Fabulous Friday: B. ‘Sofia’ Blooms

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The first blooms of the season just appeared on our most stunning cane Begonia, ‘Sophia.’  This Begonia has the largest, most dramatic leaves of all the Begonia‘s we grow.

When I originally ordered it several years ago from Garden Harvest Supply Com., it was advertised as having dark purple leaves, with splashes of silver, that can appear almost black on top. The undersides of the leaves are a beautiful maroon.  Little mention was made of its flowers.  The leaves are the main attraction on this Begonia, and they are lovely year round whether the plant is grown indoors or outside.

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What the catalog description didn’t warn me about was this plant’s size!  It grows enthusiastically, with huge leaves and towering  canes.  When I cut back the canes to prevent the plant from falling over, and put those canes in water, they quickly root.  Which means, that we have a growing collection of pots of this beautiful, but gargantuan, Begonia. 

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A potted B. ‘Sophia’ grows between an oakleaf Hydrangea and Edgeworthia, lit by the early morning sun.

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We enjoy this Begonia in our home from late October through early May.  Once it comes outside, it loses some of its winter leaves, but quickly replaces them with larger, more intense ones.  Now, after nearly three months of brighter light and moist heat, it is ready to cover itself in sprays of small, pink flowers.  Cane Begonias flower generously once they get going!

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B. ‘Sophia’ beginning to bloom.  Its canes look much like bamboo.  New side shoots can grow from each leaf node.  Pinching out the growth tip encourages new side shoots to form.

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This was the last Begonia cultivar we have been waiting for to bloom this year.  It joins our many other varieties filling pots and baskets in the shady areas of our forest garden.  These large plants use a tremendous amount of water each day.  In hot weather, they may need watering every day. Water twice a day if the plants look stressed.

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Another cane Begonia, ‘Arabian Sunset’ blooms continually from May through October.  I originally purchased this variety from a farmer’s market, and gave it to my dad for Father’s Day.  We have kept it going from cuttings for nearly 20 years.  I’ve not seen it offered for sale, since.

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They will have better color and more flowers if you feed them regularly, too, with enriched soil, timed release fertilizer such as Osmocote, and also a boost from a liquid feed from time to time.  I use Neptune’s Harvest in a watering can several times a month during summer for Begonias kept out in the garden.  Begonias kept indoors, or on our deck, get a very diluted drink of a water soluble fertilizer formulated for orchids. It certainly isn’t organic; but it doesn’t have a a strong odor and the plants respond with abundant growth.

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Large cane Begonias give our garden a rich texture.  Grow them in a large pot, and consider underplanting them with miniature Hosta, low growing ferns, ivy, Heuchera, Dichondra,  small Caladiums, or other, lower growing Begonias.  If you don’t cover the soil with a companion planting, then mulch the soil with moss or fine gravel to both conserve moisture and make a more finished presentation.

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Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ is an angel wing Begonia which performs well in a hanging basket.

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Just keep in mind, as summer draws to a close, that cane Begonias, like ‘Sophia’ are tropical plants and hate to be cold.  Bring them indoors before night time temperatures drop into the 40s in your garden.

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Another large cane Begonia that I’ve grown for many years, I’ve lost track of the cultivar name for this one.

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But we still have several months to enjoy these fabulous plants out in our garden.

If you’ve not yet tried growing cane Begonias, be confident that you can manage their simple needs.  These are long-lived companion plants which will grow, and multiply, for many years to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time.”
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Pericles
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Begonia “Sophia” blooming in March of 2014

 

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious, Let’s infect one another!

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Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia

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Clusters of tiny dangling heart shaped flowers in soft pink, white, or cherry red burst into bloom on our cane Begonias in June.

New leaves have emerged over the last few weeks to replace those lost last winter.  Now that they have adjusted to their summer spots, our Begonias are coming into bloom.   Although simple, these lovely flowers create drama in their abundance.

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Often called ‘Angel Wing Begonias,’ there are so many hybrids and cultivars that it is nearly impossible to keep up with proper names for these beautiful plants. Their oddly shaped leaves in beautiful colors, often with silvery markings, are even more beautiful than their flowers.

These Begonias are sturdy plants, enjoying heat and humidity, filtered light, generous feeding when in bloom, and tight pots.

Their almost woody canes can grow to prodigious lengths when left to their own devices.  Pruning keeps the plants bushier, and those pruned canes root easily in water and filtered light.

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This plant is one of many I’ve started from rooted canes.  Bits of this cultivar, whose name I lost track of years ago, grow in dozens of pots and baskets in our summer garden.

