from the 18th Century and before, that every year’s collection can be different.

There is always a new one waiting to be grown and enjoyed.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“When nothing else subsists from the past,

after the people are dead,

after the things are broken and scattered…

the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time,

like souls…bearing resiliently,

on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence,

the immense edifice of memory”
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Marcel Proust

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This collection of Pelargoniums is grown among other herbs and vines. It is a deliciously scented tangle that grows better as summer progresses.

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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

 

 

In a Pot: ‘Companion Plants’

Begonia boliviensis from a rooted cutting

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Tiny plants in tiny pots, expressing a particular season, sometimes displayed alongside a potted tree, are called ‘companion plants’ or ‘accent plants.’

I particularly enjoy growing these little treasures.  They allow us to appreciate a plant, in all of its intricate detail, as a work of art.

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First, these precious little pots fit easily on a windowsill, side table or plant stand.  They can be grown year-round indoors, or moved out into a protected space during warm weather.

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Maidenhair fern with Pilea glauca, creeping blue Pilea. A division of the Pilea grows alone in the previous photo.

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But more importantly to me, these little pots allow me to ‘grow on’ very small plants, or rooted cuttings.  Once they begin to outgrow the little companion pot, they can be re-potted or planted out; used in a larger display, or grown on as a specimen in a larger pot.  This is especially helpful during the winter and early spring when small plants may be grown on for use outdoors in summer.

I buy many of my Asian ceramic companion pots and 1″-2″ companion plants at The Great Big Greenhouse in south Richmond.  They keep a tremendous selection of pots of all sizes, and offer a large display of Asian pots for Bonsai and companion plants year-round.  The pots in these photos were found at The GBGH.

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Coleus with Dichondra, Cuban Oregano, Tradescantia pallida and Lantana.

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Small companion pots are equally good for starting cuttings to grow on into larger plants.  I had a pot where the fern died back in early spring.  I put it outside in a protected spot to see if it might re-grow from the roots; without success.  So I am going to recycle the pot and soil to root some Coleus.

Coleus (now Plectranthus) are members of the Lamiaceae family, most of which root very easily from stem cuttings.

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Take a cutting by cutting or pinching off a stem at a node, where new leaves may be beginning to grow.  Four nodes are visible in this photo.  While many gardeners pinch out Coleus flowers, I let them flower because pollinators love them.

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Prepare the cutting by removing the lowest set of leaves and pinching out the flowers at the top of the stem.  It is usually better to use a stem that hasn’t flowered, as they will often root more easily. Rooting hormone isn’t really necessary with Coleus cuttings.  Feel free to use it if you have it, as it may speed up the process a bit.

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The same stem is now ready for ‘sticking’ into the soil.  Roots will form along the lower stem wherever it is in contact with moist soil, or even plain water.

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I took three cuttings today so the pot looks full right away.  After sticking the cuttings, water lightly, and set the pot into a protected spot…. or not.  I sometimes just stick a cutting where I want the new plant to grow, and hope for the best.

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I struck this cutting several weeks ago and it is now growing on in a pot on my front porch. It gets full sun for several hours a day. If the soil is kept hydrated, the Coleus should root in less than ideal conditions….

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The parent Coleus plant is growing very well this summer. Taking cuttings helps keep the plant bushy, and there is always a spot to fill with a cutting, isn’t there?

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Arrangements in companion pots are temporary plantings.   All things change, right?  Especially in gardening, we expect things to come and go.

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Three cuttings, struck into moist soil, will root withing a week or so. This arrangement can ‘grow on’ through autumn. Cutting back the tops as it grows will extend the life of the planting.  Or, the rooted cuttings can be re-potted into larger containers and kept as houseplants through the winter.  Coleus is a tender perennial.

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An aspect of the beauty of companion plants is their transience.  Favorite subjects in Asia might be ferns, grasses, wildflowers, flowering bulbs and vines.  Some may only be at their peak for a week or two.

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This little Ficus tree has a ‘companion’ in the same pot. A little footed fern grows long rhizomes which ‘visit’ other pots nearby on the windowsill.

