Fabulous Friday: Pitcher Plants

Sarracenia flava

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, really, pitcher plants grew wild in the boggy wetlands along the Atlantic coast.  They grew right around here, along the banks of the James River and the many creeks that feed it.

The yellow trumpet pitcher, Sarracenia flava, is native to our part of coastal Virginia.  Most species of pitchers grow from Virginia south to Florida, and west along the Gulf coast.

Only one species, Sarracenia pupurea ssp. purpurea, grows from Virginia north to Canada and west to the wetlands around the Great Lakes.  Most of these species live in bogs and wetlands at sea level, but a few species grow at higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia south into Georgia.

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It’s rare now to find a pitcher plant growing wild.  Over 97% of their habitat has been drained and developed.  A few species and natural hybrids are all but extinct.  These beautiful carnivorous plants are sustained these days mostly in private collections.

And the good news, gardening friends, is that these striking plants are easy to grow!  Anyone with a sunny spot can participate in keeping these beautiful and unusual species going.

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If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow most any of the North American pitcher plants outdoors year round.  If you live in colder climes, you probably can grow the species and hybrids of Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia oreophila, or Sarracenia montana.  Even if you live a zone or two colder than your plants are rated, you can find ways to insulate them over winter.

These easy to please plants simply want wet, acidic soil and as much sun as you can give them.  Grow them in pots filled with a mix of half peat moss and half sand, or three quarters peat and 1/4 perlite or fine gravel.    Keep the soil moist by growing in a glazed ceramic pot with no drainage hole, or a glazed ceramic pot with a deep, water filled saucer beneath.  Peter d’Amato, owner of California Carnivores and author of The Savage Garden, recommends growing potted Sarracenias in glazed pots kept standing in  2″ of water at all times, so the soil stays evenly moist.

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These are definitely tough, outdoor plants and prefer full sun.  If you grow them indoors, keep them near a window with bright light for at least 6 hours a day, or in a greenhouse.

Never use commercial potting mix, compost, or commercial fertilizers with pitcher plants.  Peat is closest to the soil of their natural habitat, and provides the acidic environment they require.

The only pitcher plant that has ever failed for me came from a local grower.   He cut corners, and blended his own compost based soil mix rather than using good peat.  He admitted this to me when I returned the plant to him the following spring after I bought it, because it hadn’t begun new growth.  He replaced the plant, and I immediately re-potted it into the proper mix.  It is thriving still.

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There are several distinct features to the different species of pitcher plants.  The pitchers can be as short as 5″-6″ or as tall as 48″ depending on the species.  Each hollow pitcher is actually a leaf.  The most common pitchers, the S. purpureas, are also some of the shortest.  They are usually a beautiful red or purple and have red flowers.

S. flava, S. leucophylla and S. oreophila produce some of the tallest pitchers.  Some pitchers stand up tall, and others form recumbent rosettes of pitchers.  Pitchers may have wide mouths with fancy, frilly openings, or may have wide open mouths that catch the rain.  S. minor and S. psittacina pitchers have hooded openings.

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Some pitchers are mostly green, others are red or purple.  S. Leucophylla have white around the openings to their pitchers.  S. flava is also called the yellow pitcher plant, and they are a beautiful  chartreuse yellow.

Sarracenia flowers may be red, purple, white, peach, yellow or some combination of these colors.  There are so many interesting hybrids and cultivars that a pitcher plant enthusiast has many choices of which plants to grow.

I ordered two new pitcher plants from Sarracenia Northwest, in Portland OR, this spring.  I’m now watching S. ‘Bug Bat’ and S. leucophylla ‘Tarnok’ begin to grow.  Both were very carefully packaged and arrived in growth and in perfect condition.

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And then earlier today, I found an interesting carnivorous plant terrarium kit at Lowes, with a dormant Sarracenia and a dormant Dionaea, or flytrap; little bags of peat and sphagnum moss.  There were potting instructions and a clear plastic box to hold the plants until they begin to grow.  At under $10.00, this looked like a pretty good value.

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Our newest pitcher plant  came in a carnivorous plant terrarium kit found at Lowes.  I’ve planted it, and a dormant flytrap in this bowl given to us by a potter friend.

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I potted the little dormant plants in my own mix of peat and sand, in a beautiful bowl our potter friend Denis Orton gave us at the holidays.  The bowl has no drainage and is a perfect first home for both plants.  They may need potting on next year or the next, but that is the way of things, isn’t it?

It will be a surprise to see which species of pitcher plant grows from this start, but I’m guessing it is most likely the most common, S. purpurea.

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Pitcher plants have various ways of luring insects into their open mouths.  There are nectar trails that lure insects up the pitchers and into their open mouthed leaf.  Each species has ingenious ways to keep them from escaping again.  These plants catch and digest every sort of insect from crawling ants to mosquitoes and flies.

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There is no shortage of insects in our May garden!  We have come to the part of summer haunted by every sort of bug imaginable, and it’s fabulous irony that one of our most beautiful native perennials also helps control the bug problem!