I planted it up last summer, in a pot where I’d also planted divisions of Hosta ‘Mouse Ears.’  It outgrew that pot over winter, and was moved into this new pot in April.  I like the combination of miniature Hosta and cane Begonia, and will remember this pleasing combination for future plantings.

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Cane Begonias prove a good ‘pass along plant.’  I nearly always have canes rooting in vases of water, ready to give to willing garden visitors.  They root easily, grow easily, and mature into impressive plants.

Too tender to overwinter outdoors, they easily withstand the limited winter light indoors.  Sometimes, in a sunny spot, they can even be coaxed back into bloom in January or February.

If you’ve not grown cane Begonias, you might enjoy giving them a try.  Their blossoms, when they appear, are almost magical.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Beloved Begonias

July 27, 2016 morning garden 031
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Beloved Begonias,
Bejeweled, bold;
Bewildering in their variety,
Exotic,  erotic, esoteric, ephemeral
Exuberant-
Phenomenally fantastic;
Tropical travelers,
Insidiously intrepid.
Comforting companions,
Hairy, huge and hard to find;
Beautiful Begonias!
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Woodland Gnome 2016
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July 26, 2016 leaves 042

 

Leaf Studies

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1.

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Cathy, of Rambling in the Garden, inspired me with her July post  for ‘Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day’, hosted by Christina of My Hesperides Garden on the 22nd of each month.

Cathy constructed a tessellation of 16 square photos featuring the textures and varying shades of green, showcasing leaves from her summer garden.  Her post is stunning, and perhaps you will take a moment to pop over and have a look at her photos.

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Foliage can be so much better than flowers.  Leaves last for weeks or even months; not just days.  They are tough.  And the intricate details of their structure, often highlighted in vivid color, elevate these organs of photosynthesis to art in its purest form.

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There was finally an opportunity to focus on foliage this morning while I watered the garden.  We have record heat here in Virginia this week, making it more critical to venture out early in the day, or just before dusk, to hydrate pots and new plantings.  Our afternoon heat indexes near 120F,  yet these beautiful leaves endure mid-summer temperatures gracefully.

Water droplets on the leaves make them even more interesting to photograph.

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I have enjoyed taking and editing these photos because they showcase some of my favorite leaves in a unique way.  Following Cathy’s example, I’ve cropped each into a square.  Within that square, there is an effort to show you several different features of each plant’s particular foliage.

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To make it even more interesting, I challenge you to guess the names of as many leaves as you might recognize.  Answers will appear below.

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Collecting and growing beautiful plants remains my passion. I’m attracted by the unique shapes, colors, patterns and textures of their foliage.  Any flowers are surely a bonus, but almost distract from the beauty of these special leaves.

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Grown more for their beauty than for any other purpose, they fill the garden with excitement.  Some are scented; others not.  Most of these are tropical, though a few hardy ones can survive our winters.  Each unfolds its unique geometry, a study in beauty and endurance.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016
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20.

20.

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“Plants cannot stay safe.
Desire for light spools grass out of the ground;
desire for a visitor spools red ruffles out of twigs.
Desire makes plants very brave,
so they can find what they desire;
and very tender, so they can feel what they find.”
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Amy Leach
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Caladium

Caladium

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  1. Caladium ‘White Christmas’
  2. Begonia ‘Gryphon’
  3. Coleus ‘Wizard Pineapple’
  4. Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii’
  5. Begonia Rex
  6. Colocasia ‘Mojito’
  7. Fig
  8. Sarracenia flava
  9. Alocasia
  10. Caladium ‘White Queen’
  11. Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’
  12. Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial’
  13. Pineapple Mint
  14. Coleus
  15. Pelargonium – Rose scented geranium
  16. Angel wing Begonia
  17. Canna ‘Australia’
  18. hardy Begonia ‘grandis’
  19. Pelargonium ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’
  20. Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2: Feed!

June 17, 2016 Hibiscus 011

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Most plants grow larger and fuller, have better color, and produce more flowers when they are well fed.  Well-fed plants always reflect well on the gardener, because they look healthy and robust. 

Many sources of gardening advice admonish that one must ‘feed the soil, not the plant.’  And this is generally true for trees, shrubs, and perennials.  Anything planted directly into the ground performs better in fertile, well prepared soil.  Compost is the most important thing to dig into a bed or planting hole to enrich the soil.  Adding an organic mulch, which attracts earthworms, further enriches and improves the soil.  The more worms, the better the soil.  Additional fertilizer rarely is needed once one ‘gets the soil right.’  That said, heavy bloomers benefit from an annual application of an organic fertilizer such as Espoma’s Rose Tone.