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Some of the pots are as tiny as egg cups, and so can only hold a very small root mass.  Many have no drainage holes, and so I begin with a layer of fine gravel in the bottom of the pot.

I use gravel mulch, but a moss mulch is more common, and very lovely.  The moss really needs to live outside to stay plush, however.

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Companion plants in little pots are an affordable luxury for those of us who love to work with plants.

Even without an outside garden space, a little garden may be cultivated in a pot and enjoyed on a windowsill at any time of the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Pot Shots: Caladiums and Lady Fern ‘Queen of Green’

Caladium ‘Starburst,’ with white veins, and Caladium ‘White Delight’ share this pot with a hybrid lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae.’  Both of these new hybrid Caladium varieties can take full sun.  The fern can take partial sun.  This is a shady spot for most of the day; bright shade, and I expect them all to be very happy here until at least the end of October.

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I have been looking for a good pot for an  A. ‘Victoriae’ lady fern and some Caladiums, still waiting for their permanent spot.

I was delighted to find this green pot, that had room for both a fern and several Caladiums, at The Great Big Greenhouse this weekend.  The Great Big Greenhouse is my favorite source for beautiful and interesting pots of all shapes and sizes.

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I started several hundred Caladiums this spring and still have some in nursery pots.  I ordered several new varieties, and also had great success saving Caladiums that grew last summer.

Part of the fun of trying new Caladium hybrids is to observe as each develops its full colors and patterns.  Each leaf is unique, but the leaves change as they emerge and grow, their colors becoming more intense with age.  I have grown C. ‘White Delight’ for the last few summers, appreciating its tough, beautiful leaves that last well into the fall.  I am trying C. ‘Starburst’ for the first time this year.

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Caladium ‘Starburst,’ a Caladium for full sun that was developed by Dr. Robert Hartman at Classic Caladiums.

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In addition to the pot, the GBGH also had a lovely Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae’, also called ‘Queen of Green’ lady fern, which has divided tips on each frond.  I have been holding another A. ‘Victoriae’ in its original nursery pot since last fall, waiting for the right pot to transplant it out of its nursery pot into something more permanent.

I was very glad that I had picked up the additional ‘Queen of Green’ fern on Saturday, which fits this more shallow pot;  because the other’s roots were deeper than this little green pot allowed.

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This unusual lady fern is sometimes hard to find.  I first noticed it on Tony Avent’s Plant Delights site several years ago, ordered one, and lost it within its first year.  I am always happy to buy larger plants of interesting cultivars, locally.

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The larger A. ‘Victoriae,’ that I kept in a nursery pot over winter, ended up going into a pot where a Helleborus had been growing.

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I ended up switching the larger lady fern out with a Helleborus that can spend the rest of the summer in a plain plastic pot, while it rests and gets ready to bloom next winter. 

The lady ferns, hardy to Zone 4, can stay in their ceramic pots through the winter.  They are deciduous, and so will go dormant as winter approaches.  The Caladiums will need to go dormant too.  Hardy only to Zone 10, the Caladiums will spend the winter inside.

I can fill out their spaces in the pots with spring bulbs, pansies, Italian Arum, hardy Cyclamen, or even ivy.  These will be ‘four season pots’ with the lady ferns as anchor plants that remain in place year round.

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C. ‘White Delight’

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Even at the end of July, I am still planting out new arrangements and switching out plants in older ones.  We still have a good three months of good growing weather here in Williamsburg.

Spring planted pots may be looking a little tired by now.  After the intense heat earlier this month, most pots and baskets need a boost to see them through until fall.

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The displaced Hellebore will have a chance to recover for the next few months in deep shade. They really don’t like our summer heat…

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If your pots are looking a bit tired and shabby, please don’t give up in the face of August.  Sometimes a good pruning, a foliar feed of fish emulsion, and attention to hydration is all a potted plant needs to bounce back.

Other times, you know its time has come and gone.  Just dig it out and replace it with something fresh and interesting.  This is the time to find some excellent deals at your local garden center.

