Fabulous Friday: Each Magical Moment

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The last of the daffodils have finally finished, and I’m feeling impatient for their foliage to fade.  The pansies are a bit overblown now and starting to flop in most of the pots.  I’m ready to move those out, too, in favor of summer treasures.

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The first roses of summer….

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We’re in that awkward transition when summer is ready to begin, but spring is still lingering here and there.  The heat hasn’t helped.  We suddenly find ourselves in ‘instant July’ with our daytime temperatures in the high 80s and nights staying humid and warm.

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Dutch Iris are in full bloom this week. Spanish lavender blooms behind them, mingling with the foliage of spent daffodils.

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I find myself the guardian of eight large boxes of sprouting Caladiums, and now all need the light.  I moved two more out onto the deck today and am trying to cluster the last three planted near an inside window.  There is only so much ‘bright shade’ available where they are also protected from the rain.

I moved nearly 20 Caladium plants into individual pots today and barely made a dent in a single box of sprouting bulbs.  I expect to be planting a lot of Caladiums over the next few weeks!

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But I finally got to work on the hanging baskets on our deck today.  I’ve been waiting to see whether any of the Lantana, Pelargoniums or Verbena from last summer survived the winter.  There is always hope, and a few plants in the pots on the front patio have growing survivors!

It may be a bit early to write off the Lantana, but I’m tired of looking at the sad remains of last summer’s beauty.  I didn’t plant up the baskets last fall with Violas, and the baskets have been looking a bit rough.

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I accomplished a gentle replanting, cleaning the baskets and removing only those remains I was sure had given up during the winter.  A few plants showed signs of life from their roots, and I left them to re-grow, tucking the roots of fresh Verbenas, Lantana and scented Pelargoniums around them.

I added some pineapple mint this year, some beautiful Dichondra, and a Cuban Oregano.  I believe in adding a few new touches, even while staying with tried and true plants for our full-sun hanging baskets.  The few that get some shade are planted in ferns, Begonia and a Caladium.

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Siberian Iris also began to bloom this week.  Our other perennials are growing so tall so fast!

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The sun is fierce these days, and once the heat builds it is hard to keep the hanging baskets hydrated and happy.  I toyed with the idea of planting only succulents this year.

Herbs do better than most plants.  In fact a gorgeous Spanish lavender that I planted last year grew all winter, bloomed last month and now fills its large basket in a beautiful display of deep purple flowers.  I couldn’t be more pleased with how it has performed.  Who would expect a sub-shrub like lavender to thrive in a hanging basket?

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Despite the heat today, I managed to accomplish a fair amount of my home ‘to-do’ list, and I’m satisfied we made good use of the day.  I moved another of our new Alocasias into its permanent pot and took time to admire (and dead-head) all of the beautiful Iris.  I try to guard against getting so busy in May that I don’t take time to simply enjoy the beautiful flowers and fragrances of the season.  It all happens so fast!

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Mountain Laurel is blooming in our garden this week.

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Even as spring draws to its inevitable close, summer sights and sounds fill the garden.  The Cannas are growing  inches each day and the hardy Colocasias appeared this week.  Birds begin their conversations before dawn and we listen to the mayflies whine whenever we step outside.

Daylight lingers deep into the evening.  I remind myself to breathe in the sweetness, relax a little, and enjoy each magical moment of our garden’s unfolding.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Lavendula stoechas ‘Otto Quast,’ planted last spring, survived our winter beautifully in its hanging basket.  Spanish lavender performs extremely well in our climate and is the first to bloom each spring.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another
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Playing Favorites: Saxifraga stolonifera

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Do you have favorite plants that work in many different situations in your garden?  (If you do, please share with the rest of us by mentioning them in the comments.)

There are certain tough, versatile plants that I appreciate more and more as I plant them in various situations.  Strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, ranks in the top five.

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These dainty, fairy-wing flowers appear in late spring.

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I first met strawberry begonia as a houseplant in the mid-1970s.  We grew it in a hanging basket, just like spider plants and Philodendrons, in plastic pots fitted into home made macrame hangers.  I had a collection hanging in front of a large window, from hooks anchored into the ceiling.

We loved novel plants that would make ‘babies’ hanging from little stems dripping over the sides of the pot.  Strawberry begonia’s leaves are pretty enough to grow it just for its foliage.  I don’t remember whether it ever bloomed as a houseplant; it might have needed more light to bloom than my window provided.

