Slow to Grow: Elephant Ears

Colocasia esculenta

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It has been agonizingly slow this spring, watching and waiting for our elephant ears to grow.  I blame the weather.  Wouldn’t you?

After all, we enjoyed 80F days in February, and then retreated back to wintery grey days through most of March.  We’ve been on a climatic roller-coaster since.

Gardeners, and our plants, appreciate a smooth transition from one season to another.  Let it be cold in winter, then warm gradually through early, mid and late spring until we enjoy a few weeks of perfect summer in late May and early June.  We know to expect heat in June, July and August, with moderating temperatures and humidity by mid-September.

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I started working on this new bed in March, bringing the still potted Colocasias in doors and back out with the weather. Although I planted them weeks ago, they are still sulking a bit in our cool, rainy weather this month.

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But lately, our seasons feel rather muddled.  That smooth crescendo from season to season has gone all rag-time on us.  We’ve already lost a potted Hydrangea Macrophylla teased into leaf too early, and then frozen a time too many.  Those early leaves dissolved in mush, but new growth started again from the crown.

I’ve watched the poor shrub try at least 3 times to grow this spring, and now it sits, bare, in its pot while I hold out hope for either a horticultural miracle, or a clone on sale; whichever comes first.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ loves our climate and spreads a bit each year. Its pink spot and pink stem inspired its name. This is the Colocasia I happily dig up to share with gardening friends. These will be a little more than 5′ tall by late summer.

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I hedged my bets last fall with the elephant ears.  I left some in situ in the garden, some in their pots, but pulled up close to the house on the patio, and I brought a few pots of Alocasia and Colocasia into our basement or garage.

I dug most of our Caladiums and dried them for several weeks in the garage, and then boxed and bagged them with rice hulls before storing them in a closet through the winter.  I left a few special ones in their pots and kept the pots in our sunny garage.

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Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ overwintered for us  dried and stored in a box with rice hulls. I planted the tuber again in early April.

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And I waited until April before trying to rouse any of them.  But by early April, while I was organizing a Caladium order for 2017, I also planted all of those stored Caladium tubers in fresh potting soil and set them in our guest room to grow.  Eventually, after our last frost date in mid-April, I also retrieved the pots from the basement and brought them out to the warmth of our patio.  They all got a drink of Neptune’s Harvest and a chance to awaken for summer.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ didn’t survive winter in our garage. (This photo from summer 2016)  I left them in their pot, but it must have gotten too cold for them.  Happily, I ordered new tubers this spring.

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Around this time I gingerly began to feel around in those Caladium pots kept in the garage, for signs of life.  I thought I’d divide and replant the tubers and get them going again.  But, to my great disappointment, not a single tuber survived.   The Caladiums succumbed to the chill of our garage sometime during the winter, and I had three generous sized, empty pots to recycle with fresh plantings.

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C. ‘Desert Sunset’ didn’t make it through the winter, so I’ve recycled the pot for other plants. Calla lily has a form similar to some Alocasia, and is more tolerant of cold weather. These are hardy in Zone 7.

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By the time our new Caladium order arrived in mid- April, the tubers I’d dried, stored, and replanted were in growth.  I moved them to the garage to get more light and actually planted the first batch of Caladiums outside by the first week of May.

I planted most of the new Caladiums into potting soil filled boxes and sent them off to the guest room to awaken, but chanced planting a few bare tubers into pots outside.  Mistake.

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These saved Caladiums, started indoors in April, moved outside to their permanent bed in early May. Still a little slow to grow, they have weathered a few cool  nights this month.

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Because for all the promising balmy days we’ve had this spring, we’ve had our share of dreary cool ones, too.  We even had a few nights in the 40s earlier this month!  It’s generally safe here to plant out tomatoes, Basil and Caladiums by mid-May.  Sadly, this year, these heat lovers have been left stunted by the late cool weather.

The new Caladium tubers planted indoors are still mostly sulking, too, with little to show for themselves.  The ones I planted directly outside in pots remain invisible.  I just hope they didn’t rot in our cool, rainy weather.

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Colocasia ‘Black Coral,’ started in a greenhouse this spring, has been growing outdoors for nearly a month now. This one can get to more than 4′ tall in full sun to part shade.

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Of the saved Colocasias and Alocasias, C. ‘Mohito’ has done the best.   I brought a large pot of them into the basement last fall, and knocked the plant out of its pot when I brought it back outdoors in April.   I divided the tubers and ended up with several plants.  They are all growing nicely, though they are still rather small.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ has been in the family a few years now. It overwinters, dormant in its pot, in our basement. This is one of 5 divisions I made at re-potting time this spring.

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I dug up our large C. ‘Tea Cups’ in October and brought it indoors in a pot, leaving behind its runners.  The main plant began vigorous growth again by late April, but none of the runners seem to have made it through the winter outdoors.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ also overwintered in the basement.  New last year, this plant has really taken off in the last few weeks and is many times larger than our new C. ‘Tea Cups’ plants.  It catches rain in its concave leaves, thus its name.

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I brought one of our Alocasia ‘Stingray’ into the garage in its pot, where it continued to grow until after Christmas.  By then the last leaf withered, and it remained dormant until we brought it back out in April.  It has made tiny new leaves ever so slowly, and those new leaves remain less than 6″ tall.

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Alocasia ‘Sting Ray’ spent winter in our garage.  It has been very slow to grow this spring, but already has many more leaves than last year.  It will eventually grow to about 6′.  Zone 8-11

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But that is better than the potted A. ‘Stingray‘ that overwintered on the patio.  We’ve been watching and waiting all spring, and I finally gave up and dug through the potting soil last week looking for any sign of the tuber.  I found nothing.

But, fearing the worst, we already bought two new A. ‘Stingray’ from the bulb shop in Gloucester in early May, and those are growing vigorously.   They enjoyed the greenhouse treatment through our sulky spring, of course.

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Our new A. ‘Stingray’ grows in the blue pot in front of where another A. ‘Stingray’ grew last year. I left the black pot out on the patio over winter, and the Alocasia hasn’t returned. I finally planted some of our new Caladiums in the empty pot last week.

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I have two more pots of Alocasia in que:  A. ‘Plumbea’ has shown two tiny leaves thus far, so I know it is alive.  A. ‘Sarian’ has slept in the sun for weeks now, its tuber still visible and firm.  Finally, just over this weekend, the first tiny leaf has appeared.  I expect it to grow into an even more  beautiful plant than last summer since.  It came to us in a tiny 4″ pot, and ended summer at around 5′ tall.  I can’t wait to see how large it grows by August!

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’ isn’t’ available for order from Brent and Becky’s bulbs this year. I am very happy this one survived winter, because it is a beautiful plant.  Hardy in zones 3-10, this will grow to 5′.

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But the pot of Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii,’ that overwintered on the patio, has shown nothing so far, either.  Hardy to Zone 8, I hoped the shelter of our patio might allow this two year old plant to survive.  Now, I’m about ready to refresh the soil and fill that pot with some of the Caladiums still growing in our garage.

C. ‘Blue Hawaii’ is marginal here.  A few have survived past winters planted in the ground; but thus far, I’m not recognizing any coming back in the garden this year.

I’ve planted a few C. ‘Mojito’ in the ground this spring, and plan to leave them in the fall to see whether they return next year.  But I will also hedge my bet and bring a potted C. ‘Mojito’ inside again so I’ll have plants to begin with next spring.