Our little collection of pitcher plant is growing now, and it is fabulous to admire their fresh new pitchers on this very muggy Friday afternoon.  I am looking forward to watching the new ones grow and show their special colors and forms.

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Pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, native to the Southeastern United States

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If you’ve not yet tried growing pitcher plants, I hope you’ll think about giving them a try.  These endangered species need all the help adventurous gardeners will give to keep them going on into the future.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Heritage

 

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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So Much to Love: African Rose Mallow

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

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

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

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

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 009~

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

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

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 010

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

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

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2015

WPC: From Every Angle

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Photography teaches the great life lesson to examine things from many different angles.

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What we perceive from a single point of view rarely gives us enough information.  We need to not only look more closely, we often need to come at a thing from a different place, too.

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But of course it takes time; and it requires a certain flexibility of mind.

I began taking photos when I was given an old Brownie camera in the late 60s.  I was just starting grade school, and the camera went with me on a field trip to Maymont Park in Richmond.  I had great fun that spring day exploring the park with  my classmates, and taking photos to record it all.  That was probably my first real photo outing, and the little black and white photos were precious to me for a long time.

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August 29, 2015 turtle 001

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But in those days, children weren’t encouraged to take a lot of photos.  The pictures were expensive to develop, and kids aren’t always the best photographers.  A gift of film from my parents was a rare treat.

Eventually, I grew into better and better cameras with lots of lenses and filters, settings and gizmos.  Each shot was carefully planned.  But what I gained in technique, I often lost in spontaneity.

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August 29, 2015 turtle 007

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Most kids today have their own digital camera built into their phones.  Every kid can be a photographer, and there is no expense for film and processing to serve as an obstacle to exploring the world through photos.  Taking photos has become a part of daily life.

I wonder whether this freedom to photograph and explore with digital photography changes how today’s kids see their world?

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I was thrilled to use my first digital camera.   A memory chip gives one the freedom to take photo after photo of an interesting subject without counting frames.  It allows us to explore a subject in depth; to probe, to experiment, to tell a story; and to simply play.

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We can consider our world from every angle, and perhaps broaden our understanding in the process.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Every Angle

 

Turtles of Virginia

 

Foliage Everywhere

July 20, 2015 garden 035

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Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day technically falls on the 22nd of each month, and it is only the 21st.

Yet foliage is the hot topic of conversation among my gardening friends this week as we look around in dismay at our overgrown gardens.  That may not be the sort of foliage this meme is intended to highlight, of course; but the unplanted abundance of grasses and other ‘volunteers’ has gotten ahead of many of us in this heat and humidity.

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July 20, 2015 garden 004

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My timing has not been praiseworthy this past month on very much, and certainly not on keeping up with the round of blogging memes.

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Hardy Begonia grows in this mixed pot with Oxalis and creeping Jenny.

Hardy Begonia grows in this mixed pot with Oxalis and creeping Jenny.  Autumn ferns grow nearby on a shady slope in the back garden.

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How long since I’ve actually filled a Vase on Monday or observed a proper Wordless Wednesday?  As you might guess, my time and energy are re-focused at the moment on a very non-garden related cause.  So I will grab onto this opportunity to craft a preemptive foliage post, and beg your understanding that it comes a day early.

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Coleus with Colocasia

Coleus with Colocasia

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The garden is currently on ‘auto-pilot’ and I feel grateful to make a morning or evening walk-about to water a bit and take photos.  Any serious work out of doors is on hold until the weather pattern shifts.

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Pineapple mint

Pineapple mint

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The lovely lush grass will just have to keep growing for a few more days/weeks/months into and around my once carefully planted beds.  C’est la vie…

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The path behind the 'butterfly garden' is a bit overgrown at the moment...

The path behind the ‘butterfly garden’ is a bit overgrown at the moment…

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I’m just grateful to live in an air-conditioned home in this age of unprecedented heat.  Between the unusually high humidity, frequent showers, and oppressive heat; it is hard to spend long out of doors.  Many of the plants love it, but the humans find themselves drenched in perspiration just walking out to the air conditioned car!

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This has been a good year to begin a 'bog garden.'

This has been a good year to begin a ‘bog garden.’

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There is a reason our garden looks tropical this summer!

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A native pitcher plant digests whatever creatures explore these unusual leaves.

A native pitcher plant digests whatever creatures explore these unusual leaves.

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But there is balance in all things.  As I study the progress and prodigious growth of grasses around the ornamentals, I remember that they are trapping carbon from the air with every passing moment of growth.  It doesn’t really matter whether the growing foliage is something we planted or not; every growing leaf and twig filters the air and gives us fresh oxygen to breathe.

A lovely thought, though it likely won’t make a dent in the planetary forces driving these odd weather patterns.

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Begonia 'Gryphon' grows lush this July.

Begonia ‘Gryphon’ grows lushly this July despite competition from grape vines and other Begonias.  Yucca leaves grow behind its pot.

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At least the weeds also protect the soil during torrential rains.  Or so my partner reminds me on the rare occasions he sees me pulling them out by their roots.