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Late July and early August are still great times to plant.  Just keep an eye on those pots during our remaining hot summer days, site them carefully, and enjoy the many pleasures these plant treasures will give.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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This is one of our Tiger Swallowtail butterflies feeding on a Zinnia at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  Enjoy the Butterfly Festival at the Garden this coming Saturday and Sunday, 9-4.

 

A Cool Fern for Shady Spots: Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’

Anthyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’

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There’s a new Japanese painted fern available to light up a dark corner in your garden.  I read about it this spring, and was very pleased to find it at a local nursery.

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Metallicum’ in a mixed planting with Caladiums. This photo was taken just after planting.  I expect everything will fill in for a lush effect by later in the season.

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’ sports a pale green frond with silver highlights.  It is bi-pinnate, with the center of each pinnule light and silvery, fading to a more medium green along its edges.  Like many related cultivars, ‘Metallicum’ has a beautiful red rib down the middle of each deeply divided frond.  New fronds emerge in a rosette, and several of these small clumps may fill a pot.

Each clump will eventually grow to around 18″ tall, growing a bit wider and fuller each year.   Expect this fern to die back after frost, to return larger and stronger in mid-spring.

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‘Metallicum’ with Caladium.  Both are very small divisions yet, nowhere near their mature size.

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Hardy in zones 4-9, this very hardy fern may be left in a pot through the winter in our Zone 7 garden, with high confidence that it will return in spring.  It will benefit from shade and shelter on our sweltering summer afternoons.

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum in a mixed planting

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Japanese painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum,  are very hardy, deciduous perennials that clump and spread.   They can be grown in rich moist soil in a garden bed, below shrubs, or in pots and baskets.

They make a nice ground cover under small trees, and I especially like them under a Japanese Maple.  Grow them in deep shade if you need to, but they will take partial sun.  Native to Asia, they will hybridize with other lady fern species.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea shares a pot with Japanese painted fern. Vinca and Mayapples carpet the ground under Camellia shrubs and deciduous trees.

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In fact, a very similar fern is the hybrid Athyrium ‘Ghost,’ which is a cross between our North American native  Athyrium felix-femina and Athyrium niponicum var. pictumA. ‘Ghost‘ can grow to 30″ after it is established and is hardy in Zones 4-8b.  Lady ferns tend to spread over time, and so this will form an expanding clump in moist soil in partial shade.  Easy to grow, the main rule is to never let the roots dry out completely.

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This is ‘Ghost’ in its second year in this bed, growing with Ajuga, Lamium and an autumn fern.

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I like the pale silvery glow of A. ‘Ghost,’ and have planted several of them over the years.  I always look for this particular fern at end of season clearance sales, and was very happy to find two in a flat of mixed potted ferns at our friends’ Homestead Garden Center a few weeks ago.  They sat in my holding area for the better part of two weeks, which accounts for the slight browning on some of the fronds.  Nursery pots generally need daily watering, especially with ferns.

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Here I am dividing a new acquisition of ‘Ghost’ into two parts before planting the smaller division into this hypertufa pot.  Notice the stems of each frond are a lovely burgundy, which contrasts so well with the fronds.

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Now that I’m able to plant them out, I am dividing the clumps growing in each nursery pot and spreading them about in larger pots with mixed plantings.  As each clump grows, I’ll eventually re-pot it or plant it out in the garden.

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This newly divided little Athyrium ‘Ghost’ is ready to grow in an old, hypertufa pot with a division of Dichondra ‘Silver Falls.’

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The entire collection of Japanese painted fern cultivars, native to Asia, perform extremely well in our garden.  I have collected a variety of them over the years.  They differ a little in color and size.  They vary from perhaps 12″ tall to about 36″ tall.  Some have more burgundy coloration; there is one I’ve not grown, A. ‘Lemon Cream,’ that is almost a creamy yellow.  The color of each frond shifts and changes as it ages, but all have a slightly silvery sheen.

