In A Pot: Asian Violet

Primulina ‘Loki’ , Asian violet

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Certainly you, or someone you love, has grown an African Violet.  These colorful, highly hybridized South African native violets have enjoyed popularity in the United States since the 1930s.  If you have the right, bright spot away from direct sun, you have probably enjoyed success with them.

Having grown many different African violets over the years, I’ve been curious about the Asian violets displayed on the same table at The Great Big Greenhouse, in Richmond.  Both Gesneriads, along with Gloxinias and Streptocarpus, these highly ornamental flowering plants with thick, hairy leaves, make excellent houseplants.

I was considering the various Asian violets on display when a Chesterfield County Master Gardener struck up a conversation.  It turns out that he grows quite a few Gesneriads, including the little Asian violet in my hand, and he encouraged me to give it a try.  Known as Primulina ‘Loki,‘ I was intrigued by its beautiful leaves.  I like the silver markings, so much like Begonia leaves.

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According to the friendly Gardener, these little violets make nearly perfect houseplants.  They enjoy low light, aren’t particularly thirsty, and will bloom when they feel like it with beautiful little blue flowers.  He answered all of my questions, and even showed me a few photos of his collection.  How could I not give it a try?

Gary’s Specialty Plants, who raises and markets these little gems, explains on the plant tag that Asian violets are like African violets, but better!  If you click the link, you’ll find one of his photos of the violet in bloom at the top of the page.

This little plant will spread over time, but isn’t expected to grow but a few inches tall.  It can thrive in low light.  The only admonition on the tag warns not to get cold water on the leaves.  This is also true of African violets, as it can spot and damage the leaves.

I’ve planted the new little violet into a Bonsai tray and just set it into a bright spot to watch and see what it does.  If I like this one, The Great Big Greenhouse has two other cultivars in stock.  I’m thinking this might make a good gift for a gardening friend, or a nice little plant to decorate place settings at a dinner.

If you’ve grown Asian violets then please share your experience in the comments.  If you’re interested in locating one to buy, then Gary, who is based in PA, has a list of retailers on his site.

It is always fun to find a new plant to grow!  This one looks very promising.  Houseplants keep us sane during winter, and this one might brighten up a dim corner of your home.  I wonder how well these grow in a terrarium?

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Woodland Gnome 2019

In a Pot: ‘Companion Plants’

Begonia boliviensis from a rooted cutting

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Tiny plants in tiny pots, expressing a particular season, sometimes displayed alongside a potted tree, are called ‘companion plants’ or ‘accent plants.’

I particularly enjoy growing these little treasures.  They allow us to appreciate a plant, in all of its intricate detail, as a work of art.

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First, these precious little pots fit easily on a windowsill, side table or plant stand.  They can be grown year-round indoors, or moved out into a protected space during warm weather.

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Maidenhair fern with Pilea glauca, creeping blue Pilea. A division of the Pilea grows alone in the previous photo.

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But more importantly to me, these little pots allow me to ‘grow on’ very small plants, or rooted cuttings.  Once they begin to outgrow the little companion pot, they can be re-potted or planted out; used in a larger display, or grown on as a specimen in a larger pot.  This is especially helpful during the winter and early spring when small plants may be grown on for use outdoors in summer.

I buy many of my Asian ceramic companion pots and 1″-2″ companion plants at The Great Big Greenhouse in south Richmond.  They keep a tremendous selection of pots of all sizes, and offer a large display of Asian pots for Bonsai and companion plants year-round.  The pots in these photos were found at The GBGH.

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Coleus with Dichondra, Cuban Oregano, Tradescantia pallida and Lantana.

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Small companion pots are equally good for starting cuttings to grow on into larger plants.  I had a pot where the fern died back in early spring.  I put it outside in a protected spot to see if it might re-grow from the roots; without success.  So I am going to recycle the pot and soil to root some Coleus.

Coleus (now Plectranthus) are members of the Lamiaceae family, most of which root very easily from stem cuttings.

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Take a cutting by cutting or pinching off a stem at a node, where new leaves may be beginning to grow.  Four nodes are visible in this photo.  While many gardeners pinch out Coleus flowers, I let them flower because pollinators love them.

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Prepare the cutting by removing the lowest set of leaves and pinching out the flowers at the top of the stem.  It is usually better to use a stem that hasn’t flowered, as they will often root more easily. Rooting hormone isn’t really necessary with Coleus cuttings.  Feel free to use it if you have it, as it may speed up the process a bit.

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The same stem is now ready for ‘sticking’ into the soil.  Roots will form along the lower stem wherever it is in contact with moist soil, or even plain water.

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I took three cuttings today so the pot looks full right away.  After sticking the cuttings, water lightly, and set the pot into a protected spot…. or not.  I sometimes just stick a cutting where I want the new plant to grow, and hope for the best.

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I struck this cutting several weeks ago and it is now growing on in a pot on my front porch. It gets full sun for several hours a day. If the soil is kept hydrated, the Coleus should root in less than ideal conditions….

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The parent Coleus plant is growing very well this summer. Taking cuttings helps keep the plant bushy, and there is always a spot to fill with a cutting, isn’t there?

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Arrangements in companion pots are temporary plantings.   All things change, right?  Especially in gardening, we expect things to come and go.

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Three cuttings, struck into moist soil, will root withing a week or so. This arrangement can ‘grow on’ through autumn. Cutting back the tops as it grows will extend the life of the planting.  Or, the rooted cuttings can be re-potted into larger containers and kept as houseplants through the winter.  Coleus is a tender perennial.

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An aspect of the beauty of companion plants is their transience.  Favorite subjects in Asia might be ferns, grasses, wildflowers, flowering bulbs and vines.  Some may only be at their peak for a week or two.

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This little Ficus tree has a ‘companion’ in the same pot. A little footed fern grows long rhizomes which ‘visit’ other pots nearby on the windowsill.

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Some of the pots are as tiny as egg cups, and so can only hold a very small root mass.  Many have no drainage holes, and so I begin with a layer of fine gravel in the bottom of the pot.

I use gravel mulch, but a moss mulch is more common, and very lovely.  The moss really needs to live outside to stay plush, however.

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Companion plants in little pots are an affordable luxury for those of us who love to work with plants.

Even without an outside garden space, a little garden may be cultivated in a pot and enjoyed on a windowsill at any time of the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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