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June 17, 2016 Hibiscus 018

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However, most potting soils are basically sterile mixes of coir or peat, perlite and/or vermiculite.  There isn’t enough nutrition to support healthy plant growth.  Some potting soils come fortified with worm castings or pelletized fertilizer and advertise that they will feed a plant for several months.  Some gardeners recommend mixing a little compost into the pot; but this is generally not enough to encourage lush growth.

To support vibrant growth coming from a relatively small pot, there needs to be a lot of minerals available for those crowded roots to absorb.  When preparing a pot for a fresh planting, I thoroughly mix some balanced organic fertilizer, like Espoma’s Plant Tone, into the potting soil before adding any plants.  This feeds the plants long-term, but is released very slowly.  It also includes helpful strains of microorganisms to help plants use the minerals.  After adding the plants, I sprinkle the smoothed soil with a timed-release pelletized fertilizer like Osmocote, which also includes important trace minerals.  Some soil mixes already have the Osmocote mixed in.  This is a timed release fertilizer which is activated whenever the pot is watered.

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June 12, 2016 pots 007

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Finally,  I’ll mix some very quick release Neptune’s Harvest in a watering can to water the plants into the soil.  This is a foliar feed, easily absorbed, and offers some protection while the plants establish.  It truly does ‘feed the soil,’ and improves soil texture and its ability to retain water.  It is also a good ‘pick me up’ if a plant ever starts to look a little dull.  Now, you might think that feeding a potted plant so much fertilizer might burn or kill it.  I’ve never had any problem, probably because these are organic products and have relatively low nitrogen.  The plants begin growing quickly, have good leaf color and produce sturdy new growth.

Why it works:  Although plants make their own ‘food/fuel’ from water, oxygen and sunlight, they need nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous for healthy growth.  Lacking any of these, the plant will be stunted and sickly.  In addition, plants also benefit from a variety of trace minerals like copper, iron, magnesium and zinc.  These can be absorbed from many garden soils, but are lacking in potting soil.  Access to these important minerals is essential to productive plant growth.  Think of a plant as a living chemistry lab.  Many elements are needed to keep the bio-chemistry of life fueled.

Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:  My guilty secret for abundant flowers, especially on indoor plants during winter, is water soluble Miracle Grow Orchid Food.  This is not an organic product, but a tiny bit mixed into the usual water, every month or so, produces fabulous results!  Our ‘Christmas’ Cactus, Schlumbergera, bloomed non-stop from November through May with monthly feeding.

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June 17, 2016 Hibiscus 007

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

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

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

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June 20, 2016 garden 019

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot Bound Roots!  by J. Peggy Taylor

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3:  Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘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

June 20, 2016 garden 022

 

 

“Pay It Forward” With Cuttings

September 4, 2014 Coleus 002

 

As the growing season draws to a close, I’m beginning to look around with an eye to which plants I’d like to save for next year, and which will be left to the frost.

Other years I’ve sometimes assumed that a favorite variety will be available the following spring and let a beautiful annual expire at the end of the season.  Sometimes that variety is available, and other times not.

Last year I grew several gorgeous varieties of Coleus ‘Under the Sea,’ a fairly recent introduction with intensely colored, deeply cut leaves.

Coleus, Under the Sea

Coleus, ‘Under the Sea, Gold Anemone’ in my garden last summer.  I couldn’t find this line of Coleus locally this year and have missed them.

 

This spring they never turned up at my local garden centers.

Some annuals are reasonably simple to keep indoors from one season to the next.

And if you have a favorite variety, that you want to enjoy again next summer, it may be worth the effort.

Another of last summer's Coleus varieties I never found this spring.

Another of last summer’s Coleus varieties I never found this spring.

 

While perennials are engineered to survive over many seasons, almost indefinitely; annuals are engineered to grow, flower, set seed, and then decline.

One reason for “pinching back” or “deadheading” is to keep a plant productive by preventing it from ever setting its crop of seeds.

It keeps producing flowers until it fulfills its life’s purpose with seed production.

Coleus in this year's garden.  A neighboring plant was targedted for distruction by a wayward deer.

Coleus in this year’s garden. A neighboring plant was targeted for destruction by a wayward deer.

 

That said, the annual you’ve had growing on your patio all summer might not be a good candidate for overwintering in the garage.

Even if it survives, it may not look like much the following season.

