Winter Houseguests: The Begonias

 

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Our Begonias move inside sometime in late October.  And we entertain them for the wintery half of the year, until they can go back out to the fresh air and sunshine in late April.  We add a few new cultivars every year, and every year it seems the collection grows from cuttings, too.

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They show appreciation with fresh flowers and new growth, glowing in the rare winter sunshine.

Begonias reward their grower with gorgeous foliage whether in bloom, or not.  Their leaves may be plain or spotted, round, curlique, angel wing, shiny or dull.  Some are gargantuan; others remain quite small. You’ll find Begonias with any color leaves from apple green to purply black.

Like Heucheras, some cultivars’ leaves are even orange!

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Although most of our Begonias spend winter camping out in the garage, a few make the cut to live in the house with the cat and the gardeners.  They drop many of their summer leaves in our arid heated home,  but new ones will take their place by early summer.

Begonias prefer to dry out a little between waterings.  Even so, I try to check them and top them off several times a week.  I offer well-diluted Orchid food a few times a month to those in the house, to keep them growing and encourage them to bloom.

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This Begonia blooms almost continually. A tall Angel Wing type, its stems will grow to 6" or more if you don't prune them back.

This Begonia blooms almost continually in bright light. A tall Angel Wing type, its stems will grow to 6″ or more if you don’t prune them back.

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Late winter is a great time to find B. Rex, and other small Begonia cuttings growing in tiny pots.  I picked up two new cultivars last weekend at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond.  Neither was named, but one was sold as a ‘dwarf Begonia‘ and has the tiniest leaves I’ve found on a Begonia, yet.  I am looking forward to learning what this one does over time.

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The 'dwarf' Begonia I found at the Great Big Greenhouse last weekend. These are the tiniest Begonia leaves I've ever seen!

The ‘dwarf’ Begonia I found at the Great Big Greenhouse last weekend. These are the tiniest Begonia leaves I’ve ever seen!

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The other is an Angel Wing type, and likely will make a good hanging basket plant.  Small and inexpensive now, I can find a little place  for  these grow indoors over the next few months.  Each new Begonia will grow  large enough to look good in a pot or hanging basket basket by the time it is warm enough to move them out for the summer.

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Although a tiny rooted cutting now, this will likely grow into a standard sized Begonia by early summer.

Although a tiny rooted cutting now, this will likely grow into a standard sized Begonia by early summer.

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If your gardener’s fingers are itching to grow, but it is still too cold to work outside, please consider adopting a Begonia.

It will prove a rewarding companion so long as you can provide bright, indirect light and temperatures of 50F or above.  These beautiful plants want to live.  Even if you make a mistake or two along the way, most will recover and come back strong.

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When you need to prune them back, the cuttings will root well in water.   In just a few weeks, your rooted cutting will be ready for a pot of its own.   A few rooted cuttings planted in a basket in April will grow into a gorgeous  display by July.

 

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This is a second rooted cutting I picked up last weekend of the same Begonia cultivar. This two piece pot has a reservoir to keep the soil evenly moist. How cute!

This is a second rooted cutting I picked up last weekend of the same Begonia cultivar. This two piece pot has a reservoir to keep the soil evenly moist. How cute!

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 Long lived and companionable, Begonias make agreeable winter house guests, freshening the air and filling one’s home with beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 5: Keep Planting!

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You’ve heard, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

And gardeners know that any bare spot of earth, whether in a pot or in the ground, will soon sprout a weed.  That is why it is important to keep planting desirable plants in any space which comes vacant in the garden.

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Crabgrass seems to appear overnight this time of year, even through a layer of mulch.

Crabgrass seems to appear overnight this time of year, even through a layer of mulch.  Weeds grow quickly to fill any bare earth during the hot, moist Virginia summer.

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Gardening is a dynamic art.  Things rarely stay the same for two days running.  There is always growth and there is always decline.

Whether a plant simply finishes its season, like spring bulbs; is harvested; grows diseased; desiccates in the heat; or is eaten by pests; these plants need to be replaced as they disappear.  Experienced gardeners understand this rhythm and plan for it.

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As Arum itallicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring. Calladiums will fill its place for the summer.


As Arum italicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring. Caladiums  and ferns will fill its place during summer.

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Brent Heath, owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, demonstrated this principle to me as we toured his gardens last month.  He showed me the packets of Larkspur and other seeds he routinely carries in his pocket.

When weeding, he sows what he wants to grow in any newly vacant spot.  If he harvests, he immediately plants.  Fading leaves in his Daffodil fields were first mown, and then overplanted with a summer cover crop to build the soil.  Prevent weeds from growing in the first place by sowing what you want the land to support.

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Spring bulbs will have faded and melted away by late May. What will fill their spot for the rest of the season?

Spring bulbs will have faded and melted away by late May. What will fill their spot for the rest of the season?

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If you observe a meadow, you’ll find a variety of plants all growing together, covering every bit of Earth.    They form a community.  This is nature’s way.  Keeping the ground covered slows evaporation, inhibits germination of weed seeds, makes the garden more productive, and simply looks nice!

Rather than allow for gaps in the garden as plants fade, have a plan to fill the space with a new plant.

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This Begonia, grown from a rooted cutting, will fill this pot until frost. Evergreen ivy and Dianthus carry it through the other seasons.