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C. ‘Mojito’ in our bog garden will soon get potted up to a larger container.  I planted a few of the smaller divisions of this plant directly into the ground to see if they will survive the winter coming. (Zone 8)

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Every year I learn a little more about growing elephant ears.  I know now that Colocasia ‘China Pink’ is vigorous and dependable in our garden.  There is no worry about them making it through winter, and I dig and spread those a bit each year.

The huge Colocasia esculenta I planted a few years ago with our Cannas dependably return.  These are the species, not a fancy cultivar.  But they seem to manage fine with nothing more than some fallen leaves for mulch.

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These gorgeous tropical elephant ears put on a great show for four to six months each year in our zone.  Deer and rabbits don’t touch them, and they rarely have any problem with insects or disease.   Our muggy, hot summers suit them fine.  They love, and need, heat to thrive.

Any temperate zone gardener who wants to grow them, needs to also plan for their winter dormancy.  And each plant’s needs are unique.  Some Colocasia might be hardy north to Zone 6.  A few Alocasia cultivars are hardy to zone 7b or 8, but most require zone 9 to remain outdoors in the winter.  Caladiums want a lot more warmth, and prefer Zone 10.  Caladiums can rot in wet soil below 60F.

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Hardy Begonias are naturalizing in this lively bed transitioning to summer.  I planted the Caladiums about a month ago, and they have slowly begun to grow.  See also fading daffodil leaves, Japanese painted ferns, Arum Italicum, and creeping Jenny.

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If you don’t have space to store elephant ears over winter, you can still grow them as annuals, of course.    That requires a bit of an investment if you like them a lot, and want to fill your garden!

My favorite source for Colocasia and Alocasia elephant ears, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs,  has put all of their summer bulbs, including Caladium tubers,  on clearance now through Monday, June 5.   This is a good time to try something new, if you’re curious about how these beautiful plants would perform in your own garden, because all these plants are half off their usual price.  The Colocasia and Alocasia plants they’re selling now come straight to you from their greenhouses.

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Alocasia ‘Sarian’ emerged over the weekend. This is a very welcome sight!

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I order our Caladiums direct from the grower at Classic Caladiums in Avon Park, Florida (see below).  There is still plenty of time for you to grow these from tubers this summer, as long as your summer nights will be mostly above 60F for a couple of months.  Potted Caladiums make nice houseplants, too, when autumn chills return.  (Brent and Becky’s Bulbs buy their Caladiums from Classic Caladiums, too.  You will find a much larger selection when you buy direct from the grower.  Classic Caladiums sells to both wholesale and retail customers.)

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Slow to grow, this year, but so worth the wait.  We are always fascinated while watching our elephant ears grow each year, filling our garden with their huge, luscious leaves.  Once they get growing, they grow so fast you can see the difference sometimes from morning to afternoon!

Our summer officially begins today.  Now we can settle in to watch the annual spectacle unfold.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Is your region too cool for tropical Elephant Ears? Get a similar effect with rhubarb. This rhubarb ‘Victoria,’ in its second year, emerges in early spring. Leaves have the same basic size and shape as Alocasia leaves without the shiny texture. There are a number of ornamental rhubarbs available, some of them quite large.  These are easy to grow,  perennial north into Canada, and grow into a beautiful focal point in the garden.

Bog Garden: Early Summer

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Maybe you don’t have a pond or spring in your yard, and would still like to grow a few special plants who like their roots wet.  We’re not talking a full-fledged water garden here, filled with Lotus and water lilies.  That requires an excavation or above ground water-tight construction. which will hold a foot or two of water; maybe with a stream or a waterfall with a pump and filter worked in.

A ‘bog’ garden tolerates variable amounts of water, from several inches to slightly moist.  These plants enjoy moist soil, but don’t want to remain submerged all the time.  Our bog garden has evolved in a mysterious old rock and cement construction in our back garden.  Maybe, at one time, it was water tight.  But it’s not water tight anymore.  Its uneven bottom of cemented gravel and large rocks allows for water to collect in several little pools before slowly draining away.

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I cleaned out the old leaves and accumulated silt a few years ago, and began massing pots of moisture loving plants in this mostly sunny spot to create a potted bog garden.  That is also when I began adding to our collection of a Southeastern North American native carnivorous plant, the Sarracenia, or Pitcher Plant.

Sarracenia produce tubular, brightly colored leaves all summer long, starting about now.   Each leaf holds a pool of digestive solution, just waiting for a curious insect to fall into the brightly colored hollow opening.  Their ‘Dr. Seuss’ flowers emerge early, in bright reds and yellows, looking like the sort of flower a child might draw.   These are very unusual looking plants which naturally grow in the sort of wet, insect filled swamp most of us tend to avoid.

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Our first pitcher plant, in late May of 2014

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But they prove easy to grow in a pot, so long as you use their preferred potting mix and keep them moist.  Sarracenia want moist soil, but not water-logged soil.  Their roots need some oxygen and don’t like the sour/stagnant soil often found in water gardens.  Dr. Larry Mellichamp, in his book, Native Plants of the Southeast, recommends a 50:50 mix of pure peat moss and clean quartz sand for pitcher plants.

I began collecting pitcher plants four years ago.  My first one spent the summer with its pot set in a ceramic bowl, about 2″ deep, which I filled with the hose when I watered that part of the garden.  It was gorgeous all summer long, and a conversation piece for every visitor.  That first pitcher plant inspired me to set up a bog garden, the following summer, with space for a community of more pitcher plants mixed with other plants that like wet soil.

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Pitcher Plants growing in the swamps around Jamestown were collected by John Tradescant the Younger around 1638. It was difficult for English gardeners to keep them alive until they learned to grow them in pots of moss standing in water. These are displayed at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia.

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Pitcher plants, like other perennials, grow in clumps and may be divided every few years.  The plants we’ve collected were still growing in modest sized pots.  But I wanted to change the look of our bog garden this year, and so tracked down a huge, shallow pot to hold divisions from several of our Sarracenia cultivars.

Following Dr. Mellichamp’s instructions for potting mix has brought us success.  The one plant I purchased, and didn’t re-pot myself, didn’t make it through the winter of 2015.  It was in a compost based potting mix and failed to thrive.  But the grower made it good, and I’ve relied on the peat/sand mixture for my own re-potting.

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Mix and re-hydrate the peat at least a day before you plan to use it.  It is important to have very moist soil when you re-pot pitcher plants.  I knocked three of our Sarracenias out of their pots, pulled out or trimmed back the old, brown leaves, and then gently pulled the clumps apart.  I potted some of the smaller clumps into this new, large pot; and re-potted the largest of each division back into its original pot. Pack the peat mixture into the pot fairly tightly, and then water it in to settle the soil and rinse off the pot.

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You never fertilize Sarracenia.  That is one reason it doesn’t work to use compost or a standard potting mix which would work perfectly well with most potted plants.  Sarracenia take their nutrition from the insects that fall into their leaves.  And they thrive in acidic conditions, which the peat provides.