There is a certain logic there, and I acquiesce to his greater wisdom these days.   Watching video of flooding elsewhere makes us grateful for our blessings and a lot less obsessive about our landscape.

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Wild Tradescantia  crops up among the grasses in some of the garden beds.  This more cultivated variety is one I planted this spring.  Here, it grows uphill, reaching for the light.

Wild Tradescantia crops up among the grasses in some of the garden beds. This more cultivated variety is one I planted this spring. Here, it grows uphill, reaching for the light.

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Yet tropical growth also harbors tropical style infestations of certain insects.  The fly swatter came out of storage as my partner bravely battles with those tiny black mosquitoes which steal into the house these days!  We grow mindful of them whenever we open a door.

They like him far better than they like me; or maybe its just that they find less exposed skin to attack on me!

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Coleus with a sweet potato vine

Coleus with a sweet potato vine

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No matter, my latest infestation of chigger bites are still healing, thus the protective clothing.  Disgusting, but I’m even wearing socks while these things heal.

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July 20, 2015 garden 028

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And the Cannas, Hibiscus and roses have fared no better against the hungry Japanese beetles who have settled in for the foreseeable future.  Their foliage is more riddled with holes than our skin with bites.

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Trying to practice what I preach, so far I’ve relied on the hungry birds to hunt them.

Twice I’ve pruned the roses with bucket in hand, drowning a few in Borax laced soapy water.   July offers a powerful challenge to the most sincere sentiments of Ahimsa, or harmlessness and universal love.

How much love can I muster for those shiny green beetles munching our roses?  Is it a loving act to release them from their chitin clad bodies back to the universe?

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But looking past the beetles are the bees; squadrons of them!  We are happy to see them methodically moving from flower to flower, gathering what they may.

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There is no shortage of bumble bees here, although spotting a honey bee is a much rarer event.  Bumblebees, wasps of every description, dragon and damselflies entertain us with their swooping flights around the garden.  The occasional butterfly flutters past, a reminder to persevere against all odds.

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Joe Pye Weed, a popular stopping place for all pollinators.

Joe Pye Weed, a popular stopping place for all pollinators.

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One can’t live this long without learning a thing or two about stubbornness and patience; and flexibility.  As I heard so often growing up, “This too, shall pass.”  Someone in the house had read Ecclesiastes a time or three….

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Coleus with Oxalis

Coleus with Oxalis

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And perhaps we can read this lesson in our gardens, as well; watching the magical processes of growth and passing away.

For the moment, I am happy that the garden continues to grow in beauty and abundance.  I know what is happening out there, even though much of my foliage gazing these days happens through the windows…

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Hazelnuts are ripening on the trees.

Hazelnuts are ripening on the trees.

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I appreciate Christina, who gardens in the Hesperides,  for hosting this Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day meme on the 22nd of each month. She challenges us to focus on the foliage in our gardens; not just the flowers.  I feel certain she will understand this early entry, and hope July finds her garden growing as abundantly as ours.

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Begonia

Begonia

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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“Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better,

than that a man should rejoice in his own works;

for that is his portion:

for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?”

Ecclesiastes 3:22

 

 

Riddle Me This: African Rose Mallow

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What looks like a Japanese Maple, but will give large lush flowers in mid-summer, attracts hummingbirds, can grow in waterlogged soil, and is edible?

An impossible combination, you say?

Well, I found the answer by accident.

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I was browsing the water garden section at a local garden center last week, looking for little starts of Asclepias.  And this wonderful burgundy plant with fine foliage grabbed my attention.  How pretty!

Having no idea what it really was, I added it to my cart on a whim.  (Yes, shopping without my readers again.)

We’ve started a new bog gardening area this spring, and I’m adding interesting plants to liven it up.  This pretty red thing was just what I needed to contrast with the native chartreuse Sarracenia flava  we are growing this year.

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Sara

Sarracenia flava, a native Pitcherplant

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Later, when I did a little research, I was duly impressed with the versatility of this wonderful plant.  African Rose Mallow, Hibiscus acetosella will grow to about 5′ high and wide.  This plant originated in Africa, and was first recorded as a distinct species around 1896.

Traders  carried it to Brazil and Southeast Asia, where it was grown as a food source for African slaves.  This Hibiscus remains more popular in Brazil than in Africa, and is still grown as a spinach like vegetable.  Its rose pink flowers are used for coloring beverages like lemonade, although they don’t lend a distinct flavor of their own.

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Although we don’t plan to dine on our ‘Cranberry Hibiscus’ this summer, we look forward to watching it grow.  Its blooms will attract hummingbirds to this part of the garden.  It will prove an interesting addition to our new bog garden.

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We have had excellent experiences with the new Hibiscus cultivars we added to the front garden last summer, and all have returned this year.

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 Hibiscus has proven very easy to grow in our garden, and gives a long season of boom.

I plan to take cuttings of this new African Rose Mallow within the next few days, and hope to establish it in more areas this summer.  I’m glad I followed the prompting to purchase this plant, even without recognizing it as an Hibiscus.

A happy Serendipity; this riddle’s answer has pleased us immensely.  We can always find magic, when we remain open to it.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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