This Begonia, grown from a rooted cutting, will fill its pot until frost. Evergreen ivy and Dianthus carry it through the other seasons.

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There are several ways to accomplish this:

  1.  Grow bulbs and perennials which will always grow in a particular season, even if they disappear for the rest of the year.  Planted once, they fill their niche indefinitely. Plant something else over them as they fade.
  2. Root cuttings from plants as you prune, so there is a supply of rooted cuttings ready to go out to fill spaces when needed.  I keep Begonia, Impatiens and Coleus cuttings rooting through much of the year.  There are many annual and perennial plants which will root easily, some, like Pelargonium, can often be cut and then planted directly where you want them to grow.

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    A Coleus cutting will soon fill a gap left by faded Daffodils, and never filled by the Zantedeschia bulbs which failed to sprout this spring. Creeping Jenny and Dichondra are covering the bare soil.

    A Coleus cutting will soon fill a gap left by faded Daffodils, and never filled by the Zantedeschia bulbs which failed to sprout this spring. Creeping Jenny and Dichondra are growing over the bare soil in this pot.

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  3. Purchase seedlings seasonally to refresh pots, baskets, and garden beds.  Replacing spent summer annuals with Violas and ornamental Kale would be an example of this principle.  Likewise, winter annuals are pulled and replaced each spring.  Good garden centers will have small starter plants for sale year round.
  4. Sow seeds for annuals, herbs and vegetables as needed to quickly fill empty spaces.  This includes succession planting of edible crops such as lettuce, cilantro, carrots, spinach and radishes.  Herbs and fast vegetables like radishes can be sown in pots, window boxes, and baskets along with ornamental plants.

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    Iris is an easy perennial to divide to fill in spots. Although it only blooms once each year, the leaves fill the space year round, and continue to expand.

    Iris is an easy perennial to divide to fill in spots. Although it only blooms once each year, the leaves fill the space year round, and continue to expand.

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  5. Divide perennials as needed and re-plant divisions to fill gaps and holes.  Many perennials will not mind having a division dug from the edge of the clump, and that division will grow on as a new plant.  This works better in the spring and fall, and during wet cloudy weather than during summer’s heat.  Divisions need to stay hydrated until their roots take hold.
  6. Plant ‘grocery store’ finds such as ginger roots, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic cloves, cactus pads, onion sets and even hydroponic lettuce sold still on its roots.  The grocery store is also a source for small pots of herbs and edible seeds.  Take a fresh look at the produce department to see what you can find that will grow on in your garden.

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    Plant in layers so that if a plant is lost, others are already there to grow and fill the space.

    Plant in layers.  The tall plant in the pot is Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups.’  Daffodils filled this pot in April; their foliage just turning brown and melting away now in July.

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  7. Plant in layers, including a ground cover as well as mid-sized and larger plants.  If a mid-sized plant finishes or fails, the ground cover remains.  Other plants can grow to fill in gaps left by plants which fail or finish.
  8. Allow plants to spread and to self-seed.  Some plants will spread by rhizome, covering a bit more real estate as time passes.  They form clumps and colonies.  Other plants will spread their seeds around, appearing some time later in surprising places.  Allowing plants you admire to spread helps fill your garden at no additional expense.

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    Coleus rooting in a jar makes a nice arrangement, and keeps a supply of rooted cuttings ready to plant where needed.

    Coleus rooting in a jar makes a nice arrangement, and keeps a supply of rooted cuttings ready to plant where needed.

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    “Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

    I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

    Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

    Many thanks to Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios, who posted her first tip:  ‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots!  Please visit her post for beautiful instructions on how to prepare roots for re-potting.

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right

  1. ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

    ‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

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    Volunteer Black Eyed Susans have colonized the sunny edge of this clump of Colocasia.

    Volunteer Black Eyed Susans have colonized the sunny edge of this clump of Colocasia.  Colocasia spread with runners and can be divided very easily.

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    Woodland Gnome 2016

So Much to Love: African Rose Mallow

The second of the African Rose Mallow shrubs I purchased this season, planted in compost near our bog garden began the season as a rooted cutting in a 3" pot.

The second of the African Rose Mallow shrubs I purchased this season, planted in compost near our bog garden, began the season as a rooted cutting in a 3″ pot.

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We have been growing a new (to us) variety of Hibiscus this summer known as “African Rose Mallow.” I found a small pot of it in the water garden section at our local Homestead Garden Center in late May, and added it to our new bog garden.

There are so many things I like about this small shrub:  First, nothing has bothered it all summer.  Not a single leaf or twig has been nibbled by deer, rabbit, squirrel, or insect.  Its leaves remain pristine.

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And what gorgeous leaves!  Their  delicately cut silhouette reminds me of a Japanese Maple’s leaf.  The color has remained a rich, coppery red throughout the summer.

Red leaves on bright red stems certainly makes a bright statement in this area where I’m also growing so many chartreuse and purple leaved plants.  This African Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella, has won my heart over the past three months for its eye-candy appeal and sturdy constitution.

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It is a fast grower.  I’ve repotted the original plant twice, and it is already showing root growth from its drainage hole again.  I bought a second plant when I spotted it a few weeks later and planted it directly into compost around the edge of the bog.  Its growth has been even more vigorous than its sibling grown in a pot.  Both plants have grown taller than me, but neither has yet bloomed.  I’m still hoping to see buds form and blooms open before frost.