In addition to pitcher plants, I’ve grown Colocasia, Canna, Asclepias, Hibiscus, Coleus and Zantedeschia  in this bog garden.  All of these have at least a few cultivars that enjoy full sun and wet soil.  This year, I’ve added Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ to the Colocasia ‘Mojito’ we’ve had in years passed.  Colocasia ‘China Pink’ grows around the outside.  This year I’ve potted up a few divisions from our yellow flag Iris to add to the mix.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups,’ saved from last summer’s garden, spent the winter in our basement. We’re happy to have it growing again. This Colocasia loves damp soil and could even grow submerged in a pond.

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A bog garden like this one, where there is usually at least some water, provides important resources for wildlife.  Birds, frogs, turtles and many insects come here to eat, drink and find shelter.  Once the plants grow in, there is cool, moist shade on even the hottest summer days.

Rain provides sufficient wetness for the bog garden during much of the year here in coastal Virginia.  But during dry spells, I try to visit this garden several times a week with the hose, filling it and watering the various pots.  Creeping Jenny, originally planted around the border as a ground cover, has colonized the interior of the garden, too.  I was a little surprised to learn that it, too, tolerates growing in shallow water.

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Tadpoles and other tiny creatures can often be found in the bog garden.  This photo is from its first summer, 2015.

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If you don’t already have a wet spot in your own garden, you might consider building something similar to this with stone and concrete.  If that is too much trouble, you might follow Dr. Mellichamp’s advice and begin with a child’s wading pool.  You can put a small drainage hole or two, if it doesn’t have a crack or hole already, and either excavate and sink the liner in the ground, or build up some landscaping blocks around it to make it more attractive.

Line the bottom with some gravel and sand, and then fill your new bog garden with the peat/sand mix, or just set ceramic pots into it as I’ve done.  Dr. Mellichamp shows a beautiful bog garden he built, in his chapter on bog plants.  His is filled with peat and sand, with the plants growing as they would in a natural bog.  The peat is overgrown with moss and the effect is stunning.

If you don’t have Sarracenia at a garden center near you, you can order a wide variety of pitcher plants, and other water loving plants, from Plant Delights nursery in North Carolina.  Sarracenia Northwest, a grower based in Oregon, offers a wide selection of pitcher plants, and other interesting carnivorous plants.  Their service is excellent.  The plants I ordered arrived in excellent condition.

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Pitcher plants are easy to forget during winter.  Most are hardy in zones 5-9.   They stay outdoors, dormant, and need no special care.  It is only when those psychedelic flowers suddenly appear in late spring, and the first new leaves emerge that you take notice.

That is when I’m moved to clean them up, and begin assembling a beautiful collection of plants for our summer enjoyment in this quiet spot in our back garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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For the Love of Iris

Iris ‘Stairway to Heaven’

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I fell in love with Iris as a child.  My parents accepted a gift of Iris rhizomes from a retired friend, who happened to hybridize and grow German bearded Iris.  Dad came home one summer evening with his trunk loaded with paper grocery bags, each containing the mud caked rhizomes his friend had dug and discarded from his working garden.  He needed to repurpose the  space for his new seedlings.

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I’ve been searching for those intensely colored and perfumed Iris cultivars I remember from childhood. This is one of the closest I’ve found.  Iris ‘Medici Prince’ available from Brecks.com

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My mother looked at the sheer volume of gifted plants. A conversation followed about what to do with them all.  And then, Dad started digging.  He dug long borders in our sunny Danville, Virginia back yard.  Full sun and good loam were just what those Iris needed.

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The first spring after that, we were all speechless at the absolute beauty of them.  And the fragrance!  I don’t know whether my parents’ friend was selecting for fragrance, but these were the most fragrant flowers my young nose had ever discovered.

The colors of these special Iris ranged from white to intense reds and nearly black shades of purple.  They bloomed orange and pink and many shades of blue.  I was smitten, and have loved Iris since the day these Iris first bloomed in our back yard.

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When we moved, a few years later, we labeled the Iris by color while they were in bloom so we could dig some of each variety.  Back into grocery bags, we carried this legacy to our new home.  The new place had a shadier yard, and yet we set to work digging a new Iris bed, even while still unpacking boxes and settling into the house.

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I. ‘Echo Location’

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That began a new ritual around our family’s moving.  Each time after, we would try to dig and move as many Iris as we could.  As each of us left home, and our parents aged, that became a little more challenging with each move.

Even though I dug divisions for each of my gardens over the years, we still lost many of the cultivars along the way.

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But I never lost my enthusiasm for growing Iris.  And when I learned about re-blooming German bearded Iris a few years back, I began collecting and digging new beds for Iris in sunny spots in our Forest Garden.  I bought several varieties from local breeder Mike Lockatelle, and have ordered others from online catalogs.  Now, it is as common for us to enjoy Iris in bloom in November or December as it is to enjoy them in May.

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‘Rosalie Figge’ remains my favorite of our re-blooming Iris.

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We now grow many types of Iris, ranging from the earliest winter blooming cultivars which grow only a few inches tall, to our beautiful Bearded Iris which may grow to 4′ if they are happy.  We plant a few more each year.  There is a shallow pool filled with bright yellow flag Iris in our front yard, inherited with the garden.

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A master gardener friend gave me divisions of an antique variety of bearded Iris grown in Colonial Williamsburg, and all over this area, from her own garden.  Other friends have also given us beautiful gifts of Iris over the years, and each remains special to me.  The blooming Iris remind me of friendships and loved ones; other times and places in my life.

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The ‘Williamsburg Iris’ is an antique variety found growing around Colonial Williamsburg, and in private gardens throughout our area.  Ours were a gift from a Williamsburg Master Gardener friend.

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Iris can be grown successfully and enjoyed even if you have deer grazing in your garden.  Deer will not bother them.  This is one of the reasons why we find Iris to be a good investment.  They grow quickly, and can be easily divided and spread around the garden.  They pay amazing dividends as they get better and better each year.

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Iris can be easy to grow, if you can give them hot, sunny space to spread. They are heavy feeders and perform best when grown in rich soil and are fed once or twice a year.  But without sun and space, many varieties will just fizzle out. Make sure bearded Iris get at least six hours of direct sun; more if possible.

Iris want soil that drains after a rain.  Most established Iris can tolerate fairly dry soil after they bloom, which makes them a good selection for hot climates, like ours.  Japanese Iris and Louisiana Iris species require moist soil year round, and are happy growing in standing water.

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Winter blooming Iris histrioides in January

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Sometimes, their foliage will die back; but the roots remain alive and ready to grow new leaves when conditions improve.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find these beautiful miniature Iris growing this spring.

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Iris cristata ‘Vein Mountain’ is available from Plantdelights.com. This is a North American native Crested Woodland Iris.

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I though we had lost them during last summer’s drought, when they disappeared.  I’m still waiting for our Iris pallida ‘Variegata’ to reappear, which struggled last summer, too.

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Dutch Iris, always fun to cut for a vase, grow each spring and then, like so many other bulbs, die back.  They come in an amazing array of colors and can be ordered for pennies a bulb.

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Dutch Iris can be planted alongside bearded Iris to extend the season.

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Showy Louisiana Iris don’t have a place in our garden.  They grow best with their roots always wet, usually at the edge of a pond.  I admire them, but don’t have the right conditions to grow them.  But I am always happy to grab a shovel and make a spot for more bearded Iris. 

