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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A Touch of Gold

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Rudbeckia fills our garden in late August, blooming in a rich tapestry of gold.

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This native Rudbeckia hirta, which first seeded itself here more than five years ago, attracts golden bees, butterflies and goldfinches to its tasty nectar and abundant seeds.

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Rosettes of Rudbeckia leaves emerge in mid-March all across the garden.  They sprout wherever a seed has fallen or an underground root has spread.

There are always plenty to dig and share, especially those that emerge in the pathways.  The plants remain in the background througout spring and early summer, biding their time as they bulk up in the warming sun.

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How much is too much?” I sometimes wonder…

Native plants are enthusiastic growers, determined to survive.  They take every available advantage to thrive.  In full sun and over tree roots, clumps sometimes get wilty when days grow hot and rain is scarce.  I sometimes revive them with a drink from the hose.

But those that are well established, in deep soil and partial shade, care for themselves.  All we do is clear the paths and set the boundaries….

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Their opening comes slowly; not all at once.  Accustomed to sharing their space, they mix well with others.

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Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant

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Native obedient plant,Physostegia virginiana, creeps and spreads in the same way.  It has spread even faster and more aggressively than the Rudbeckia. 

This spring, I took the string trimmer to many areas where these two grow among a growing spread of goldenrod, Solidago.  I decided last year that those huge, waving plumes of gold were a bit over the top for our little woodland garden, and I’ve been cutting back the goldenrod to give other perennials a better chance.

The Rudbeckia and Physotegia took that trimming in their stride and came back bushier and stronger than ever.

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Now native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum, is also growing in the mix, offering a subtle touch of periwinkle contrast.  I didn’t plan and intentionally plant this mix of native perennials to create a ‘meadow style’ planting.  I only recognize what nature is doing, and guide it a bit.

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And our rich reward is a touch of gold gilding these late summer days, delighting us as we await the rich color and welcome coolness of autumn.

Our garden remains dynamic, changing from year to year.  Some plants persist and expand while others decline.  We plant a few new things each season and other turn up on their own.

Each new year’s unfolding remains a grand surprise, guided by nature and the seasons; a golden opportunity to learn and grow as a gardener.

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Another native Rudbeckia, cutleaf coneflower, also fills our late summer garden with pure gold.  With a much larger habit and larger flowers, it is equally attractive to many pollinators and birds.

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Woodland Gnome 2010

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold.

I have seen a little of it.

I know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as wit.

A grain of gold will gild a great surface,

but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”
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Henry David Thoreau

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“Ô, Sunlight!

The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”
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Roman Payne

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Sunday Dinner: In the Shadows

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“There is strong shadow

where there is much light.”

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow.

For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly

as when one longs to taste it,

and when is the taste refracted

into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth,

and when do our senses know any thing so utterly

as when we lack it?

And here again is a foreshadowing –

– the world will be made whole.

For to wish for a hand on one’s hair

is all but to feel it.

So whatever we may lose,

very craving gives it back to us again.”

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Marilynne Robinson

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“One realized all sorts of things.

The value of an illusion, for instance,

and that the shadow

can be more important than the substance.

All sorts of things.”

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Jean Rhys

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“A garden should make you feel

you’ve entered privileged space –

– a place not just set apart but reverberant –

– and it seems to me that, to achieve this,

the gardener must put some kind of twist

on the existing landscape,

turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”

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Michael Pollan

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“It was such a pleasure

to sink one’s hands into the warm earth,

to feel at one’s fingertips

the possibilities of the new season.”

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Kate Morton

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“If you wish to make anything grow,

you must understand it,

and understand it in a very real sense.

‘Green fingers’ are a fact,

and a mystery only to the unpracticed.

But green fingers

are the extensions of a verdant heart.”

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Russell Page

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“The green thumb is equable

in the face of nature’s uncertainties;

he moves among her mysteries

without feeling the need for control

or explanations or once-and-for-all solutions.

To garden well is to be happy

amid the babble of the objective world,

untroubled by its refusal to be reduced

by our ideas of it,

its indomitable rankness.”

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Michael Pollan

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“To love a swamp, however,

is to love what is muted and marginal,

what exists in the shadows,

what shoulders its way out of mud

and scurries along the damp edges

of what is most commonly praised.

And sometimes its invisibility is a blessing.

Swamps and bogs are places of transition and wild growth,

breeding grounds,

experimental labs where organisms and ideas

have the luxury of being out of the spotlight,

where the imagination can mutate and mate,

send tendrils into and out of the water.”

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Barbara Hurd

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“It is not hard to start a small garden,

all you need is a sapling, a planting pot,

a small bag of soil,

and regular watering.

There you go,

you helped cooling the earth down by one plant.”
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Noora Ahmed Alsuwaidi

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Fabulous Friday: Hurricane Lilies

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August often proves to be awkward and uncomfortable here in coastal Virginia.  If it’s not the heat and humidity chasing us back inside, it’s the torrential rain.  Many mornings, when we first open the kitchen door to step outside, the air is so thick with humidity that we wish we had scuba gear.

Afternoon thunderstorms insure I won’t need to stand out in the mugginess with a hose to water, but they also keep the humidity and ‘ick’ factor high.