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When I needed to replant this basket at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, I brought in a few plants from home, including some divisions of Strawberry begonia, and ‘borrowed’ a dwarf Iris plant from our ‘Plants for Sale’ area. This arrangement had been potted for about two weeks when I photographed it in mid-April.  Daffodils planted in November are just beginning to emerge, though the original pansies didn’t make it through the winter.

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And then I fell in love with real Begonias and with ferns, and I forgot all about the strawberry begonias of my former hanging garden.  That is, until I encountered the plant again a few years ago sold in tiny 1.5″ pots at The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond.

I vaguely remembered liking the plant and bought one or two for winter pots inside.  They grow well in shallow dishes with mosses and ferns, and when spring came and the arrangements came apart, I moved the little plants outside as ground cover in a larger pot.

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January 2015, I began experimenting with Saxifragas in indoor pots.  This arrangement includes an Amaryllis bulb.

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And that is when they just took off and showed me their potential as great companion plants in potted arrangements outdoors.  Well, maybe overbearing companions, because these enthusiastic growers fairly quickly filled the pot with a thick mat of leaves, and babies hanging over the sides.

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May 2018: This is Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ planted in to an established planting of Saxifraga

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By this time, I’d done a little reading and learned that these ‘houseplants’ are actually hardy to Zone 6, grow well on various soils and in various light conditions.  The literature says ‘shade to partial sun.’  Well, given enough water when things get dry, this Saxifraga will tolerate afternoon sun as long as it gets intermittent shade throughout the day.  It takes heat, it takes cold, and it keeps on growing.

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Now the Saxifraga planting has expanded to groundcover below the pot, which is waiting for me to replant a Colocasia any time now.

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Saxifraga is a very large genus with over 400 species.  Its name, translated from the Latin, means ‘rock breaker.’  There is some debate whether this describes how it grows, or describes a use in herbal medicine.  The members of this genus are low growing rosettes with roundish leaves that spread by producing stolons, just like a strawberry plant, where new plants grow from the ends of the stolon.  Flowers appear in late spring at the top of long, wand-like stalks.

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June 2018:  I planted Saxifraga with Caladiums one summer, and discovered it persisted all winter and into the following year.  Now, I have to thin the Saxifraga each spring to replant the Caladiums.  This is C. ‘Moonlight’.

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Various species appear in the temperate zones or in the mountains in the northern hemisphere.  Members of this genus are very popular in rock gardens, and will grow in the cracks between rocks with very little soil.  Imagine how well they do in good garden soil!

There are many different common names for these little plants, including ‘strawberry geranium,’ ‘rockfoil,’ and ‘mother of thousands.’  The leaf is perhaps more like a geranium leaf than a Begonia leaf, but the common name I learned first, stuck….

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This pot of strawberry begonia needs to be divided again as it has gotten very crowded. Notice the runners crowding each other under the pot!  Can you tell these pots are under a large holly shrub?

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With an abundance of plants filling my pot, I began spreading these fragile looking little plants around.  Wherever I wanted a dainty but tough ground cover in a pot or bed, I began to establish a few pioneer individuals, learning that it doesn’t take very long for them to bulk up and multiply.

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May 2016:  Are they fairies dancing at dusk? No, the strawberry begonias, Saxifraga stolonifera, have finally bloomed.

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Strawberry Begonia has shallow roots, and so it is easy to simply ‘lift’ a clump, break it apart, and replant the individuals.  You can do this entirely by hand if you are planting into potting soil or loose earth.  Water in the new plants and leave them to work their magic.

The first winter that I left strawberry Begonias outside through the winter, I was delighted that they looked fresh and withstood the cold.  Like our Italian Arum, they can survive snow and ice without damage to their leaf tissue.  Unlike Arum, our Saxifraga persist all year, showing a burst of fresh growth as they bloom each spring, but growing all year round.

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May 2018:  Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry begonia in bloom with ferns, the first spring after planting the previous summer in the fern garden.

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Plant Saxifraga stolonifera as the ‘spiller’ in pots and hanging baskets, and as a groundcover under tall plants.  Use it under potted trees or tall tropical plants like Colocasias, Cannas, or Alocasias.  Plant it under large ferns, or under shrubs where you want a year-round living ground cover.  Plants like this form a living mulch and eliminate the need to buy fresh mulch each year.