I’ve been moving Iris around my parents’ garden, the last few years, to bring shaded plants out into the sun.  I hope to salvage and increase what is left of their collection. We are enjoying the fruits of that effort this week, as they have gorgeous Iris blooming here and there around their home.

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These yellow flag Iris grow wild along marshes and creeks in our area, as well as in our garden. They go on year after year with minimal care and maximum beauty.

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We discussed plans for a new Iris bed when I was there last weekend.  While I’m moving them, I plan to cull a few divisions for myself, too.  And, I will take them a few roots from our garden, too.

Sharing is one of the nicest things about growing Iris.  No matter how many roots you give away, more will grow.  Each division of rhizome needs at least one leaf and root.  Plant the division in amended soil, with the top of the rhizome visible.

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Siberian Iris

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Cover all roots well with good earth, and mulch lightly around the newly planted roots, without covering the exposed rhizome.  Water the plant in, and then keep the soil moist until new growth appears.  I feed our Iris Espoma Rose Tone each spring when I feed the roses.  A light application of dolomitic lime or Epsom salts makes for stronger, faster growth.

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This Iris, ‘Secret Rites,’ was new to the garden last year.

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Once each flower blooms and collapses, gently cut it away from the main stem.  A single stem may carry 5 or 6 buds, each opening at a slightly different time.

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I. ‘Immortality’

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Once all of the buds have finished, cut the stem back to its base.  Remove browned or withered leaves a few times each year, as needed.  With a minimal investment of effort, Iris give structure to the garden year round.

And when they bloom, oh, the fragrance and color they give…..

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Against the Odds: Carrot Flowers

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Lunch, right?  Maybe not….

I read an interesting tip last night about planting carrots in the April 2017 issue of  Fine Gardening Magazine .

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Most of us immediately think of seeds and planting carrots in our vegetable garden to harvest and eat in a few months.  This writer, David Perry of Seattle, explains how he plants “ratty carrots from the local produce stand” at strategic places in his flower garden.

Since carrots are biennials, in their first year they put their energy into growing a fat, orange tap root.  But while that is happening, beautiful fern-like leaves fuel the delicious growth.  This is the point where most of us pull the carrot, discard its foliage, and transform it into something delicious and satisfying.

But wait, there’s more!

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February 7, 2015 micro 008

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Perhaps, like me, you’ve set a severed carrot top into a shallow dish of water to amuse a child.  What is left of the tap root will continue to drink, and new leaves will sprout.

The carrot leaves will grow, in a bright windowsill, for a few weeks until bacteria wins the day and you feed the project to your compost pile.   I’ve been known to amuse myself in this way through a particularly raw February!  It feels like a little horticultural miracle unfolding in the dead of winter.

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Parsnips

Parsnips

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But David goes a step beyond this to create something lasting and beautiful.   He takes a carrot, already pulled and trimmed and destined for the table, and gives it a reprieve in his garden.  Like a pardoned turkey at Thanksgiving, this joyous root rewards him with beautiful flowers and foliage for the season.

He says, “Visiting gardeners and garden designers often ask about the white umbels that appear at beautiful strategic places in my garden.  Here’s my secret: ….”

This is certainly an economical way to generate large, flowering, unusual plants.  David simply plants a carrot or two wherever he wants to enjoy their flowers later in the season.

To do this, choose a carrot which still has its top where leaves can grow.  Dig a narrow hole an inch or two deeper than your carrot is long.  You can just open the earth with a shovel or trowel to the necessary depth, slip the carrot in so the top sits flush with the top of the soil, and push the hole closed around the carrot.

Site your carrots in part or full sun, in good soil, and keep the root moist as it begins to grow again and gets established.  You may need to stake the plants as they grow, especially if you’ve planted in rich soil.  They will grow to several feet high.

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Queen's Anne's lace, or wild carrot

Queen’s Anne’s lace, or wild carrot

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Do you know the wildflower, “Queen Anne’s Lace?”  These beautiful creamy white flowers turn up on Virginia roadsides and along the edges of fields each summer.  I’ve always admired them, and they provide a rich food source for pollinators.

Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, is also known as ‘Wild Carrot.”  This may give you an idea of what to expect from planting a carrot in your garden!  And while wild Daucus carota is generally considered poisonous and not gathered for food; true carrot leaves, from the edible Daucus carota subspecies sativus can be eaten. In other words, the foliage from edible carrots in either their first year of growth, or their second, may be harvested and added to your salad. 

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Horseradish

Horseradish and parsley roots

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Like many leaf vegetables, they contain alkaloids. But they also contain many healthful vitamins and minerals.  There are some yummy carrot recipes and a full discussion of their nutrition here.

In years passed, before the convenience of packaged seeds; many gardeners left a few carrots in their garden over winter to flower and produce seeds in their second year.   Seeds from the previous year’s crop of carrots were gathered and saved every fall so there were always seeds to plant the following spring.

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Taro is also Colocasia. Plant these when the soil is warm, and huge 'Elephant Ears' will soon emerge.

Taro is also Colocasia. Plant these when the soil is warm, and huge ‘Elephant Ears’ will soon emerge.

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This also works for parsley, fennel, broccoli, celery, onions, garlic, and many other vegetables and herbs.  In fact, the flowers from all of these add to the beauty of an herb or flower garden.

Their flowers attract beneficial insects, like lacewings and lady bugs who help eradicate harmful ones.  Beneficial insects are always welcome in organic gardens and wildlife gardens were pesticides aren’t used.

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Attract beneficial insects to your garden

Garlic chives, and similar flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden.  Beneficial insects help control harmful ones, and pollinators increase yields.

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And so, if against all odds, you replant that carrot rather than eating it; you’ll reap a rich harvest of flowers, food, and other benefits in your garden.  Since carrots are biennials, each carrot you plant will give flowers over a single summer.  The flowers will eventually yield seeds, and then the entire plant will die back.  The carrot you planted will no longer be edible, after this second year of growth.

But carrots aren’t the only produce market find you can plant and enjoy.  Try parsnips, another biennial, as well.

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Frrom lower right

Clockwise, from lower right:  Garlic, Tumeric root, Jerusalem artichoke, carrot and ginger root.  Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, produces very tall yellow flowers in summer, like small sunflowers, and edible tubers.

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Ginger and tumeric, tropical and tasty rhizomes, will root and grow beautiful foliage in a pot or garden bed.  You can’t leave them outside over winter in our climate, but they will add to the garden’s beauty while the rhizomes grow larger over the season, and can be saved indoors from year to year.

Heads of garlic may be broken into individual cloves and planted in rich garden soil in full sun in autumn.   Each clove will grow into a new head of garlic the following summer.  Garlic and garlic chives also produces beneficial flowers.

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Go ahead and plant a piece of that horseradish root in your garden to produce more.  These grow into large plants, so you need to leave a few feet in all directions for it to grow.  Horseradish is a perennial and is  grown from root cuttings, not seed.

Green onion roots may be planted even if you’ve sliced and diced their tops onto your dinner.  Often hydroponic lettuce heads come with roots still attached.  Harvest some of the leaves and plant the roots and crown.

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Potatoes may be cut into chunks, each with an eye, and replanted to grow a new potato vine.  Many gardeners recommend buying certified seed potatoes to avoid spreading certain potato diseases, but in a pinch….

Buy a sweet potato now, and coax it into growth in a shallow pan of moist soil or even suspended in a jar of water.  New green shoots will soon begin to grow.