A better approach is to overwinter cuttings of a favorite plant.  The cuttings can then be grown on into beautiful plants when the weather warms in spring.

These cuttings have been rooting in water for not quite two weeks.

These cuttings have been rooting in water for not quite two weeks.

 

And this is the time to begin the process of evaluating which plants you intend to save.

I got a head start this season thanks to some deer.  The deer chose one Coleus plant out of several to disassemble over a period of about two weeks.

We would go out in the morning and find another branch or two torn away each day.  They ignored an identical Coleus a pot or two away, and kept working on one poor plant until nothing was left.

They may have actually eaten a little here and there; but mostly they just tore off branches and left them near by.

I gathered the branches as I found them, gave the ends a fresh cut, and stuck them into a jar of water in the windowsill.

These cuttings left from "pinching back" other plants were simply pressed into a pot of moist soil.  They root quickly and grow into new plants with simple care.

These cuttings left from “pinching back” other plants were simply pressed into a pot of moist soil. They root quickly and grow into new plants with simple care.

 

Coleus is ridiculously easy to root.  It roots easily in moist soil or in water.  And Coleus will grow in a simple jar of water for months.

All you need is a windowsill wide enough to hold a jar or a vase, or an area near a window where you can tend houseplants from October until early May.  Depending on your growing season, you may need to start a little earlier than we do here, or hold your annuals inside a little later.

Take cuttings that are 10″ or longer if you plan to keep them in water.

Take cuttings 10" or longer if you plan to keep them in a vase.  Remove the lower leaves which will be under water, leaving several pair to continue making food for the plant.  Keep the water clean to prevent the stems from rotting before you can plant them in soil.

Take cuttings 10″ or longer if you plan to keep them in a vase. Remove the lower leaves which will be under water, leaving several pair to continue making food for the plant. Keep the water clean to prevent the stems from rotting before you can plant them in soil.

 

If you are planting them in moist soil you can use any cutting with at least two sets of leaves.  Strip off the lower leaves, and push the cutting into the moist soil.

Keep the pot outside in the shade for a few weeks until there is resistance (roots) when you gently give it a tug.  Bring the plant inside when nights begin to dip down towards 40F, and keep it in bright light .

Pinch the growing tips from time to time to keep the plant bushy, and water when the top of the soil begins to feel a little dry.

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

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

 

I treat my Begonias the same way.  Many varieties of Begonia root easily in a jar of water, and will live in just water for many months.  I keep jars of cuttings in the windows over winter.  Many Begonias will root, just like Coleus, when the lowest set of leaves is removed and the cutting pushed into the soil so that lowest leaf node is buried in the soil.

Begonia "Flamingo' is another favorite "pass along plant."  I lost my original plant, but took cuttings from one shared with family.  This variety will grow very tall, bearing hundreds of tiny pink flowers.  Stems will root in moist soil.

Begonia “Flamingo’ is another favorite “pass along plant.” I lost my original plant, but  later took cuttings from one shared with family. This variety will grow very tall, bearing hundreds of tiny pink flowers. Stems will root in moist soil.

 

It’s that easy.  Dip the cutting into a little rooting hormone powder to speed the process if you want to; but many people have success without the hormone powder.

You can easily root many other annuals and herbs in water, and then pot them up once the roots are an inch or so long.

Believe it or not, Begonia "Gryphon' will root from a stem cutting.  Remove 4" or more of a stem, press into moist soil, and wait for new growth to appear after the roots establsih.

Believe it or not, Begonia “Gryphon’ will root from a stem cutting. Remove 4” or more of a stem, press into moist soil, and wait for new growth to appear after the roots establish.

 

Try Basil and mint, impatiens, scented geraniums, New Guinea impatiens, Oregano, and Petunias. 

Some of our “annuals” are actually tender perennials.  They grow year round in warmer climes, but are killed by freezing temperatures.

Scented Geraniums, Pelargonium, are tender perennials.  They sometimes survive the winter here in Zone 7, reappearing in mid-May or later.  Cuttings will root in water or moist soil.

Scented Geraniums, Pelargonium, are tender perennials. They sometimes survive the winter here in Zone 7, reappearing in mid-May or later. Cuttings will root in water or moist soil.

 

Plants like Geraniums and Caladiums can be kept from one season to the next indoors.

They will survive with  low light and minimal moisture, so long as you keep them well above freezing.

Caladium, "Gingerland" will send up new leaves in January when kept inside over the winter.