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April 25, 2019, and the strawberry begonia has filled in and is sending down runners. The runners will emerge through the cocoa liner of a hanging basket.  I’ll trade out the Iris for a Caladium in this basket next week.  WBG

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Pair Saxifraga with other contrasting ground cover plants, like Ajuga, ivy, Vinca minor, or Lysimachia, and let them ‘fight it out.’  You will end up with some beautiful combinations as the plants claim their own real-estate.  If you have rock work or a rock garden, this is a perfect plant to grow in small crevices.

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A neighbor visited recently to bring me a gift of peonies from his garden.  I countered with an offer of some of this magical and versatile plant.  He left with a clump in the palm of his hand and a promise to return in a few weeks for more.  I hope he does, as I now have plenty to share, as I thin out those pots this spring.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Enthusiasm spells the difference

between mediocrity and accomplishment.”
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Norman Vincent Peale

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“Love springs from the inside.

It is the immortal surge of passion,

excitement, energy, power, strength,

prosperity, recognition, respect, desire, determination,

enthusiasm, confidence, courage, and vitality,

that nourishes, extends and protects.

It possesses an external objective

– life.”
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Ogwo David Emenike

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Pot Shots: Unity

Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ began blooming this week.

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Repetition creates unity.  As one of the most basic principles of design, it’s one often overlooked by enthusiastic plant collectors like me!

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The dark purple leaves of the Ajuga are repeated in this Japanese painted fern.  this is one of several containers I made from hypertufa in 2014.

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I’m often tempted to grow the new and novel plant; something I’ve not grown out before.  We’re lucky to have space enough that I can indulge that interest while also repeating successful plants enough to create a sense of unity.

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Each Ajuga plant sends out multiple runners, with a new plant growing at the tip of each, often forming roots in the air. The plants are easy to break off and casually plant in a new spot. I often use Ajuga both for groundcover and in pots.  Here, Ajuga and Sedum angelina form a groundcover under a potted shrub.

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What should one repeat?  There are many design tricks based on repetition that are very subtle, but create a sense of harmony and peacefulness.

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I plant a lot of Muscari bulbs in pots each fall, waiting for just this effect the following spring. Muscari may be left in the pot or transplanted ‘in the green’ elsewhere in the garden when the pot is replanted for summer.

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The most obvious consideration is to use the same or similar plants again and again.  Repeating the same plant across several pots within a grouping creates unity.  Repeating the same plant again elsewhere in the garden ties that grouping of pots to other elements of the landscape.

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I like to choose a plant that grows well in the conditions of an area of the garden, and then use that plant in several different pots within a group.  Maybe I’ll plant a group of basil plants, or a group of lavender and rosemary, accented with sage or thyme.  Some years I plant a group of different geraniums.  The individual plants may be different cultivars with slightly different leaf or flower colors, but there are unifying elements to tie them together.

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Buying multiples of the same cultivar of Viola each autumn, and then planting them across several different pots creates a sense of unity.

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It’s helpful to use perennials that grow fairly quickly, that may be divided easily or that self-seed, and that are fairly easy to find and inexpensive to buy.  Once I find a plant that grows well in our conditions I like to repeat it again and again.

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I plant divisions of Ajuga, creeping Jenny and Sedum in various areas as ground cover.  They spread and cover more fully each year. Native strawberries occur here naturally, and quickly spread each spring.  I will eventually weed these out, even though they are good plants for wildlife.

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Because perennials often shine for a few weeks and then take a background role, or even go dormant for a few months, a gardener can eventually design a garden that changes every few weeks, but still has interest over a very long season, by using perennials thoughtfully.

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Japanese painted fern, Italian Arum and creeping Jenny repeat in this bed near the arrangement of pots.  The color scheme is basically the same (at the moment) in both this bed and the grouping of pots.

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Another way to create unity is to choose pots of the same or similar material, color and design.  Perhaps they are the same color, but varying sizes.

You may own thirty pots, but if they are all in the same limited color palette, there is unity.  Some designers will use a set of identical pots, evenly spaced, to create repetition along a porch, path, deck, or balcony.    This is a very formal approach, and would probably look best with the same rather formal planting in each pot.

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I favor blue glazed pots. This one held a lavender all winter, which is still a bit scraggly before its new growth comes on.  A native violet grows here instead of a hybrid Viola, but the color scheme remains the same.

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Combinations of colors also creates unity.  The plants themselves may be different, but if you use the same colors again and again whether in a group of pots, or throughout the garden as a whole, the eye perceives harmony and consistency:  unity.