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Lycoris radiata, Hurricane lilies, appear after heavy rain some time in mid-to late August.

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The last morning I stood outside to water was Tuesday.  By the time I finished my ‘to do’ list, every stitch I wore, including my hat, was soaked with perspiration.  But I felt quite proud of myself for making the effort, as the forecast called for another hot and sunny day, with no rain until evening.

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Parts of the garden are looking a bit worn by mid-August. But I look past them to the beauties of our visitors.

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Well, by 11:30 that morning the skies opened and torrential rain caught us out on the roads, returning from the grocery store.  And every day since Tuesday we’ve been treated to the passing drama of rolling thunder, bright flashes of lightening, gusty winds and pelting rain.  We count ourselves lucky as the hail has mostly avoided our little bend in the river, but we know others nearby have endured hail and broken trees this week.

Sometimes, the storm passes quickly and allows the sun to burn through the clouds once again.  Curtains of steam rise from every paved surface and temperatures rise after the passing cool of the thunderstorm.

And then, yes, you guessed it:  another storm forms and passes over a few hours later.  We listen to thunder rolling in the distance during the night, and awaken to find the world wet from pre-dawn showers.

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Garlic chives and an emerald green fly.

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August proves a very wet month, most years.  It is a month of transition, preparing us for the first breath of autumn in September.

Along with the transition from summer to fall, we often have a hurricane or two blowing in from the Atlantic or up from the Gulf.  (Knock on wood) we have been very lucky thus far, this year.  May the blowing sands of the Sahara continue to keep things calm off the coast.

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For all of the inconveniences of August, there are also some treats and treasures.  I always look forward to our black-eyed Susans coming into bloom, filling our upper garden with their cheery golden faces.  I love watching the comings and goings of our butterflies and listening for the rare blessing of a visit from one of our hummingbirds.  And I especially love the unexpected surprise of seeing the bright red flowers of our Hurricane lilies, Lycoris radiata, when they suddenly pop into bloom.

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Lycoris burst into bloom after sudden, heavy rains; thus their moniker.  While spring bulbs are pretty predictable, these late summer bulbs time their bloom to the amount of heat and moisture in the soil.

One of those summer bulbs also known as ‘naked ladies,’ the bloom stalks appear suddenly, long before their leaves.  If you want to know more about Lycoris, you might enjoy this post about them from 2014.

I’ve never planted a whole bed of Lycoris, though I’m sure that would be stunning.  Rather, I plant a few here and there, just little accents and exclamation points to delight us and revive our spirits in August.  We only have the red, though they come in white, pink and yellow, too.

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I’m enjoying ours through the front windows, where a zipper spider has spun an enormous web, and on my occasional walks up the driveway.

The rain this week has ended up a blessing, as I’m still recovering from Lyme’s disease and wanting to stay indoors and away from the possibility of any more insect bites.  The rain and humidity have added another reason to stay in and do quiet things this week; and I’m grateful.

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But when I do wander outside, there are always new developments to enjoy.  There’s fresh growth to admire, new flowers blooming, a cutting that has struck roots, or a new spider web to examine.  The wonders unfold all on their own, a satisfying counterpoint to the inconveniences of August.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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Wildlife Wednesday: Wings

Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana ‘Ham and Eggs’

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“If you were born without wings,

do nothing to prevent them from growing.”
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Coco Chanel

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Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana ‘Miss Huff’

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“Similar to a butterfly,

I’ve gone through a metamorphosis,

been released from my dark cocoon,

embraced my wings, and soared!”

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Dana Arcuri

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“She made broken look beautiful
and strong look invincible.
She walked with the Universe
on her shoulders and made it
look like a pair of wings.”

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Ariana Dancu

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“Use the wings of the flying Universe,
Dream with open eyes;
See in darkness.”
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Dejan Stojanovic

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Common Buckeye Butterfly on Verbena bonariensis

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“Wings are like dreams.

Before each flight,

a bird takes a small jump, a leap of faith,

believing that its wings will work.

That jump can only be made

with rock solid feet.”

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J.R. Rim

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“I wanted to tell you I loved you,

but the butterflies in my stomach

swarmed my throat,

and all the words

got caught in their wings.”

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Nitya Prakash

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Sunday Dinner: Fragile

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“if only these treasures

were not so fragile

as they are precious and beautiful.”

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“What they all knew was this:

Life was fragile.”

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Kaya McLaren

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“The world is changeable,

and its ability to change is so fragile

that a single person

can be responsible for it.”

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A.J. Darkholme

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“The air was swollen with music,

shouting, and something I could not quite place-

a feeling of happiness,

but happiness with an edge,

a sense of joy

that was all the more meaningful

because it was so fleeting.”

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Chelsey Philpot

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“Human spirit

is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future

with curiosity and optimism.

It is the belief that problems can be solved,

differences resolved.

It is a type of confidence.

And it is fragile.

It can be blackened by fear, and superstition.”

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Bernard Beckett

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“I discovered in nature

the non utilitarian delights that I sought in art.

Both were a form of magic,

both were a game of intricate enchantment

and deception.”