About three weeks ago I finally trimmed back the potted plant to encourage a bit more branching along the main stems, and plunked the two stems I pruned away into a vase of water by the kitchen sink.

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My friends know my kitchen sink, flanked by two windows, is my magical rooting spot in the house.  One will always find stems of several somethings rooting in this bright, moist, protected spot where I can keep a close eye on their progress.

And these tall stems of the African Rose Mallow did not disappoint.  Although the stems were semi-hard when cut, the leaves have shown no signs of wilt throughout the process.  I first noticed the new white roots on Sunday afternoon, and they have grown enough this week for me to pot the stems up today.

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I’ve returned the rotted cuttings to the bog garden for now, but I’m considering where I would like to plant them out once their roots establish.  It will definitely be somewhere it the front garden where I can enjoy them against the other Hibiscus which delight us all summer.

The H. acetosella are rated as hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  All of our native Hibiscus enjoy damp soils and are often found growing on river banks and near swamps.  Yet, they make it in our drier garden just fine, with a little watering during dry spells.

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I’m planning to root another set of cuttings and produce  a few more of these luscious rose colored Hibiscus plants.  The leaves are edible, if one is hard pressed for a meal, and may be prepared like spinach.  They retain their color when cooked.

The leaves are also used as a medicinal herb in parts of Africa and South America.  They have anti-inflammatory properties and may also be used to treat anemia.  This is a good specimen for true forest food producing gardens, and I’m a little surprised to have not found it before this spring.

If you enjoy hardy perennial Hibiscus and love plants with beautiful foliage, this African Rose Mallow may be to your liking, too.  But you only need to buy one, and then take as many cuttings as you like to increase your collection.

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Our newly rooted cuttings, potted and returned to the bog garden to grow on for a few weeks before we plant them out into the garden.

Our newly rooted cuttings, potted and returned to the bog garden to grow on for a few weeks before we plant them out into the garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

The Gift: H. ‘Lemon Lime’ In Bloom

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“Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them,

not the merits of who receives them.”

  Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Last July, Michael Laico offered to trade plants with those who follow his woodworking blog.  Michael maintains a lovely woodland garden on his mountain in South Carolina, and listed the plants he could offer as divisions.

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I was interested, and soon we moved from his comments to emails negotiating our trade.  Michael sent me a division of his yellow Japanese Iris along with a bonus gift of his Hosta ‘Lemon Lime.’

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I learned that Michael loves Hosta, and grows many varieties in his garden.  I also love Hosta, but discoverd early on that those I plant out in this garden are subject to grazing by rabbits and deer.

I now grow some Hostas in  pots on the deck to protect them.  And Michael promised me these H. ‘Lemon Lime’ are miniatures, and perfect for culture in a pot.

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We exchanged plants in late July, with an eye to the weather.  I planted both Iris and Hosta in containers to protect them while they established.  The Iris went into a garden bed this spring and are growing on well.

The Hosta still grow in their original pots.  And their growth this spring has been spectacular!

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Hosta make a good ground cover.  When not in bloom, they often recede into the background of a planting scheme.  These miniature Hostas, especially, don’t scream for your attention, like my Begonia Rex and showy Coleus.

But now that they have bloomed, I see they are truly stunning in their own way. Hostas attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.  I expect to see hummingbirds hovering around these blossoms any day now.

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Their delicate flowers show exquisite markings.

Michael sent enough divisions that I divided them between two pots.  After putting as many as I dared in the decorative glazed pot, the remainder went into a spare nursery pot with a rooted Begonia cutting.  Somehow a bit of hardy Begonia grandis found its way into the pot as well.

I like the Hosta on its own merits, but also as a ground cover under a larger potted plant.  Both pots of Hosta would probably benefit from division after they bloom, they’ve grown so well.

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“Give freely to the world these gifts of love and compassion.

Do not concern yourself with how much

you receive in return,

just know in your heart it will be returned.”

Steve Maraboli

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This post is to thank Michael once again for his gift of healthy plants, and to reinvigorate the notion of garden bloggers sharing plants with one another.

Gwennie recently made the generous offer to send me a start of her Begonia, ‘Muddy Waters,’ which I covet.  As much as I would love to accept her offer, I believe border inspections might prevent it from reaching me from her home in Belgium.  I’ve thanked her and continue my search to locate this stunning Begonia in the United States.

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This cane Begonia has been with us for many years now.  It roots easily in water, and I've shared cuttings with many friends.

This cane Begonia has been with us for many years now. It roots easily in water, and I’ve shared cuttings with many friends.

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But I enjoy sharing plants with blogging friends and neighbors.  The Pelargonium cuttings Eliza recently shared continue to root on my kitchen counter.  I planning to send her some of our re-blooming German Iris when this heat finally breaks!

Neighborhood friends pass plants among ourselves routinely, and always learn something interesting as we share.  My garden is populated with beautiful living gifts, constant reminders of loved ones and friends.

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“A gift consists not in what is done or given,

but in the intention of the giver or doer.”

 Seneca

 

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Deb, at Unexpected In Common Hours,  passed on another gift of sorts, yesterday, when she asked me to participate in the ” Three Days Three Quotes” blogging challenge.  I enjoy sharing quotations in my posts, so this challenge is a pleasure to accept.