Caladium, “Gingerland” will send up new leaves in January when kept inside over the winter.  Keep the tubers in pots indoors in a heated room, and water as the soil dries.  You will be rewarded with a beautiful winter house plant.

 

Caladiums don’t even like to go below 50F.    If you have space in a basement or garage, you might be able to save these plants over the winter, bringing them back as the weather warms with more water, light, and warmth.

Our unheated garage gets enough sunlight through the windows, and enough heat from the house to serve as a shelter for many pots through the winter.

Some plants are worth keeping, others, maybe not.  

 

Begonia, "Richmondensis" isn't easy to find.  Homestead Garden Center carried it this spring, and I purchased several.  This Begonia blooms prolifically all summer and can take more sun than most.  I will definitely keep this plant over winter and root cuttings in early spring.

Begonia, “Richmondensis” isn’t easy to find. Homestead Garden Center carried it this spring, and I purchased several. This Begonia blooms prolifically all summer and can take more sun than most.  I will definitely keep this plant over winter and root cuttings in early spring.

 

But even if you don’t have space to keep a large pot of a favorite plant, you can still keep cuttings of many going in  minimal space.  Once you know how to handle cuttings you can continue to create new plants form your existing stock indefinitely.

Some of my “annuals” are now into a fourth or fifth season, started anew each year from cuttings kept in windowsills over the winter.

Basil roots easily in water and grows quickly in warm weather.  A single plant can be used to produce an "endless supply" of Basil over a summer.

Basil roots easily in water and grows quickly in warm weather. A single plant can be used to produce an “endless supply” of Basil over a summer.

And cuttings are easy to share.  Friends share with me, and I with them.

That poor Coleus, torn to pieces by the deer, has resulted in more than a dozen “cuttings,” most now gone to new homes.

I’m always happy to give cuttings to friends who will take them.

 

August 31-Sept. 1 garden 014

And growing on gifts of cuttings fills one’s garden with love and happy memories.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

 

The Blessing of Shade

Hydrangea, Macrophylla

Hydrangea, Macrophylla remains one of my favorite shrubs for shade.  Deer candy, we grow it now in pots on the deck, where it can’t be grazed.

 

A Forest Garden offers the blessing of cool, relaxing shade.

Crepe Myrtle enjoys full sun,, while offering shade to an Ivy Geranium basket and an Asparagus fern.

Crepe Myrtle enjoys full sun  while offering shade to an Ivy Geranium basket and an Asparagus fern.

 

Even on the hottest July day, we step into the refuge of shade, appreciate what breeze there might be,  and gather the energy to continue with whatever tasks come to hand in the rest of the garden.

 

July 28, 2014 shade 005

Our shade here is spotty.  A previous owner cut several large trees, and we have lost several  more to storms.

So the area nearest our home gets more direct sunshine than we’d wish at the height of summer.

A basket of Asparagus fern and Begonia hangs near the house on our back deck.  Normally shaded, here it basks in late afternoon sunshine.

A basket of Asparagus fern and Begonia hangs near the house on our back deck. Normally shaded, here it basks in late afternoon sunshine.

 

The trade off, of course, comes during the rest of the year.

We get solar heating in winter, and we have enough light coming through the windows to grow our garden indoors during the cooler months.

But when it stays consistently hot, for days at a time, we appreciate every bit of shade we have.

 

Colocasia enjoys sun to part shade.  Here it enjoys late afternoon shade from nearby shrubs.

Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii”  enjoys sun to part shade. Here it receives  late afternoon shade cast by nearby shrubs.

 

And we enjoy  a variety of plants which grow beautiful leaves and flowers with very little sun.

 

Begonia, "Gryphon" enjoys morning sun and afternoon shade on our front patio.  Recently grazed heavily by deer, it is gfowing a new crop of leaves.

Begonia, “Gryphon” grows well in  morning sun and afternoon shade on our front patio. Recently grazed heavily by deer, it is growing a new crop of leaves.

 

Shade vs. sun is another of the vagaries of gardening.

Very few areas are all one or the other.

 

Many "shade loving" ferns can tolerate more sun than you might expect, when hydrated.  These grow in a bank in partial shade.

Many “shade loving” ferns can tolerate more sun than you might expect, when hydrated. These grow on a bank in partial shade.

 

Most fall somewhere between “part shade” and “part sun” depending on the time of day and time of year.

The very nature of a “forest garden'” also allows for sun to shine through the bare branches of trees during the winter; and the trees’ canopies to catch and use the sunshine all summer, giving shade to the garden below.