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Branford Beauty’

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I was very excited to find Athyrium naponicum var. pictum ‘Godzilla’ at a shop last summer.  As you might guess from its name, this is a large cultivar that  introduced by Plant Delights Nursery about 10 years ago.  Their catalog claims it spread into a clump 36″ tall and nearly 7′ wide.  I can only wonder how long growth of this vigor takes; it hasn’t yet happened in our garden.

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The difference in coloration and form between ‘Ghost’ on the right and ‘Metallicum’ on the left is subtle, but noticeable.  “Ghost’ will grow a bit taller (2′) than will ‘Metallicum’ (12″-18”).

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The most interesting differences among the various Japanese pained ferns come in how their fronds are shaped and further divided.  Some have forked tips to their fronds, and the axis of each frond may twist and curl.  Some cultivars spread a little more aggressively than others, but all of them send up new clumps from their rhizomes and will continue to multiply and renew themselves as the years go by.

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Athyrium niponicum “Apple Court”

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Not only do the painted ferns grow well for us, but they can grow and prosper without getting grazed by rabbits and deer.  Ferns are generally safe from grazing, though I miss a frond of other varieties from time to time when deer have gotten into our garden.  But not from our Japanese painted fern cultivars.  They just keep growing and getting better throughout the season and better from year to year.  It may take a year or two for them to begin to bulk up and establish, but once they do, they are very persistent.

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I am looking forward to growing ‘Metallicum’ and seeing how it performs compared to our other varieties.  I am in a bit of a gardening lull at the moment as I wait for a recently discovered case of Lyme’s disease to clear up.  It took a few weeks from bite to rash before I realized that the slow to heal bite was causing my health concerns, and slowing down my progress on the usual early summer gardening tasks.  Our early and intense summer heat played their part too.

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I appreciate the doc who prescribed aggressively for me and expect to be back up to speed sometime soon.   But until then, I find myself giving plants away, or simply planting them into larger pots, until I can return to normal gardening.  I’m sure these hardy ferns will soon be growing in glowing good health and give a long season of enjoyment.

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Japanese painted ferns are a good choice for gardeners who want to enjoy their plants year after year without having to fuss with them.  Mulch them, water them, and let them grow…. 

I am sure that this newest cultivar in the collection, ‘Metallicum,’ will prove a beautiful highlight in our forest garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Here is another division of ‘Metallicum,’ ready to grow on in the shade of the larger autumn fern.

 

Wordless Wednesday: After the Rain

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“They both listened silently to the water,

which to them was not just water,

but the voice of life, the voice of Being,

the voice of perpetual Becoming.”
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Hermann Hesse

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

Green Thumb Tip #24: Always Just Beginning….

Coleus leaves, trimmed from the bottom of a stem cutting, have rooted in their vase.

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There is a certain exuberance, a fresh burst of energy in beginnings.  Youth has glamour, vitality. 

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Most plants allow us to tap into that youthful energy as we ‘re-new’ them.

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Cutting back stems stimulates new growth.  Remove flower stems (on plants grown primarily for their foliage) as they develop to keep the plant youthful, compact and vigorous.

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As we approach mid-June, you might assume that spring’s fresh beginnings are behind us for another year.  Not so.  We are always just beginning in the garden.

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This Caladium leaf broke away from the tuber as I was transplanting it into a pot. Caladium leaves with even just a bit of the tuber still on the petiole will root in water.  A new leaf is already beginning to grow (underwater) and once planted into soil, this rooted leaf will soon grow into a beautiful new plant.  A flower is beginning to grow on the left, which I’ll remove before potting up the leaf.

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I am still planting up pots and still planting perennials and herbs out into the garden.

Garden centers still have a pretty good selection of herbs, annuals, perennials and shrubs.  As you might expect, many of the starts sitting in greenhouses and garden centers are getting overgrown and pot-bound.  They demand a bit of skillful handling to perform their best.

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I bought several pots of oregano a few weeks back.  They were already overgrown, leggy, and some already had flower buds forming.  I didn’t get to use them for my intended purpose at the time, and they’ve been sitting in the nursery.

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Do you see the new growth emerging from below the cuts on some of the stems?