I’ve learned that when sharing plants with someone, it is important to make sure they can accept the plants, first. Can they provide the conditions a plant needs to thrive?  How much space is needed?  Is this a plant they will enjoy growing?

A surprise gift can become a burden, especially when that gift is alive.  As with any other gift, there has to be a certain “fit” between the gift and the one who receives.

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These odd 'Under the Sea' Coleus may be an acquired taste.  I love them, but would not offer a cutting unless a friend admired them first.  They grow here with Oxalis triangularis, which I've shared with many friends.

These odd ‘Under the Sea’ Coleus may be an acquired taste. I love them, but would not offer a cutting unless a friend admired them first. They grow here with Oxalis triangularis, which I’ve shared with many friends.

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Which brings us back to this latest blogging challenge.  I’ve recently read some interesting essays by fellow bloggers  about these awards and challenges which make the rounds.  To some, they have the icky feel of chain letters.

Maybe there are just too many lately.  Maybe they pressure bloggers to reveal more about themselves than they wish, or to post more frequently than they comfortably can.  I don’t want to pass on something which makes another uncomfortable.

That is why I have decided to participate in this three day challenge, but not to pass it on this time.

However, if you would like to take part in this simple three day challenge, please let me know and I will be delighted to invite you.  I’m happy to pass on the invitation to those happy to receive it!

Let gifts always be those things which bring our loved ones joy, like this beautiful Hosta, and so many other beautiful creatures growing in our garden.

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“It is a tremendous gift

to simply and truly listen to another.

  Bryant McGill

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

 

Mystery Begonia

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Do you know her name?

I would love to know, although she is wonderful whether named or not.

I found this lovely Begonia in a farmer’s market plant stall nearly 10 years ago, and bought her on sight… as a gift for my dad.

He loved her, and kept her over winter in his solarium.  He gave me cuttings, and he and I have both grown those cuttings on and taken more ever since.

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We both grow this lovely Begonia now,  and I’ve passed on cuttings to many Begonia loving friends over the years.

This cane Begonia can grow fairly tall; to at least 3′.    Both stems and leaves are sumptuous red, and the generous bracts of  flowers rose pink.  She blooms year round, taking short breaks between outbreaks of loveliness.

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I keep this cane Begonia watered but not wet, and feed with dilute fertilizer monthly.  Cane Begonias have harder, waxier stems than the tuberous Begonias, and so don’t rot easily at the soil line when the soil is too wet.  These are sturdy, forgiving plants.

I  also sprinkle Osmocote on the soil two or three times each year, and trim back long canes from time to time when they get too lanky.   I always plop those pruned canes into a jar of water to allow them to root.

Cane Begonias prefer partial shade, but appreciate time out of doors in the summer.  When we first move them out, they often lose leaves for a few weeks.  These are quickly replaced with sturdier, brighter leaves ready to process the stronger light available in summer.

They don’t like cold or drafts and so come back inside before the weather turns cold.

Deer normally leave cane Begonias alone.  However, they will nibble leaves from time to time when especially hungry.  We’ve had deer somehow sneaking into our garden too frequently in recent weeks.  And they have grazed some of our cane Begonias.  Such a waste….

The remedy is to throw a few whole cloves of garlic into each pot.  Deer hate the aroma of garlic.  Although unsightly, the garlic will protect the plants from grazing.

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This is one of my favorite Begonias from cuttings.  I bought one plant a decade ago, and continue to start new ones from it.  I've given cuttings from this special Begonia to many friends.

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My father asked me to re-pot his red Begonia last weekend.  I think it might be the original plant…

We moved her up to a 14″ coir lined basket, gave her some fresh soil and a sprinkle of Osmocote; and hung her back in her shady summer spot.

Oh, the joy of a basket of cane Begonias in the summer.

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She will cover herself in flowers through all of the warm months to come.

Do you know her name?  After many attempts to find this plant online, I’m finally asking for help.  Surely someone else has grown her, too, and can add a bit of information to aid my quest.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

One Word Photo Challenge: Teal

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An annual Impatiens plant lives on through winter in a pot in our living room.  When it bloomed again in February, I cut stems for my In A Vase on Monday post on a  cold and snowy Monday.

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Although the flowers faded, both stems rooted.

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In fact, they have grown huge root systems in just a few weeks.  This is such a beautiful affirmation of spring stirring in the plants!

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Since teal is on my mind this week, I found a beautiful teal pot for the rooted stems, and potted them up with a division of lady fern.

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They can grow on together in the pot until it is warm enough to move them outside into a hanging basket or a larger pot.

Impatiens bloom non-stop all summer long. They love moist fertile soil in partial shade.

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They will grow to nearly two feet high if planted in good, rich soil.  They are heavy feeders and appreciate good soil and regular feeding.  A single plant will fill a hanging basket.

Impatiens are so easily rooted in water that I often buy a hanging basket of double impatiens when they first appear in the spring, then take lots of cuttings while also cutting that plant back.  The original plant grows back bushier and stronger, with more blooms.  The cuttings can soon be planted out as independent plants to enjoy all summer.  This is a neat trick when you need a lot of the same cultivar of impatiens for a large planting.