 

July 28, 2014 shade 033

Hydrangea Macrophylla. Purchased on sale in a 4″ pot in late spring, this shrub grows happily in a pot on the deck.

 

This can make selecting and siting plants even more challenging.  What may work for a plant in May might be too much sun by August.

A plant which could never survive in a full sun area in June might thrive in the same spot in November.

 

This basket of mixed Begonias and fern hangs in a Dogwood in partial shade. These Begonias are fairly sun tolerant, but we've still had some burned leaves during these last few very hot weeks. This basket needs daily watering when there is no rain.

This basket of mixed Begonias and fern hangs in a Dogwood in partial shade. These Begonias are fairly sun tolerant, but we’ve still had some burned leaves during these last few very hot weeks. This basket needs daily watering when there is no rain.

 

I’ve worked out a fairly successful system over the years to keep shade loving plants happy.

And the secret?  Watering.

 

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

 

Not really a secret, you’re thinking?  Too obvious?

Probably…. But the secret of frequent watering is frequent observation.

Well hydrated plants can tolerate far more direct sun than dry ones, at least among the shade lovers.

 

July 28, 2014 shade 031

 

And frequent attention to watering allows changes in a a stressed plant’s position before a condition goes too far.

 

These pots live right "on the edge" of how much sun they can tolerate.  They get full morning sun, and then spend the afternoons in shade.

These  plants live right “on the edge” of how much sun they can tolerate. They get full morning sun, and then spend the afternoons in shade.  Known to be relatively sun-tolerant cultivars of Begonia and Caladium, they still need daily water and watching.

 

In our garden, moving a plant a few feet in one direction or the other can make a tremendous difference in how much sun it receives.

Some need a little more sun to encourage flowering.

Yet too much sun can burn their leaves.  It is a fine balance.

After finding this Staghorn fern on the clearance rack at Lowe's, I was dismayed to read its tag which said, "No direct sun."  Hanging in this Dogwood tree, it gets partial sun each day.  I keep it well watered, and, since May it has doubled in size.

After buying this Kangaraoo fern, Microsorum pustulatum, from the clearance rack at Lowe’s, I was dismayed to read its tag which said, “No direct sun.” Hanging in this Dogwood tree, it gets partial sun each day. I keep it well watered, and, since May it has doubled in size.  You can see a little scorch on some of its leaves, however.

 

Morning sun affects plants differently than mid-day or afternoon sun.  Some plants can thrive in an Eastern exposure which would fry on the Western side of the garden.

Many of our shade lovers live in pots and baskets which  can be moved around as the seasons progress each year.

 

July 28, 2014 shade 002

And we move plants as often as needed to keep them, and us,  happy.

We also practice “layering,” just as nature does.

This favorite Rex Begonia has leafed out from a bare rhizome again.  It likes its protected and shaded spot at the base of a tree.

This favorite Rex Begonia has leafed out from a bare rhizome once again.   It likes its protected and shaded spot at the base of a tree.

 

Shade loving plants can live in hanging baskets hung in trees.  A particularly delicate plant can live underneath another, enjoying shade provided by its companions.

 

July 28, 2014 shade 006

 

Plants, like people, thrive in communities.

Building a community, where each plant’s needs are met, is an ongoing challenge.

But when it works out well, it multiplies the beauty of the individuals.

 

Can you spot the little Rex Begonia in the midst of the Caladiums and ferns?

Can you spot the little Rex Begonia in the midst of the Caladiums and ferns?

 

You see, a “green thumb” is actually just a matter of attentiveness.  Observation is an honest teacher.

Once a gardener understands a plant’s needs, it is simply a matter of providing the correct amount of light and water, nutrition and protection to allow that plant to grow into its potential for beauty.

 

July 24, 2014 hummingbird 007

And then there is the small blessing of summer shade… for the garden and the gardener.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

July 28, 2014 shade 035

Begonias, Begonias

A cane Begonia.

An angel wing cane Begonia.

I love begonias.  That may sound like a strange obsession for a “forest gardener”, but it is my strange obsession.

I remember buying a hanging basket of blooming angel wing Begonias with tiny dark burgundy and green  leaves at the  farmer’s market when I was living in a third floor walk up.  It made my small screened in porch more beautiful, and made me happy.  Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot for adding beautiful begonia plants to my collection.

The first bloom of the season on a tuberous Begonia.  The catalog advertised this as a cascading variety, but the growth is vigorous and upright.  When the branch gets too heavy with flowers, it breaks off.

The first bloom of the season on a tuberous Begonia. The catalog advertised this as a cascading variety, but the growth is vigorous and upright.