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But I did cut a few stems from each plant, not quite two weeks ago, to share in an arrangement.  And where I trimmed them back, new growth is already bursting forth.  New growth has appeared lower on the remaining stems, and new growth has popped up from the roots.

Now, I expect that the cut stems may have sprouted a few roots in their vase, too.  They can be tucked into a pot of soil or a prepared bed and allowed to grow on.  Stems that have already formed flower buds may root more slowly or may not at all.  But oregano grows in the mint family.  All of the mints are immensely robust.

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If you have the chance to pick up a few late season plants at the nursery, then consider cutting back those leggy stems right away.  Root them if you wish, discard them if you must.  But understand that by cutting away the top growth, you stimulate the plant to immediately send out fresh new growth.

Cutting back, or pinching back, stimulates growth hormones at all of the leaf nodes below each cut.  The plant needs its leaves to produce food, and is anxious to replace those lost.

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In the garden, old growth is always falling away and returning to the soil even as new growth emerges. It is a continuing cycle of growth,  and the decay that fuels new growth.

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When you plant the start, notice if it is already ‘root-bound.’  If the roots have grown into the contours of the pot you know they have been crowded and stressed.

Water the plant well, and then take a moment to tease out the crossed roots on the bottom of the root ball.  Gently tug some of the roots along the sides loose so they can begin to grow out into the soil.  Without being rough,  understand that pulling the roots out a bit, even trimming off the bottom inch of the root ball if it is congested, will stimulate new root growth.

Just be careful to water the plant in well,  offer some nutrition,  protect it from fierce sun for a few days, and let it establish itself.

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Ready to grow on, this oregano has found a new home.

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I bought a beautiful but leggy coleus and immediately took cuttings last week.  It is wise to trim the bottom pair of leaves from the stem before rooting it in water, but the leaves were so beautiful I hated to throw them away.  So, I stuck them into a tiny jar of water to enjoy until they either rooted or faded.  I’ve had to refill the jar with drips from the sink twice a day as the leaves have proven thirsty.  But they rewarded me with roots!

I am often re-working established pots and don’t have room to dig a hole large enough for a big root ball.  Cuttings are a perfect solution.  A much smaller hole will embrace the smaller root system of a newly rooted cutting or recently rooted tuber.

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New Caladium roots; this leaf is ready to plant into a potted arrangement where I want a little color in the shade.

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You might also try dividing up a newly purchased plant.  As long as you can cut or pull apart rooted stems, those rooted stems will soon grow back into full plants.

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I pulled apart 4″ pots of Dichondra and Verbena into several divisions when planting up this basket.  Annual Verbena often grows new roots from any stem in contact with the soil and can be snipped away, its roots pulled out of the pot, and planted separately.  Each division will now take off and grow into a full sized plant.

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A stem cutting from an old plant, rooted, becomes a new plant.  A division of an old perennial, replanted, becomes a fresh new perennial.

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Larger potted perennials can often be split into divisions and planted in much smaller holes.

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Yes, it seems counter-intuitive, paradoxical, maniacal and cruel.  All of that cutting, pulling apart, breaking pieces away and gouging out the ‘eyes’ of tubers leads to a plant’s re-invigoration and renewal.

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Keep planting, keep coaxing your plants to grow to their full potential, and keep your own gardener’s eye and outlook fresh, too.  Try a new plant, or a new combination of old plants.

Try a new gardening skill.  Empty out some old pots and begin again with fresh soil and fresh ideas.

We keep our excitement alive when we are always just beginning.

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Can you spot the dragonfly?

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,

but in the expert’s there are few”
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Shunryu Suzuki

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Daucus carota subsp. sativus, flowers grown from a grocery store carrot ‘planted’ this spring.

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“Moment after moment,

everyone comes out from nothingness.

This is the true joy of life.”
.

Shunryu Suzuki

 

Green Thumb Tip # 22: Do the Math

Green Thumb Tip # 21: The Mid-Summer Snack 

Green Thumb Tip # 23: From Small Beginnings

 

 

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