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Our over-wintered plant has long, winter stretched stems, as you might expect.  It needs a good trim before growing on this summer.  So I’m helping it along by cutting another stem for the vase.

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At this rate, I can fill the vase indefinitely.  Would you call this re-cycling?  I think it is a beautiful way to get us through this next bout of wintery weather and continue preparations for spring!

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With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells  for her

One Word Photo Challenge:  Teal

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

In A Vase On Monday

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Today’s vase of flowers reflects what is growing and blooming in our garden indoors.

We were thrilled to see the Impatiens, tucked into a pot of Caladium tubers back in November, in bloom this weekend.  These are the first Impatiens flowers we’ve seen since autumn.   We expect these cuttings will root and grow on through the coming summer.

The Caladiums have also decided to offer some fresh winter leaves.  I selected two tiny ones for this vase.  A few Cyclamen flowers and a Jewel Orchid stem complete the arrangement.

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We are happy to enjoy a vase of these bright summer flowers, knowing that at least a few of these stems will grow roots and live on. Our indoor garden offers enough flowers to get us through until the garden outside wakes up to spring.

Today’s vase was purchased from the potter at a show a few years ago.  It is very ‘handmade,’ and eccentric, but we admired its free form exuberance and bright glaze.  Sadly, it is signed only with an initial, and I don’t recall the artist’s name.

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The glass ball off to the side is by Portland, Oregon glass artist Paris Birdwell.   I met her at a show  in Oregon last September, and had to bring this unusual piece home.

You can see our stark winter garden through the window.  The hazel tree is absolutely covered with little catkins dancing around in the breeze.

It just looks cold, doesn’t it? 

Our garden is frozen rock solid now, after a winter storm front swept through Saturday evening, leaving Arctic air in its wake.  Our high today was around 20 F, and all of the waterways around us are freezing.  The Violas I had hoped to cut for the vase today have collapsed in the cold, and snow will cover them by nightfall.  They are hardy, though, and can perhaps  be cut next week, instead.

Today we are content to stay inside, where it’s warm enough for flowers, cats and people to grow on happily, and in comfort.

Please visit Cathy, at Rambling In the Garden, to see the beautiful vase of early spring flowers she brought in from her garden today.  Cathy hosts this Monday Vase challenge each week, and you’ll find links in her comments to vases arranged by many other enthusiastic gardeners.

This is an international challenge, and I always find it interesting to see how the seasons are progressing, elsewhere.  If you’re feeling even a little inspired, please pull together a little vase of your own with whatever you can scavenge locally.  Wonderful surprises wait for you to notice them…..

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Building a Terrarium

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Do you like miniature gardens and “little worlds”?  I downloaded samples of several books about miniature gardens, fairy gardens, and terrariums on Saturday looking for inspiration and fresh ideas.

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Terrariums and fairy gardens first caught my imagination in childhood.  I love that terrariums are largely closed ecological systems, mimicking the water cycle of our planet where water evaporates, condenses, and then returns to the soil.  Once constructed, a balanced terrarium can live indefinitely; or at least until the plants outgrow their vessel.

These are great little gardens for those with little space, or for those who want to bring a bit of nature into their professional environment.  There isn’t any anxiety over keeping them properly watered or making a mess, with a little garden in a bottle.

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Divisions used in this little garden include a golden creeping Sedum and a division of peacock spikemoss.

Divisions used in this little garden include a golden creeping Sedum and a division of peacock spikemoss.  I broke these off of pots I’m overwintering in the garage.

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My point in building this little terrarium, beyond the fun and beauty of it, is to demonstrate a few of the “tips and tricks” which make it an easy project.  Yes, so easy that you can pull it together in an afternoon, and then spend the evening admiring it with friends over a glass of wine

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An olive oil bottle from Trader Joes. Needs a bit more scrubbing to get the rest of that glue off!

This  olive oil bottle came from Trader Joe’s.   It needs a bit more scrubbing to get the rest of that glue off!

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My bottle came full of olive oil from Trader Joes.  The olive oil was delicious, by the way, and I just saved the bottle in the pantry because it was too pretty to throw away.

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Agates from Oregon beaches have a new home now in the terrarium. They're prettiest when wet, anyway. The scarf is one I just finished for a friend.

Agates from Oregon beaches have a new home now in the terrarium. They’re prettiest when wet, anyway.  The scarf is one I just finished for a friend.

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The stones are mostly agates picked up off beaches in Oregon.  There is a layer of reindeer moss from the craft store, left over from my moss-covered wreathes, and then another layer of glass shards from a bag of assorted glass purchased at the crafts store for other projects.

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New potting soil and bits of plant materials from the garden complete the project.  My only new investment here was a bit of time on Sunday afternoon.

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All terrariums need an inch or so of loose stones as their base layer.  Not only are they pretty and interesting to view from the glass, but they form the drainage system of the environment.  Any water you add to the terrarium, which isn’t absorbed, drains down into the stones so the soil isn’t waterlogged.

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Many builders add a little bit of aquarium charcoal to this layer of stones to help filter the water and keep it “sweet.”

The layer of moss between the stones and the soil serves as a barrier to the soil to keep it from running down into the stones.  It is purely aesthetic.  I added bits of “beach glass” around this moss layer to add to that barrier, as well as for the color.