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Vladimir Nabokov

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“The rest is just wishes and hope,

the most fragile of things.”
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Sabaa Tahir

 

Six on Saturdays: In Leaf

Some new Rex Begonias with A. ‘Ghost’ and have found their place in the shade.  This is a piece of the A. ‘Ghost’ that I divided a few weeks ago.  It has been growing on in a nursery pot and now has a home of its own.

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August is perhaps the leafiest month of all.  Have you ever thought about it?

The trees are not only fully clothed in leaves, they are also in active growth, pushing out new tender, leafy branches in all directions.  Shrubs sit plump and leafy, their woody skeletons obscured beneath a thick cloud of green.

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Every sort of grass and herb and herbaceous blooming stem bursts out of the ground, some taunting us to come and tame them with mowers, string trimmers and secateurs.

And then there are the beautiful, whimsical leaves which simply delight.  Leaves with swirls of color, spots, stripes, and wavy edges.

Leaves that shimmer and shine in their iridescent beauty.  Leaves that grow to gargantuan proportions, regal and proud.

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When we brought our large Begonias out of the house and garage in late May, many had lost most of their leaves.  Their long, woody stems held only a few stragglers and looked rather awkward.

We cleaned them up, cut them back, watered and fed them and set them in bright shade.  Most have finally grown a new summer cloak of beautiful leaves and are beginning to push out panicles of flowers.  Their beauty has returned in time to luxuriate in August’s heat.

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Our garden shimmers in the light and rustles in the breeze, leaves giving shade as they hungrily soak up summer’s sunlight.

As we consider how our changing, warming climate might affect the planet’s future, and our own, we might consider the leaf; that bio-factory that absorbs not only sunlight, but also breathes in air.  It filters, it cleans, and it produces pure oxygen.  And it takes all of those carbon bits floating in the air and transforms them into the very cellulose of its own growing body.

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Forests of trees, big trees, long-lived trees offer a potential strategy to help clean the carbon out of our atmosphere, eventually reversing our planet’s warming.

If we can’t plant a forest, perhaps we can plant a tree.  If not a tree, then perhaps a pot of leafy plants.

Every shrub and tree and beautiful leaf does its own small part towards healing and enlivening us all.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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“The journey may be fraught with challenges,
yet it continues,
for even the smallest leaf must embrace destiny…
Persistence is the key…”
 Virginia Alison
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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

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.

 

Sunday Dinner: Small Delights

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“The great underestimates the small,
the leader underestimates the led,
the beautiful underestimates the ugly,
and you underestimate who?”
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Alan Maiccon
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“Smallness is subversive,
because smallness can creep into smaller places
and wreak transformation
at the most vulnerable, cellular level.
In a time when largeness is threatening to topple us,
I wish to remember and praise the beauty of smallness,
in order to banish the Goliath of loneliness.”
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Sarah Ruhl
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“Great man
is the one who is aware
of his smallness in this universe!
Greatness starts first of all
with accepting the reality.”
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Mehmet Murat ildan
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“All space is relative.
There is no such thing as size.
The telescope and the microscope
have produced a deadly leveling
of great and small, far and near.
The only little thing is sin,
the only great thing is fear!”
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David H. Keller
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“Express gratitude
for the greatness of small things.”
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Richie Norton
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“Just because our brains are limited in size,
does not mean our minds need be.”
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Jeffrey Fry
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“You may think I’m small,
but I have a universe
inside my mind.”
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Yoko Ono
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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“To see things in the seed,
that is genius.”
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Lao-Tzu

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is filled at the moment with butterflies!

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5th Annual Butterfly Festival

Williamsburg Botanical Garden

August 3 & 4  9-4

Admission Free, Donations accepted

Sunday Dinner: Resilience

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“A good half of the art of living
is resilience.”
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Alain de Botton
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“No matter how you define success,
you will need to be resilient,
empowered, authentic,
and limber to get there.”
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Joanie Connell
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“I will not be another flower,
picked for my beauty and left to die.
I will be wild,
difficult to find,
and impossible to forget.”
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Erin Van Vuren
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“Never say that you can’t do something,
or that something seems impossible,
or that something can’t be done,
no matter how discouraging
or harrowing it may be;
human beings are limited only
by what we allow ourselves to be limited by:
our own minds.
We are each the masters of our own reality;
when we become self-aware to this:
absolutely anything in the world is possible.

Master yourself,

and become king of the world around you.
Let no odds, chastisement, exile,
doubt, fear, or ANY mental virii
prevent you from accomplishing your dreams.
Never be a victim of life;
be it’s conqueror.”
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Mike Norton
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“to be successful,
you have to be out there,
you have to hit the ground running”
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Richard Branson
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“One’s doing well
if age improves even slightly
one’s capacity to hold on to that vital truism:
“This too shall pass.”
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Alain de Botton
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“In the face of adversity,
we have a choice.
We can be bitter, or we can be better.
Those words are my North Star.”
.
Caryn Sullivan
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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“Grief and resilience live together.”
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Michelle Obama
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“On the other side of a storm
is the strength
that comes from having navigated through it.
Raise your sail and begin.”
.
Gregory S. Williams

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