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Annual Alyssum covers the soil beneath the Clematis.

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Whether we are making gardens, paintings, food, poetry or music, setting ourselves some parameters allows for creativity and expression within those self-imposed boundaries.  It may actually guide us into being more creative.

By removing some options prima facie, we are left to improvise with more focus among those choices we have left.  What we create will perhaps be more pleasing, more interesting, and perhaps even more beautiful than if we took a laissez-faire, scattershot approach to design.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Pot Shots: Begonia Love

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Begonias captured my heart years ago, when I tended my first Begonia semperflorens with variegated leaves in a hanging basket by my bedroom window.  I was still a teen, but had already assembled a garden of potted plants in my bedroom, and that lovely Begonia was one of my favorites.

The charm of Begonia semperflorens, known as ‘wax leaf’ Begonias for their beautiful, shiny leaves, is that they are always flowering.  New leaves and flower buds tend to emerge simultaneously on these generous, and easy to grow plants.  These Begonias propagate easily from stem cuttings in a glass of water.  If a branch breaks off, root it!  With their extensive fibrous root systems, most of these Begonias remain rounded in form and of manageable size.  No five foot canes reaching for the sky with these beauties!

Garden centers are full of wax leaf Begonias in May.  But most have either solid apple green leaves, or dark bronze leaves.  I am always charmed to find them with variegated leaves, as I did earlier this week at a favorite local garden center.  I have tucked this one into a cobalt blue pot already filled with a fading Viola, spring bulbs and a creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia. 

Out came the Viola and half of the creeping Jenny, (which now grows elsewhere….) and in went the Begonia.  The Muscari leaves will die down soon enough, and the bright chartreuse creeping Jenny will illuminate this shady spot, along with the Begonia from now until frost.   Sadly, the bright leaves of the native Mayapples will fade by late June; but aren’t they fun, now?

This little scene in a sheltered, shady spot by our drive makes me smile when I see it.  All it will need for the next several months will be water and love to keep it going strong.  ( It got a shower of Osmacote fertilizer as I planted, and I’ll water with a bit of dilute seaweed/fish emulsion every few weeks to feed the soil.)

The Begonia and creeping Jenny will provide a bit of nearly care-free horticultural sunshine for the rest of the season, and can come indoors in autumn to continue blooming and growing through the winter months, as well.  These Begonias will also over winter as rooted cuttings.  Alternatively, root cuttings and keep them in small pots through late winter, ready to plant out once the danger of frost has passed next spring.  Wax Begonias are generous plants, indeed.

Woodland Gnome 2018

Sunday Dinner: Winter Blossoms

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“The mind can go in a thousand directions,
but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, the wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
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“Beauty is no quality in things themselves:
It exists merely in the mind
which contemplates them;
and each mind perceives a different beauty.”
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David Hume
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“Live quietly in the moment
and see the beauty of all before you.
The future will take care of itself……”
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Paramahansa Yogananda
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“All the diversity,
all the charm,
and all the beauty of life
are made up of light and shade.”
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Leo Tolstoy
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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Schlumbergera- first blossom  grown from a rooted cutting gifted to me last December.

 

Evolution Of A Container Garden

April 2, 2017

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It is a rare gardener who doesn’t enjoy designing container gardens.  Whether filling a barrel or a basket, a simple clay pot or a beautiful glazed pot from Asia; we can try out ideas for plant combinations in a perfectly controlled environment.  Whether you are simply filling the pots by your front door, or creating an object of art for the season coming, container gardens give us months of enjoyment.

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November 27, 2016 soon after planting H. ‘Snow Fever’ along with some Viola starts and Creeping Jenny Vine.

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Container gardens made in autumn, for enjoyment during winter and early spring, present special challenges and special opportunities.  Finding plants which will grow and look good from December into March can be a challenge.  Ice, snow, and frigid, drying wind present challenges for most plants.

But the ability to spice up a potted arrangement with spring bulbs presents a challenging opportunity for the gardener to plan in four dimensions. We can look forward in time to how the bulbs will grow into their potential, interacting with the other plants in our arrangement, months into the future.

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November 30, 2016

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Autumn planted container gardens give me particular pleasure.  Planted in late October or November, once summer’s annuals have grown shabby, these arrangements will grow and enliven our comings and goings for the next six months.

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Our beautiful geranium in June, which lasted well into fall and past the first few frosts.