Now, there are easier ways to do most anything.  Hold the bottle at an angle when adding the stones and glass, to direct where they fall.  I added a few stones to the center of my pile to take up space, allowing more of the agates to be visible against the glass.  Tilt the bottle when dropping in bits of beach glass to direct where you want the glass to land, then nudge it into place with a long, narrow tool.

Use whatever you have on hand to work inside the terrarium.  Many builders suggest chopsticks.  The cheap ones which come with your meal are the best.  I also like bamboo food skewers, and always have a pack lying around.  Even a pencil works just fine to nudge things into place through the narrow opening of the jar.

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The depth of soil needed depends entirely on plant choice.  Ferns and sedums need a little soil.  Moss needs very little.  I’ve used just over an inch of soil.  The roots will also grow down through the reindeer moss and into the stones below to reach the water there, eventually.

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A piece of paper, rolled into a funnel, is all you need to get soil or sand into your terrarium neatly.  Just spoon it through the opening, and nudge it into place with your long skinny tool.

Plants can be dropped through the opening, or gently rolled up into a piece of paper and then slid through the opening, before being nudged into place.

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These tiny plants have tiny roots.  It is fairly easy to work soil around the roots , pushing everything into place with your chopstick or pencil.

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I finished off by covering the soil with bits of garden moss.  Everything was frozen solid here on Saturday.  These bits were actually pried out of a pot on the deck, where I’ve been holding them since November.

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The secret to making an interesting miniature garden lies in beginning with tiny starts of things, and then allowing time for them to grow.

For example, you might plant a seed or a bulb, so long as the plant itself will fit in the space the terrarium allows.  Can you see a tiny crocus growing inside this bottle, from a bulb planted in the fall?  It would be a very temporary display, but very cool.

I’ve used another tiny division of peacock spikemoss, Selaginella uncinata, which can grow quite large, on one side of the bottle; and a tiny baby strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, still attached to its umbilical stem, right in the middle.  My strawberry begonia plants, growing inside this winter, are making new baby plants every week!  I simply lowered this one, by its stem, into place where I want it to grow.  Its roots will take hold now in the soil, and quickly anchor it into place.

Once planted, add little stones, crystals, shells, marbles, bits of glass, or other ornaments to suit your vision.  Add tiny furniture for a fairy garden.  Lay stone paths or patios.  Add a statue if you wish.  This is your garden and you can do as you please!

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The final step of construction is watering.  I prefer to use bottled spring water so no chemicals are introduced, which might affect the growth of the plants.  And one must water very sparingly.  Little drops at a time are used to rinse away any specks of soil on the glass and to settle the roots into their new soil.

I left this bottle open for the first 36 hours to allow for some evaporation.  An opening this small could be left open all of the time.  But by replacing the stopper, this little garden won’t need additional water for months.  If the glass fogs up, I can remove the stopper for a few hours to allow the water to clear.  If the soil begins to look dry, a few drops of added water will solve the problem.

That is really all you need to know to now build your own terrarium. 

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Place your finished terrarium in bright light, but not right against a window. This one sits opposite the doors to our deck.

Place your finished terrarium in bright light, but not right against a window. This one sits opposite the doors to our deck.

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When choosing plants, select those which enjoy high humidity and which can grow without overwhelming the interior space of your garden.

Terrariums can be built to accommodate succulents.  These need openings for air circulation, and should be started off with even less water.  Air plants, which don’t require soil, make excellent terrarium specimens.  But these should be placed on wood or gravel, since contact with potting soil may lead them to rot.  The possibilities are limited mainly by your imagination and the depth of your purse!

Following are the books I reviewed this weekend.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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Trades

Hosta "Lemon Lime" divisions, sent by Michael Laico, newly potted up and ready to grow.

Hosta “Lemon Lime” divisions, sent by Michael Laico, newly potted up and ready to grow.

Blogging friend Michael Laico offered a plant exchange on his site right after the Fourth of July.

He grows and hybridizes Hosta, and hoped to trade some divisions of Hosta for other plants he wants for his garden.

Michael offered up a miniature Hosta, called “Lemon Lime” which grows to about 8″ high.  It sounded perfect for growing in pots on the deck.

This Hosta offers beautiful golden green leaves and scapes covered in purple flowers, much enjoyed by hummingbirds.

Reblooming German Iris, "Stairway to Heaven."

Reblooming German Iris, “Stairway to Heaven.”

I offered a re-blooming German Iris, “Stairway to Heaven” in exchange; and the deal was done.

It has taken us about a week and a half to dig, prepare, and post our plants.

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Michael received my package of Iris and some rooted Begonia cuttings on Wednesday, and I received his package of Hosta and Japanese Iris today.

What fun to get a package of new plants in the mail!  And how satisfying to exchange plants with friends.

Sometimes it is good to have a little faith that a friend’s gifted plant will be something you’ll also enjoy growing.

The plants as they appeared when I opened the box this morning.  They look healthy and ready to grow!

The plants as they appeared when I opened the box this morning. They look healthy and ready to grow!

Although I don’t grow many Hosta, since they are basically deer candy in our garden; I love Hosta foliage and flowers.

They are dependable shade perennials whose foliage can stand alone or provide an interesting backdrop for other plants.

I would have a garden full of them were it practical.  The six we planted our first season here survive- barely- even through nibbling after nibbling when deer finagle their way through the fences and into the garden.