These luscious vines may be grown for their own sake.  They are both beautiful and edible.  But if you break the starts away from the potato when the soil has warmed in May, each may be planted out in the garden (or a pot) to grow into a new, productive,  sweet potato plant.  You can produce a garden full of sweet potatoes from the shoots of a single ‘mother’ potato.

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Some markets offer prickly pear cactus pads.  Each may be rooted and grown in full sun to a prodigious size over the years.  Your new plant will begin producing fruit in just a few years.  You might also plant the seed in your avocado to grow your own tree.

Beautiful pineapple plants may be grown from the crown of a fruit.   I even have a potted grapefruit tree which grew from a sprouted seed I found in my Ruby Red one day!

It is easy to save seeds from pumpkins and winter squash to plant the following spring.  Even raw peanuts are seeds, remember, and each will grow into a productive peanut plant!

Against all odds, you can create a beautiful and productive garden from  what might otherwise be eaten or thrown away.

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This week, I’ve been reading Ken Druse’s book, Making More Plants. book-5a

What a wonderful read in February!  Druse explains, in well-illustrated detail, how to grow new plants from stems, seeds, leaves and roots.  Whatever you might be lacking in propagation skills, you will find guidance and ideas to create new plants for your garden from the tiniest bit of leaf or root.  He shows how to build or find the equipment you need, explains the botany, and demonstrates how to become more successful at multiplying your plants.

 

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Relax, daydream a bit, and notice what might have a second life if given a chance.  Consider how to use all of the resources at hand….

This is how our ancestors supported themselves and their families in the days before supermarkets and garden centers.

There is always more to discover and to learn…..

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February 7, 2015 micro 014~

Woodland Gnome 2017

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Wild carrot flowers

Wild carrot flowers

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for the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Against The  Odds

And with appreciation to our local Harris Teeter for allowing me to take photos in their produce department.

May Update:  Carrot Flowers?

 

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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Small Worlds

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“As Above, so Below,

as within, so without,

as the universe, so the soul…”

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Hermes Trismegistus

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“Small worlds….”  What a peaceful pleasure to construct them.  Terrariums, fairy gardens, dish gardens, bonsai or fern cases; all bring delight both to the creator and to the viewer.

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Building these little gardens has become a favorite winter project during the first months of the year.  I’ve had a few ideas percolating since mid-January, but just managed a trip to The Great Big Greenhouse, in Richmond on Saturday, to explore their stock of tiny plants.

TGBGH specializes, especially each winter, in the tiny plants, pots and accessories one needs to create little indoor gardens.   Last Saturday I found myself in company with a jolly crowd of gardeners soaking up the warm moist air and verdant green of their magical greenhouse complex.  Orchids, Philodendron, ferns,  little trees for bonsai, and garden plants forced early into bloom competed to tempt a gardener’s heart.

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The taller birds nest ferm could eventually fill this space. They enjoy a warm, moist environment.

The taller birds nest fern could eventually fill this space. They enjoy a warm, moist environment.

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I had only a tiny slice of time to take it all in, and so quickly found their selection of miniatures in 1″ pots offered for terrariums.  I came away with an intriguing mix of ferns and Begonias, all new to my collection, save for the Bird’s Nest ferns.

While tiny now, these plants will quickly grow into their potential.  This is a very economical and enjoyable way to experiment with new cultivars over winter, knowing they can be moved into larger pots and planting schemes by early summer.

The Birds Nest ferns, Asplenium nidus, grow as epiphytes in warm, moist tropical rain forests.  This makes them a great candidate for a terrarium or fern case.  Like many ferns, they will grow well without direct sunlight and grow happily indoors so long as humidity is provided.  Their long, beautiful leaves emerge from the center of the plant.  After several years of growth, they may grow to well over a 18″ tall.

My arrangement features a pair of Birds Nest ferns, one ‘above’ and the other below.  I will be interested to see which grows better and faster!

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Pleopeltis percussa creeps along the rocks in the foreground. This evergreen fern grows on bark or rocks in Central and South America.

Pleopeltis percussa creeps along the rocks in the foreground. This tropical epiphytic  fern grows on trees or rocks in Central and South American forests.

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I particularly like “footed” ferns; those with rhizomes which creep across the earth, sending up new leaves directly from their “furry” stem.  This little Pleopeltis percussa is a new fern I’ve not yet grown.  While its rhizomes will wander and branch, the individual leaves remain fairly small.  Roots grow from the rhizomes down into the moist soil below.  If growing on a tree branch, the roots would anchor in the tree’s bark and absorb water from the bark and moist air.  Any small piece of the rhizome which has both established roots and a leaf or two, may be cut away and potted up to grow on into a new plant.

These don’t look much like traditional ferns. Their rather thick, long lasting leaves don’t look like the more common lacy fern frond.   But they produce spores on the undersides of their leaves rather than seeds.  They will never produce flowers or fruits.  It is their way of reproducing from tiny spores which makes them a fern.

Besides the Pleopeltis and Birds Nest fern, you may notice two tiny divisions of Strawberry Begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, in this tiny garden.  These are divisions from a larger plant overwintering in our garage.  After they establish, each will send out a long stem with an embryonic clone of itself at the stem’s tip.  Where it touches moist soil, it will send down roots and begin to grow, quickly forming a dense colony of these lovely evergreen plants.

Small colonies of these evergreen perennials continue to grow through the winter in pots left outside in the garden.  They will send up long stalks of tiny white or pink flowers in mid-spring.  It is unlikely these little plants will have enough light to bloom indoors, but could produce flowers  if I move them out to a shaded spot in late spring.

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A tiny offset of Strawberry Begonia, saxifraga stolonifera, nestles into its new home beside the Birds Nest fern.

A tiny offset of Strawberry Begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, nestles into its new home beside the Birds Nest fern.  Notice the new leaf emerging in the center of the fern.

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I’ve made these little gardens from re-purposed vases found in our basement.  Both held ivy, red berries  and floating candles at the holidays.  I was pleased to see that the wider dish balances easily on the glass cylinder, enclosing it into its own little space.  Terrariums can go on sustaining themselves indefinitely if they receive enough light for the plants to grow, because the moisture which evaporates from leaves and soil remains in the atmosphere.  It may condense on the glass and run back into the soil, but the soil remains moist and the plants remain hydrated.

This is something like our own little world we call Earth:  our atmosphere catches evaporating moisture into clouds, and it settles as dew or falls as rain.  Our outer atmosphere and magnetic fields hold our precious water close to the surface so it may be used again and again by all  living things.  The water I brewed into coffee this morning has probably been around for millions of years….

It is only when there is imbalance or disruption that this process runs amuck, resulting in drought or floods.

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If you know me personally, you may be wondering why on Earth I’m sitting at home puttering around with sacks of soil and stone and these little plants rather than getting involved in the wider issues of the day.  You may wonder if I’m insensible to the sweep of historical change touching each one of our lives.

You know I remain passionate about the very questions of human rights, environmental preservation, Constitutional government, and non-discrimination which the new administration appears to be daily shredding;  and the rule of law which has been dramatically called into question.

And yes, I’ve been spending large chunks of my time following the events of the day.  Often I’m too wrapped up in what is happening to stop and garden or write or work with photos.

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“Close your eyes and let the mind expand.

Let no fear of death or darkness arrest its course.