Cane begonias growing together in a hanging basket in July.

Cane angel wing begonias growing together in a hanging basket in July.

June 23  2013 begonias and garden 005

Begonia Bolivienses in partial sun.  When the soil is too wet the stems will rot off at soil level.  Weeks of rain will do that….

There are thousands of cultivars in the genus Begonia.  Whether grown for their outrageous leaves or their abundant bright flowers, Begonias can be found from tiny to tremendous.

Dragon's Blood Begonia is a tender perennial in Zone 7B

Dragon’s Wing Begonia is a tender perennial in Zone 7B

Begonias work in a forest garden because they appreciate shade.  Although some, like the new Dragon Wing cultivars and Begonia “Bolivienses” can take hours of sun each day, most are quite happy growing in permanent shade.  They also require very little care.  Most like to dry out a little between waterings.  They stand up to the heat and humidity of my Virginia forest garden partly because they originate in the mountainous tropical forests of Central and South America and Southern Asia.

Begonia

Rex Begonias grown with Fuschia Marinka and ferns in partial sun.

Although some cultivars of hardy Begonia are available, which survive the winter here in zone 7B and return each spring; most Begonias are tender perennials and must spend the winter inside where the temperatures don’t drop below the mid 40s.  They are happy growing in the house, where they get some daylight from windows, and bloom happily throughout the winter.   Many of my Begonias overwinter in a sunny garage.  They may lose a few leaves when moved out into the garden in the spring, but bounce back quickly with new leaves once they adjust to the brighter light.

 A tiny wasp visits the flower of this Rex Begonia.

A tiny wasp visits the flower of this Rex Begonia.

Gryphon Begonia

Begonia Gryphon, grown in a protected shady corner, began the season in a 4″pot, and and grew this large by September. 

Garden centers are full of bedding Begonias (Begonia Semperflorens) and Dragon Wing Begonias in the spring.   Begonia Semperflorens, also known as wax Begonias, or popular because these small, neat plants produce an abundance of small red, pink, or white flowers during the entire growing season.  Many commercial landscapers fill huge beds with these plants, but often plant them in too much sun.  When they get too much sun and dry out the foliage browns and looks ratty.  Growth is stunted, and the plants lose their beauty.  These plants are easy to start from stem cuttings.  There are some varieties with variegated foliage which trail more than they grow upright.  I love these in hanging baskets growing in partial sun.

Begonia Semper growing with Plectranthus.

A rare, variegated Begonia Semperflorens  growing with Plectranthus.

June 23 2012 dusk 010

Begonia “Gryphon” is new to the market. Widely available for only the past three years, it is grown for its huge foliage. My first Gryphon grew to 4 feet tall from a 4″ pot in a single season. Putting all of its energy into leaves, I’ve never seen it flower. This is from a cutting taken from my original plant.

Dragon Wing Begonias have also become common spring plants in big box stores and are easy to grow.  They can take sun or shade and are covered in red or pink flowers all season.  They also root easily from a stem cutting in moist soil or in water.  This means you can break off a stem, push it into moist potting soil, keep it shaded and moist for several weeks, and expect it to grow into a new plant.  Dipping the stem cutting in powdered rooting hormone before planting speeds the process.

Begonias and Euphorbia grow well in the shade of a Dogwood tree.  The top dressing of pea gravel discourages digging squirrels, and keeps the plants clean when it rains.

Begonia Bolivienses and Tuberous Begonia  with Euphorbia grow well in the shade of a Dogwood tree. The top dressing of pea gravel discourages digging squirrels and keeps the plants clean when it rains.

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This cane Begonia is still adjusting to life outside after its sixth winter in the garage. Soon it will cover itself in huge clusters of peachy flowers.

June 23 2012 dusk 008

Cane type Begonias bloom generously throughout the season with many tiny flowers in each cluster.

Angel wing, or cane  Begonias are a little harder to find.  Specialty and mail order nurseries are the most reliable sources.  MacDonald’s Garden Center stocks a nice variety in spring and early summer, but their satellite stores don’t stock them.  These Begonias are grown more for their huge, bright leaves than for their flowers.  Marked with silver, burgundy, and various greens, these wing shaped leaves often grow on red stems and have dark red undersides.  Angel wing Begonias produce clusters of flowers in white, pink, red, or orange.  Sometimes there are 50 or more tiny flowers in a single cluster.  Angel wing cane Begonias can grow into small shrubs and can top out over 6’ tall after several years of growth.July 30 2013  Foliage 004