Our Hostas were badly grazed early in the season.  This one blooms bravely, despite its chewed and mangled foliage.  yes, I do know about all of the deer repellant sprays on the market, and I use them every few weeks...

Our Hostas were badly grazed early in the season. This one blooms bravely, despite its chewed and mangled foliage. yes, I do know about all of the deer repellant sprays on the market, and I use them every few weeks…

So I will enjoy this H. “Lemon Lime” as a potted perennial, grown well out of reach of hungry deer!

I haven’t made up my mind yet whether to pot the Iris or plant them directly into the garden.

Since they love moisture, I’m leaning towards a pot whose moisture I can control; rather than taking a chance on drought or voles devouring these iris before I get to enjoy their blooms next spring.  Photos to follow….

Michael's Hosta divisions, ready to pot up.

Michael’s Hosta divisions, in good, rich soil, ready to pot up.

So thank you, Michael, for offering this exchange. 

Not only is it fun to trade plants, it is a very economical way to expand one’s garden.

These divisions are potted up with a rooted Cane Begonia cutting, which will have white flowers.

These divisions are potted up with a rooted Cane Begonia cutting, which will have white flowers.

I shipped USPS Priority Zone  Mail, and paid a little less than $7.00 for postage, which included tracking and $50 in insurance.

Here is the Begonia before I planted it tonight.  See the new stem growing from a node?  The rooted cuttings I sent to Michael already had miniature plants growing from the node, ready to grow into a new plant quickly.  These Begonia canes have been rooting in water for several weeks.

Here is the Begonia before I planted it tonight.   See the new stem growing from a node? The rooted cuttings I sent to Michael already had miniature plants growing from the node, ready to grow into a new plant quickly. These Begonia canes have been rooting in water for several weeks.

The plants traveled from Virginia to South Carolina in a day and a half.

Michael shipped Fed Ex.  It took about the same time, and his well packaged plants arrived in great condition.

These newly planted Hosta divisions looks a little droopy, right after planting, but will adjust quickly to their new home.  Hostas need shade and moisture to thrive.  These got a drink of Neptune's Harvest fish and seaweed emulsion immediately.  The roots are strong, and new leaves will appear with a week or so.

These newly planted Hosta divisions looks a little droopy, right after planting, but will adjust quickly to their new home. Hostas need shade and moisture to thrive. These got a drink of Neptune’s Harvest  fish and seaweed emulsion immediately after planting. Their  roots are strong, and new leaves will appear with a week or so.

We both poked holes in the boxes for ventilation, and packed the roots of our plants in damp medium and Ziplock bags.

So if you’d like to grow H. Lemon Lime for yourself, and have something interesting to trade, please hop over to Michael’s site and leave him a message.

He has great photos of the mature Hosta in bloom on this page, should you want to take a look at the beautiful flowers it produces each summer.

I promise you it is well worth the effort.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Planting Pots

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.  Please notice the contrasting colors and shapes of these sun loving plants.

Pots are the easiest way to garden.

If you have only one  square foot of sunlight where something might grow, you can grow your garden in a pot.

Gardening in a pot allows you to be spontaneously creative…  and outrageously unconventional in your plant choices and design.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.  It is planted with Zonal Geraniums, Caladium, Lamium, Ivy, Coleus, and Cane Begonia.

 

Pots are  the “trial and error” notebook of a gardener’s education.

 

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant.  Once I learn how to grow it, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant. Once I learn how to grow it successfully, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

 

A friend was telling me yesterday that she’d love to find a class to teach her about designing potted plantings.

This brilliant and creative friend, an artist by profession,  could definitely teach such a class !

I asked her to please let me know if she found one, because I would come with her…

These aquatic or bog arrangement is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

This aquatic,  or bog arrangement, is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

But I’ve never taken a class on making pots.  I have studied thousands of photographs of others’  pots in gardening books and magazines.  And I’ve grown plants in pots since I was a child.

Maybe a local garden center offered such a class, once upon a time, and I just missed it.  Hard to say…

An experiment:  Do you see the vase "neck" embedded in this hypertufa pot?  It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grow out of the neck.

An experiment: Do you see the vase “neck” embedded in this hypertufa pot? It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grows out of the neck.  A friend generously gave me the pieces of her broken vase to use in this pot.

 

But here is what I’ve already learned about growing potted plants, by long years of trial and error;  and  what I can share with you:

1.  Choose the largest pot your space and budget allows.  From a design perspective, big pots have impact.

A few big pots make a much better statement than two dozen tiny ones; unless they all match and are grouped artistically  together somehow.

This large hypertufa pot is home made.  It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

This large hypertufa pot is home made. It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

 

Big pots allow plants to grow lush and healthy.  There is more room for the roots to grow and it is easier to keep the planting mix hydrated in a large pot.  A larger mass of pot and soil helps moderate soil temperature  in extreme weather, too.

2.  Feed the soil with compost; organic amendments like Plant Tone and Osmocote; coffee grounds (high in nitrogen), and organic liquid feeds like Neptune’s Harvest.  Most potting mixes are nutritionally sterile, so the plants must be fed to perform well.

 

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis.  This pot hasnt' moved in the four years since we placed it here.

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis. This pot hasn’t moved in the four years since we placed it here.