Allow the mind to merge with Mind.

Let it flow out upon the great curve of consciousness.

Let it soar on the wings of the great bird

of duration, up to the very Circle of Eternity.”


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Hermes Trismegistus

~

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Each of us has a part to play in the unfolding of life here on our Earth.  But we each do what we can, when we can, where we can.    From small beginnings, large movements grow.  And from our daily thoughts, prayers and actions, the fabric of our lives emerge.

What each one of us does, personally, has an impact on the whole.  We must be the changes we seek.  We must envision and live the reality we intend to manifest.  This is a basic principle that all of the great wisdom teachers , throughout all of our recorded history, demonstrate.

The love we bring to our own environment resonates with the whole.  The peace we maintain in our own minds and hearts resonates in the larger community.   We plant our intentions, tucking them into the fertile soil of our hopeful imaginations, and watch them grow.

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And that is why I believe that we must guard our thoughts and speak our truth.

Without fear or spite, we continue to create beauty and harmony in whatever way we can, knowing it is magnified and reflected in unimagined ways to affect the greater whole.

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“Everything flows out and in; everything has its tides;
all things rise and fall; the pendulum-swing manifests
in everything; the measure of the swing to the right,
is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm
compensates…

“Everything happens according to Law;

that nothing ever “merely happens”;

that there is no such thing as Chance;

that while there are various planes

of Cause and Effect, the higher dominating

the lower planes, still

nothing ever entirely escapes the Law.”

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The Kybalion

~

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Woodland Gnome 2017

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Repurpose

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“If thou but settest foot on this path,

thou shalt see it everywhere.”

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Hermes Trismegistus

 

Building A Terrarium

Tiny Gardens

Packing It In… Before the Frost

A new leaf of Alocasia 'stingray' is opening, even as we bring our tender plants in for autumn.

A new leaf of Alocasia ‘Stingray’ is opening, even as we bring our tender plants in for autumn.

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It’s hard to know these days whether we live in Zone 7b or 8a.  Technically, by the map, James City County is rated in hardiness Zone 7b, which means we might have winter temperatures as low as 5-10F.  I can’t remember the last time it grew that cold here.  But I’ll accept it’s possible.

Beyond the lowest winter temperature, climate zone also informs us when to expect the first freezing temperatures of autumn and the last freeze in spring.  The first frost date for Zone 7b falls on October 15; the first frost in Zone 8a falls a month later on November 15.  That said, we’ve not  yet had a night colder than 40F.

But, the cold is definitely coming.  Which is why we’ve devoted the last several days to moving as many tender potted plants as possible back indoors for the winter.

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This Caladium, 'Sweet Carolina,' came indoors in its pot, with its companion Begonias.

This Caladium, ‘Sweet Carolina,’ came indoors this week  in its pot, with its companion Begonias.

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I like to prioritize and organize, especially when the forecast fluctuates and one can’t be certain when that first freeze will come.  (It’s a game of chance, calculating how long to wait before beginning the annual migration. While it must be finished before frost, the plants benefit from every sunny warmish autumn day they can remain out in the garden.)  

I began with the Caladiums,  perhaps the most tender of our tropical plants.  I’ve dried most of the tubers, packed them carefully, and brought them inside for warm storage during the winter.  But, hedging my bets, lots are still left growing in pots indoors.  I’ve had good success overwintering Caladium tubers in pots with other plants.  While they like heat and prefer a spot in the living room, they will survive in pots kept in the garage.  While they never freeze there, the temperatures may dip into the 40s some nights.  Even potted Caladiums will soon go dormant, but may delight us with new growth in January or February.

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This mixed basket of Begonias, all started fresh from cuttings in May, has moved into the living room for the winter. I set baskets like this into deep clear plastic containers so they can be watered without making a huge mess.

This mixed basket of Begonias, all started fresh from cuttings in May, has moved into the living room for the winter. I set baskets like this into deep clear plastic containers so they can be watered without making a huge mess.

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The fall migration always calls for some repotting, and more this year than some.  The Norfolk Island Pine dislikes night time temperatures below 50F.  Giving ours a new pot, and a new, lower stand indoors, was high on the list.  While ours touched the ceiling on its old stand last year, it has grown several inches over summer on the patio.  It sits on a much lower table now in the corner of our hall, draped in white lights, and awaiting its holiday  dressing with blown glass balls.

Our Begonias and ferns grew more this summer than I’d realized.  Some are positively huge!  I look at photos taken in early summer and marvel at how much growth they’ve given us this year.  Finding space for each pot and basket remains a challenge.  I’ve coped this year by cutting some of the cane Begonias back hard before moving them.    I’ve gathered the cut stems into vases, hoping most will root.  When there isn’t space for all of the pots, at least one can keep a favorite plant going over winter as a cutting.

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Alocasia 'Stingray' has an interesting leaf. Can you see the narrow 'tail' formed by the tip of the leaf? Our largest leaf has grown to nearly 2' wide.

Alocasia ‘Stingray’ has an interesting leaf. Can you see the narrow ‘tail’ formed by the tip of the leaf? Our largest leaf has grown to nearly 2′ wide.

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We use empty buckets, arranged on large plastic bags, to hold those hanging baskets we plan to keep over winter.  The baskets sit all in a long row along one wall of the garage, under the bank of windows.  They are messy to water, especially those more than a year old.  The potting soil is dense with roots, and poured water tends to run off.  We use blown glass globes to keep them hydrated.  I fill the globes with water a few times each week, through the winter, to keep the soil moist enough for the plants to survive.

Plastic picnic tablecloths cover the garage floor where I mass our pots.  Although each pot has its own saucer or plate, the plastic catches spills, overfills, and fallen leaves.  This isn’t a neat project, but one well worth the trouble to keep plants from season to season.

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Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

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The Bougainvillea vines have been covered in blooms, loving the autumn sunshine on the patio.  I wish we could leave them in place year round, but they are too tender to survive a freeze.  Old plants now, their long stems are 8′-12′ long, branched and thorny.  Their pots don’t require much space, but their stems make them hard to place in the garage.  Some years they keep blooming right through January!

It is quite a production to bring them in, and so we did it today while we had sunshine and a little warmth.

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Today we also finally repotted the largest and oldest of our cane Begonias.  It had been in its current plastic pot for nearly a decade.  The plant, itself, was nearly 6′ tall and its long canes reached out in every direction.  I had to prune it hard, first; clean out fallen leaves and old wood; and then free the root ball from its sadly disintegrating pot.  Its new, larger 20″ square pot accepted the roots with room to spare (whew!) and looks so much better!  We found space for the pot in the garage, where this venerable old Begonia will get lots of winter sun.  But I’m even more excited that there will soon be lots of rooted cuttings to share.

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This Begonia has spent the last 4 winters indoors, and comes back each summer better than ever begfore.

This Begonia has spent the last four winters indoors, and comes back each summer better than ever before.

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And finally, it was time to work with our huge new Alocasias.    Although these tubers are sometimes sold dry and dormant, I decided to try to keep the plants in leaf through winter, in the garage.   Some  may be marginally hardy here, but I don’t really want to take that chance.  We  lifted A. Sarian from its pot on Monday, and replanted it into a much smaller pot for winter.  Its long petioles reach high, to let each leaf capture as much sun as possible.