Begonia Rex

Begonia Rex

July 29, 2012 garden photos 017

Begonia Rex

Begonia Rex

Begonia Rex

Rex Begonias are also grown for their leaves, but stay much smaller than cane Begonias.  Many of the leaves are textured, intricately marked with color, and some even grow into spirals with a snail shell appearance.  Rex Begonias flower, but are insignificant on most cultivars.  Tiny Rex Begonia plants can often be found in the houseplant section of big box hardware stores.  Sold in 2.5”- 6” pots, often with just a few leaves, these tiny starts will grow into impressive plants indoors or out.  Pot them up so the soil will drain, feed them, give them bright but filtered light, and they take off and become beautiful plants.

begonia 001

Tuberous begonia planted with Japanese Painted Fern and an Angel Wing Begonia with dark red foliage.

begonia

A tuberous begonia shares a pot with a lace cap Hydrangea

Tuberous, or double, Begonias are grown for their large, bright flowers.  These are extremely popular in Europe.  Tubers are offered through catalogs all winter and show up in big box stores in late winter alongside other summer bulbs and tubers.  By early May the plants begin to appear, blooming, in better garden centers.  The Homestead Garden Center in James City Co. always offers a beautiful assortment of Dragon Wing and Tuberous begonias at very affordable prices.  http://www.homesteadgardencenter.com

June 26 2013 garden 001

Tuberous Begonia

Begonia, "Flamingo" grows very tall canes and blooms in pink.  This one is in its third summer hanging in this peach tree.

Begonia, “Flamingo” grows very tall canes and blooms in pink. This one is in its third summer hanging in this peach tree.

The tubers are started in shallow trays of soil, like caladium tubers, and then repotted into baskets or pots once they sprout.  Upright or cascading, these hybrids are bred for outrageously beautiful flowers in every shade of red, pink, white, yellow, and orange.  Double, triple, picotee, and fringed, these flowers can mimic roses, water lilies, and anemones.  When kept watered and fed, they bloom for months.  Sadly, this is the hardest begonia for me to grow, because they absolutely must have the proper moisture.  If they get too dry, they droop.  Too wet, they rot.  I’ve killed more than my share of these beautiful plants, and am cautious in buying them.

Hardy begonia, blooming in early September with ferns, ivy, and Creeping Jenny.

Hardy begonia, blooming in early September with ferns, ivy, and Creeping Jenny.

Hardy Begonias are beautiful in a shady border.  These are technically “tuberous” Begonias, as they have an enlarged area at the bottom of each stem underground which survives the winter, but these plants are very easy to grow.  These make their re-appearance each year in the late spring and can grow to 18”-24” by late summer.  They bloom, like an Angel wing Begonia, with clusters of white or pink flowers and increase each year.  Interestingly, they self sow and new plants often crop up in other parts of the garden. These are beautiful grown in beds with fern and Hosta and are a good plant to grow on top of spring bulbs.

June 21 Lanai 007

Begonia Rex growing with a lady fern.

Begonias grow quickly and make beautiful displays either alone, or in potted arrangements with other shade loving plants.  Although heavily hybridized over the last century, most cultivars retain the tough constitution of the forest plants originally collected from the mountains of South America and Asia by determined collectors who loved Begonias enough to search them out in the wild and bring them home to Europe and North America.

Cane Begonia, "Torch" in a hanging basket.

Cane Begonia, “Torch” in a hanging basket.

Here some sources for ordering Begonia plants:

Garden Harvest Supply is an excellent company I frequently use as a source for plants I can’t buy locally, or to buy plants earlier in the season than local nurseries carry them.  They have excellent plants and give excellent service:

http://www.gardenharvestsupply.com/ProductCart/pc/Potted-Begonia-Plants-for-Sale-c385.htmsept. 25, 2013 lanai 014

sept. 25, 2013 lanai 021I enjoy the Taylor’s Greenhouse site, but so far haven’t placed an order.  They have a much wider selection of otherwise hard to find Begonias.  Their page also has further links of interest to anyone interested in Begonias:

http://taylorgreenhouses.com/

And finally, I’ve just learned about the Queensland Begonia Society, in Queensland Australia.  Please visit their site for excellent articles on Begonia care and propagation, and for their stunning photos of the Begonias in their care.

Here overwintered cuttings of an angel wing begonia and a Dragon wing begonia grow with a Rex Begonia and a calla Lily.

Here overwintered cuttings of an Angel wing begonia and a Dragon wing begonia grow happily with a Rex Begonia and a calla Lily.

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