3.  Site the pot, then choose the plants.  Know first of all where your new pot will go in your home or landscape; then select plants which will grow with the level of light and exposure to the weather that location offers.

You may have the same pot in the same spot for many years, but the plantings will switch in and out seasonally.

4.  Select a ” community of plants” which will grow together harmoniously for each pot.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Choose plants which share similiar needs for light and water, but  will “fill” different spaces so they weave together into a pleasing composition.

5  Select plants for contrast.  Choose plants whose differences create an interesting composition.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.  This planting was inspired by Becca Given‘s comment on the “Eggplant” post about her sister in law’s eggplant and turquoise kitchen  color scheme.

 

Contrast color of foliage and bloom to create an interesting, and maybe a dramatic, visual statement.

 

Geraniums and Fennel.  Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.

Geraniums and Fennel. Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.  Variegated, textured  foliage also creates contrast and interest.

Contrast foliage texture and shape, and choose plants which will grow to different heights and proportions so there is a balance of tall, trailing, airy, flat, round, and spiky.

6.  Study nature for inspiration.  Analyze how plants blend into communities in the wild.    Notice what you like, and what you don’t. 

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Do you enjoy wide expanses of a single species growing to a fairly uniform size?  Do you like  grasses mixed in among the flowers?

Do you like lush vines covering structure?  Do you want a classically symmetrical static look, or an asymmetrical spontaneously evolving look?

These differences matter, and you can achieve them all in pots.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large over the summer.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large and fill out this pot  over the summer.

7.  Develop a mental image of what you hope to create in the pot before going to the garden center to purchase the plants.

Have an idea of what you hope to create, and which plants you want to use.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

I often take a list with me.  Others take photos.  With a smart phone, you might even bookmark some photos online which are similiar to what you hope to purchase.

Now, it is a rare treat when the garden center actually has in stock everything on my list.

But, if you know your parameters for light, moisture, size, color and price; you can often make brilliant substitutions.

 

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter.  It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter. It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

 

8.  Be realistic about what you can grow.  Apologies here for the downer… but realism at the beginning saves later disappointment.

Know, in advance, what you can sustain.

This simple, neat basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.

This simple basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.   We grow Fuschia to draw the hummingbirds close to our windows.  The only safe place to grow these plants is on our deck, where the deer can’t reach them.

I know I can’t grow certain plants where deer or squirrels can reach them.  I learned that I can plant tomatoes all I want, but no net or screen will prevent squirrels from stealing them as they ripen, even on the deck.  I know that certain plants, like impatiens, left in reach of deer will be grazed.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care.  I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be "deer resistant." This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care. I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be “deer resistant.” This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Maybe you can’t water hanging baskets of Petunias every day in summer, or you don’t have enough light to keep them in bloom where you have space to hang baskets.

Once you learn and accept the parameters of your current gardening situation,  it allows you to find beautiful  alternatives.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical.  Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical. Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

 

9.  Let time be your ally.  Plant slowly and carefully, leaving sufficient room for each plant to grow.

Remember to use some combination of rooted cuttings, seeds, tubers, bulbs, and actively growing plants.

Unless you’re planting for an immediate show or competition, plan for the arrangement to evolve during the season as the plants grow, peak, and fade.

 

This basket of Petunias requires daily water.  Someone who travels during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive.  Like a pet, it requires daily care.

This basket of Petunias requires daily water. Someone who travels  a lot during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive. Like a pet, it requires daily care.

 

Different plants will take over as “stars of the pot” at different times during the season.

Plants will grow at different rates, and some will try to muscle out others.  You will have to referee with your pruners from time to time.  That is OK, and makes it more interesting.

10.  Treat your potted plants like pets.   K now their names, know their needs, and give consistent loving care.  Expect to learn continuously when you garden.    There is always more to know; and the more you know about each plant you grow, the better care you can take of it.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5' tall.  It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago.  Gradually, it will grow to  dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5′ tall. It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago. Gradually, it will grow to dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

Plants need to be appreciated to grow well.  Visit each regularly, and take care of its needs.  Whether it needs water, pinching, training on a support, turning, or simply a kind word; remember that is a responsive living being.

And, a bonus:

Our plants love for us to share with them.  You give your dog toys, don’t you?  Plants respond to our love just as animals will.

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What can you share with a plant?  I dilute leftover tea and coffee, and use it to water potted plants.  Tea and coffee are high in nitrogen and other phyto-chemicals.  (The same pot doesn’t always get the tea, and there are plenty of “plain water” waterings so the soil doesn’t get too acid.)   I use finished coffee grounds and rinsed egg shells  as mulch in large pots around fruits or vegetables.

When making a pea gravel mulch, I often include something beautiful such as a shell, agate, glass marble, or crystal resting on top of the soil.

A friend scatters trimmed hair around her plants, which also helps keep deer away.

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As you work with each of the plants in your potted garden, you will learn to know what it needs, and to provide for those needs.  You also learn which plants grow well together, and which will not.

The real difference between someone with a “brown thumb” and someone with a “green thumb” comes down to how much attention the gardener pays to providing what each plant needs to fulfill its potential for beauty and productivity.

Each pot, each season, teaches us something new.  

We continue to grow, just as our plants do.

 

A hanging basket of various Begonias.  Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

A hanging basket of various Begonias. Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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