A. Plumbea, hardy only to Zone 9, was lifted from the ground into a new pot last week, but left out on the patio to adjust.  Our huge and beautiful A. ‘Stingray,’  which have greeted us beside the drive all summer, came in today, too.  One pot stands in the garage, the other is nestled into the sunniest part of our front patio, sheltered by a brick wall.     A. ‘Stingray,’ hardy to Zone 8, might make it through winter in its huge pot, sheltered in this sunny spot on the patio.

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Colocasia 'Tea cups' is hardy to Zone 7. I've left it outside in its pot, hoping it will make it through the winter. I brought a little division indoors in a pot.

Colocasia ‘Tea cups’ is hardy to Zone 7. I’ve left it outside in its pot, hoping it will make it through the winter.  I brought a little division indoors in a pot.

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The front patio also shelters several tender trees, like pomegranate, olive, and grapefruit.  I usually wait until bitter cold sets in, 20s at least, to move these indoors.  They appreciate the sun, and can survive a light freeze.

Over the years I’ve learned to think strategically about holding plants through the winter.  A huge pot of Colocasia ‘Mojito,’ kept in the basement last year, didn’t come in today.  It was late afternoon when I came to it, and I was already running on fumes.

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Colacasia 'Mojito'

Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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Instead, I divided the Colocasia and repotted just a few tubers of it into a much smaller pot, setting the remaining tubers out into the soil.  I’ve had some luck with Colocasia cultivars rated to Zone 8 overwintering in the ground in this garden, and I decided to give it a try.  We brought the smaller pot in to keep overwinter in the basement as ‘insurance.’   I ended up doing the same thing with our Colocasia ‘tea cups.’    Another massive plant, I left the main tuber in its large pot in the garden, but potted up one of its little offspring tubers to bring indoors.  It is supposed to be hardy in Zone  7, and so I’m hopeful  it will survive our winters in its pot.

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Alocasia 'Sarian,' hardy only to zone 9, came to us in a 4" pot in late May. It didn't reach its 6' potential this year, but mayben ext yera?

Alocasia ‘Sarian,’ hardy only to zone 9, came to us in a 4″ pot in late May. It didn’t reach its 6′ potential this year, but maybe next year?  The Coleus surrounding it, grown from cuttings, will be replaced next year.

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Smaller plants get dug up and tucked into largish pots of other plants.  I’ve brought in a few tiny Begonias today in the palm of my hand, transplanting them in with something else.    I’ve done the same with tender ferns and vines, planting them into a pot of Caladium ‘Moonlight’ tubers.

All of our beautiful geraniums still sit out in the cold.  I’ve not had energy or space for a single one so far.  Our first night down into the 30s is forecast for Friday or Saturday night.  Although tender, geraniums can be found in abundance each spring.  And they don’t much like overwintering in our garage.  If I save any, it will be some of the scented Pelargoniums.

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Some Lantana prove hardy for us, others don't make it through the winter. This has been an especially nice Coleus and I'll likely take cutttings before frost.

Some Lantana prove hardy for us, others don’t make it through the winter. This has been an especially nice Coleus and I’ll likely take cuttings before frost.  The colors of both plants grow more intense in late autumn as night time temperatures cool.

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It is hard to watch favorite plants wither after the first frost.  I gave some potted Begonias and some cuttings  to a neighbor today.  I’ve run out of space to keep them.  There are other pots of coleus and Euphorbia, geraniums and impatiens which won’t make it indoors before the coming freeze.  It makes me sad to see them freeze, but I’ve learned that these plants, kept over winter, won’t grow as well or as vibrantly next season.  Sometimes it is better to begin again with new plants and new soil in spring.

Each turn of the seasons offers an opportunity begin again; a fresh start.  We get to apply what we’ve learned, but to do it differently.  Empty pots now, perhaps; but in  a few months they will stand ready to replant.  We’ll have the fun of choosing new plants and creating new combinations with them.

Surely, we’ll learn something new, too.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Begonia 'Richmondensis' will bloom indoors through the winter months.

Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ will bloom indoors through the winter.

 

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 5: Keep Planting!

July 12, 2016 garden layers 013

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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.

    ~

    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.

    ~

  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.

    ~

    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.

    ~

  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.

    ~

    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.

    ~

  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.

    ~

    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.

    ~

    “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

    ~

    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.

    ~

    Woodland Gnome 2016

Green Velvet Serenity: Moss Garden

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 016

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What can  grow on poor compacted soil, in sun or shade, with no fertilizer, has no problems with pest or disease; and still will look beautiful year round?

Why mosses and other bryophytes, of course….

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November 18, 2014 moss 022

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Bryophytes are hardy, ancient non-vascular plants.  They remain with us in abundance despite their long history covering the soil of planet Earth.  And their appearance often appears magical when they begin growing in the most impossible and most inhospitable spots.

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Soft expanses of moss exude serenity and calm.  They offer respite from an often chaotic world.  They allow us to simplify our gardening effort; providing sanctuary for the weary gardener while helping to heal our planet.

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March 20, 2016 spring flowers 001
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Mosses utterly fascinate me.  These miniature plants simply appear, unplanned and unplanted; sown by nature’s hand.  Like a thick plush rug, they carpet the soil year round, remaining green even under a blanket of snow or glaze of ice.

And every moment they clean carbon  dioxide and pollutants from the air we breathe, returning these elements to Earth.

~
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But a moss carpet takes time to grow; many years in most cases.  Allowing nature to create the moss garden, unaided by the gardener’s hand, can be an uncertain proposition because those tiny bits of moss must compete with other larger, stronger, more weedy vascular plants.

My experiments with moss gardening in containers have been mixed.  While some have survived and colonized the pot, others have not.

~
March 10, 2016 spring flowers 012~

The moss turns brown. Birds raid the loose pieces for their nests.  Squirrels push the moss aside to dig for nutty treasures, leaving it to desiccate in the sun.

The longer we live in this garden, the more I value moss as a ground cover for paths, slopes and areas which remain in deep shade.  It is an affordable, practical option to ‘finish’ areas which otherwise would remain muddy for much of the year.

~
November 18, 2014 moss 038~

When I saw Annie Martin’s The Magical World of Moss Gardening, published in early September of 2015 by Timber Press, I knew this lush ‘how to’ manual  could teach me the techniques I needed to cultivate mosses on a larger scale in our garden.  And it has proven to offer as much inspiration as it has instruction. moss gardening bookThe photos alone opened my eyes to possibilities for using mosses in the garden which I wouldn’t have imagined on my own.

‘Mossin Annie’ takes us on garden tours around the United States; from her own and others she has created near Asheville, NC on to Oregon and California;  as well as to the centuries old moss gardens of Japan.  In fact, one of the gardens Annie photographs grows in Chesterfield County, Virginia.  In showing us these gardens, Annie demonstrates the three main ways to establish gardens and design with mosses.

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The first, simplest way also takes the longest time.  Norie Burnet, a Chesterfield County teacher with a wooded suburban property and little budget for gardening, allowed nature to plant her moss garden for her.  She waited for airborne spores to take hold and colonize those areas she prepared for moss, then meticulously watered, weeded and groomed to give the moss every chance to thrive.

She has invested 25 years of careful tending and designing to help those mosses grow exactly where she wants them.  Now she enjoys an exquisite shaded garden, beautifully carpeted in many species of moss, which she can easily maintain herself.

~
March 10, 2016 spring flowers 028
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A second method for establishing mosses gives the gardener a more active hand in selecting and placing mosses to create beautiful designs with their textures and colors.  It also speeds the process considerably.  This is the method I’m experimenting with this year.

Rather than waiting for moss spores to colonize the garden, we speed things up a bit by transplanting moss where we want it to grow.  This works best in areas where moss can and will grow naturally, using native species of moss.  But moss from other parts of the world sometimes may be transplanted if their needs are met.

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March 10, 2016 spring flowers 017~

Ordinary unamended, compacted garden soil works best here.  First clearing away every weedy vascular plant, we rough up the surface a little, then firmly press small bits of moss onto the prepared soil.  Annie recommends pieces the size of one’s hand, but smaller bits will work.  These are laid into a patchwork with spaces left between.  The transplanted moss will take hold and grow.  Eventually it will send its spore into the surrounding areas.

~
March 10, 2016 spring flowers 009
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The mosses need moisture and time to grow.  Daily watering is key to keeping them alive and growing during the crucial time when they are taking hold.  Firm pressure to give them a good bond with the soil is needed, too.  First, pressing them very firmly into place when planting. and later walking over them regularly to maintain that contact.

Here is where I had problems.  No matter how firmly I might push my little transplants down, some bird or squirrel will come behind me and flip it!  Some tasty morsel surely is under that moss!  And the birds appreciate my help in tearing the mosses for them to line their nests!

~
hunks of flipped moss to the right got securely replanted and held with metal pins.

Hunks of flipped moss to the right got securely replanted and held with metal pins.

~

The remedy is to pin each piece of moss into place with toothpicks, small broken sticks, or metal pins.  I used the same U shaped metal pins we keep for making evergreen wreathes.  These hold the mosses securely and allow them a chance to grab into the soil below.

This has been a major problem in my outdoor containers, too.   Agitation of the moss transplants from animals interferes with its growth. But also, the potting soil itself isn’t a good subsoil for moss.

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March 20, 2016 spring flowers 031
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Potting soil is too light, and the perlite in most mixes makes it nearly impossible for moss rhizoids to grow into it.  While moss spores easily colonize moist potting soil, transplanting mature pieces remains a challenge.

The size of the hunks of moss, and the size of the spaces between are determined by how much moss you have to plant and how quickly you need the ground covered.  Which do you have in more abundance, time, moss or money?

~
Volunteer moss in our garden ready for harvesting and replanting elsewhere

Volunteer moss in our garden ready for harvesting and replanting elsewhere

~

The third method for establishing a moss garden is the fastest and gives the most immediate satisfaction.  After cleaning and preparing the site, one simply rolls out the already growing moss.  Annie owns a moss garden landscaping company and raises large sheets of moss already growing on landscaping fabric, which her crews will roll out on your bare soil, for a price, and anchor into place.  Voila!  Instant moss garden! 

She, and others around the world, also grow moss in nursery flats.  It is possible to buy many varieties of moss, mail ordered from a nursery, by the square foot.  These smaller mats are then torn into designs or laid whole to carpet the area.

All methods require careful attention for the first several months as they attach to the soil below.  They must be kept clean, with fallen leaves, sticks and other garden waste swept away so light can reach the moss.  Vascular weeds which take root in the moss must be plucked.  They compete by shading out the moss and absorbing the moisture it needs.  Tears in the moss must be mended; stray bits pushed back into place.

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Porous material, like this hypertufa pot, support moss very well. Glazed and plastic pots do not. In general, moss will grow on brick, some stone, concrete, bark and asphalt very well.

Porous material, like this hypertufa pot, support moss very well. Glazed and plastic pots do not. In general, moss will grow on brick, some stone, concrete, bark and asphalt very well.

~

Perhaps you’ve heard stories of ‘Moss Milkshakes’ as a method for getting mosses to grow on rocks or clay pots.  I’ve not yet tried this method.  Annie discourages it and explains she has had little success.  One breaks up hunks of living moss into an old blender, and adds some combination of buttermilk, yogurt, or beer….. This whole mess is whirred into a thick slurry and painted on to a porous surface, kept moist and shaded, and at some time in the future moss begins to grow.  It should work.

Most mosses can regrow from any part of the plant.  Like the arm of the starfish, even the tiniest bit of leaf or rhizoid is enough for the whole moss to grow back in the right conditions.  And the gardener’s challenge becomes to provide those right conditions consistently enough and long enough for the moss to colonize and establish themselves on the new surface.

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This may be something I experiment with in the coming weeks.  Mossin Annie shares very detailed and useful information about moss gardening in her beautiful book.  But search as I may, nowhere can I find instructions for growing a flat of moss, or for growing one of her large sheets of landscape fabric based moss.  Those must be trade secrets!

And that is what I would like to learn.  I’d like a few beautiful homegrown flats of the mosses already native in our area, ready to lay on the ground,  to embellish our now growing moss gardens.  Because part of the art of designing moss gardens is the interplay of various textures and colors of mosses growing next to one another.  Flats of ready moss are the artist’s palette for a moss gardener; and like everything else in the garden, must be bought if not ‘home grown.’

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October 31, 2014 color 012
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And it all takes time.  Annie makes clear that the moss gardener must think in months or years to see a vision grow into place.  Even buying her moss mats to carpet a shady corner of the garden, one must still wait for mosses to grow up over rocks or stumps, trees trunks and walls.

Like with all gardening, it unfolds in its own time.  We can perhaps speed the process a little with our efforts.  We can aid and encourage nature in her natural course.  But ultimately, we wait for the miracle; with enough patience to finally witness its unfolding.

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March 20, 2016 spring flowers 017~

Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Wednesday Vignette: Beginnings

January 3, 2016 pots 008

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“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap

but by the seeds that you plant.”

.

Robert Louis Stevenson

 

These aren’t the sort of photos you’ll often see on my pages, but it is a current view of the large pots on our deck.

The ornamental pepper lasted far longer into the early winter than we had any expectation it could last.  And I still am enjoying its bright red seed pods.

And right after taking the photo, I picked a few of the pods and crumbled their seeds into other pots nearby.  We enjoyed a beautiful crop of volunteer pepper plants grown from nature sown seeds last summer.  And so I expect we will again this summer.

You might recognize the baby strawberry plants growing with the pepper in this pot, and there is just the stem of a lemon verbena emerging from a clump of parsley.  Here the remains of one season mingle with the beginnings of next summer’s beauty.

It doesn’t matter to us that it looks a little ragged at the moment.  We choose to see the inherent potential in the soil, the seeds, and those hardy plants prepared to freeze and thaw dozens of times between now and spring.

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Purple Sage and Fennel share this pot.

Purple Sage and Fennel share this pot with strawberry, Sedum, and who knows what else?

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Appreciation, always, to  Anna at Flutter and Hum for hosting the Wednesday Vignette each week.  Please visit her to see a beautiful photo taken after the ice storm which hit Portland, OR.

Woodland Gnome 2016

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Golden Marjoram covers the soil around baby strawberries and a Viola.

Golden Marjoram covers the soil around baby strawberries and a Viola.

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“Only those who sow seeds of change

can hope to grow and reap a harvest.”

.

Andrea Goeglein

 ~

December 31, 2016 004

 

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