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It was already well into November of 2016 when I finally emptied this large white pot of its geranium.  We enjoyed this particular geranium all summer for its vivid, generous flowers.  After it survived the first frost or two, I moved it to a nursery pot in the garage to hold it over for spring, and re-did this pot which stands permanently on our driveway near the back door.

And I refilled the pot with a beautiful Helleborus cultivar that I spotted for the first time this fall, at a local garden center.  I was intrigued by its variegated leaves, and wanted to watch it grow and bloom close up, in this pot we pass daily.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ shows intriguing new growth by January 4, 2017.  The Muscari have grown leaves through the moss mulch.

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It was quite small when we purchased it, but its few leaves promised a beautiful display coming.  This cultivar is a Corsican Hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, which is a bit more tender than the Helleborus orientalis we more commonly grow.  Corsican Hellebores generally have white, or green tinged flowers.  These were advertised as creamy white, outlined in rosy pink.

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By late January, we could  see the beginnings of flowers and tender new leaves.

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When I re-worked this pot in November, I removed most of the Creeping Jenny vine, leaving only a little to grow on through the winter.  Creeping Jenny can take a pot with its extensive root system.  I planted some of the little Viola starts I had on hand to provide a little additional interest while waiting for the Hellebore to bloom.

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February 15, 2017

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I had not yet purchased any Grape Hyacinth bulbs, but knew I wanted them in this arrangement, too.  It took me several weeks to finally buy the white Muscari, plant them, and finish the soil surface with moss.

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February 23, 2017, on a rainy day, the flowers have begun to bloom.  Holly berries fall into the pot and need picking out from time to time.

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It was already mid-December by the time the potted arrangement was completed.  The Hellebore, ‘Snow Fever,’ was beginning to show some growth.  In a partially sunny spot, warmed by the drive and the nearby garage, this potted arrangement has shelter from the wind on three sides.  Even so, it has weathered inches of snow, night time temperatures into single digits, ice, and wind.

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By late March, a month later, the Creeping Jenny has grown in and the Muscari have emerged. Grass, embedded in the moss, has grown in, too.

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I am very happy with how the whole arrangement has come together.  I’ve not only come to love this cultivar of Hellebore, but I’ve also learned that this combination of plants looks great together. ( In retrospect, I almost wish I had planted a white Viola rather than the red.  But the red certainly ‘pops!’ against the other colors!)

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April 2, 2017

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I will plan to plant more white  Muscari this fall  around Hellebores out  in the garden.  Moss makes a beautiful ground cover around Hellebores.  And for all of its vigor, Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, works well in winter container gardens.

It began growing quite early and has filled out nicely this spring, in time to compliment the flowers.  Its chartreuse leaves work well with the pale Helleborus’s colors and with the Muscari.  Creeping Jenny remains evergreen when planted out in the garden, and forms an attractive ground cover around perennials and shrubs.

When planning your own container gardens, especially ones to enjoy through the winter, remember that foliage is as important, or maybe even more important, than flowers.

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This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs. Its new leaves begin almost white, and green up as they grow.

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The foliage in your arrangement will fill your pot for many weeks longer than the more transient flowers.  So try to include a  plant or two with showy, interesting leaves.  Besides Hellebores; Arum italicum, Ajuga, Lysimachia, Heuchera and evergreen ferns do well in our climate.

It is only early April.  This container garden will continue to grow and change until I reclaim the pot for another geranium.  When I do, everything growing here now will be planted out into the garden.  All are perennials, save the Viola, and will grow for years to come.

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When constructing your own container gardens, follow a few simple tips to get the most from the plants you choose:

  1.  Choose a large enough container for all of the roots to grow.  Bulbs produce large root systems.  If you plant a lot of bulbs, the pot will get very congested unless you begin with a large pot.
  2. Choose plants with similar needs for light, moisture and soil PH. Plan for your plants to grow to different heights for an efficient use of space.  Soften the pot’s edges with a vine or other plant which will spill over the side.  Plan for a succession of interest falling on different plants as the season progresses.
  3. Don’t overstuff the pot.  Magazines and books on container gardens often feature mature plants packed in tightly.  If the pot looks ‘finished’ from day one, your plants aren’t left with much room to grow.  The strong will crowd out the weak, and none will grow to their full potential.  Leave room for growth in your designs.
  4. Begin with a good quality potting mix, and stir in additional fertilizer at planting time.  I often re-use at least some of the potting mix from the previous season.  But I stir in Espoma Plant Tone before adding new plants, finish with fresh potting soil, and generally top dress the finished container with a slow release product like Osmocote.
  5. Mulch the top of your finished planting with gravel, moss, or some other mulch.  It keeps the foliage cleaner in heavy rains and helps conserve moisture.
  6. Boost the plants from time to time with an organic liquid feed from a product like Neptune’s Harvest.  Fish and seaweed based products add important trace minerals and help the soil remain biologically active.
  7. Groom plants regularly to remove spent flowers, brown leaves, and any trash which has blown or fallen into the pot from other nearby plants.  Pull small weeds or grass as they sprout from a moss mulch.  If a plant is struggling or dying, don’t hesitate to pull it out.
  8. Place your pots where you will see them daily.  Enjoy their ever changing beauty as they brighten your days.

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    Woodland Gnome 2017

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Sunday Dinner: Ordinary Acts

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“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery,

in the courage that drives one person

to stand up for another.”

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Veronica Roth

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“Endurance precedes success.”

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Wayne Chirisa

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“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy;

I’m saying it’s going to be worth it.

If it was easy, you would’ve done it by now”

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B. Dave Walters

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“I am the bended, but not broken.

I am the power of the thunderstorm.

I am the beauty in the beast.

I am the strength in weakness.

I am the confidence in the midst of doubt.

I am Her!”

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Kierra C.T. Banks

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“What difference does it make to the dead,

the orphans and the homeless,

whether the mad destruction

is wrought under the name of totalitarianism

or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

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Mahatma Gandhi

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“Who are the learned?

Those who practice what they know”

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Anonymous

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“If  liberty means anything at all,

it means the right to tell people

what they do not want to hear.”

.

George Orwell

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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Hardy Amaryllis Flowers for the Holidays

Hippeastrum SA 'Graffiti'

Hippeastrum SA ‘Graffiti’

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Have you heard of  ‘Sonatini Hippeastrum‘  dwarf Amaryllis bulbs? This is a new discovery for us.

The Sonatini bulb is a fairly recent innovation in traditional Amaryllis plants  grown indoors at the holidays.  First, these beautiful bulbs produce smaller plants overall.  That is good news if you wrestle with your Amaryllis plants, as I wrestle with ours, to prevent their tall, heavy stems from falling over as the blooms open.  I devise all sorts of supports, but still often end up letting the flowering stem finish in a tall vase while still managing the 2’+ leaves for several months after the blooms fade.

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The Sonatini Hippeastrum, developed over the last 15 years or so in the Netherlands, grows to only 13″-18″.  This is good news for those of us growing the bulbs in table arrangements during the holidays.  But even better, these bulbs have proven hardy in Zone 7, and even in Zone 6 with some protection.  Which means that I can plant our bulbs out into a permanent place in a perennial bed this spring, and leave it there indefinitely to grow like any other perennial bulb.

We visited the Bulb Shop at Brent and Becky Heath’s gardens in late November to finish off our fall bulb purchases.  I had planned to purchase at least one Amaryllis bulb for our dining table to grow and bloom through the new year.  Imagine my delight to discover these beautiful little H. ‘Graffiti’ bulbs already in bud, and marked down by half.

I knew they were a smaller variety of Amaryllis, but since have done a little research to learn more about them. The two blooming bulbs in this arrangement are both H. ‘Graffiti’.  We also purchased the last H. ‘Trentino’ in the shop that day, also a Sonatini type Amaryllis; which has budded, but has not yet bloomed, in this arrangement.  It should also have a white flower, with a blush border around each blossom.

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I love Amaryllis for their elegant flowers.  This is the sweet reward for growing them each winter.

I love Amaryllis for their elegant flowers. This is the sweet reward for growing them each winter.

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Not only are the Sonatini Amaryllis varieties bred to be smaller and hardier than earlier cultivars; they also produce lots of blooms.  Each bulb is advertised to produce multiple bloom stalks and multiple blooms per stalk over a fairly long period of time.  They also last well when cut and kept in a vase.

These bulbs came to me already under stress.  The whole crate of bulbs in the shop had already sprouted, and a few had flower buds already opening with absolutely no fresh root structure at all.  The bulbs were in growth with only the reserves in their bulb to power them.

These have probably begun rooting now, but have been in their pot for just a little more than a week.  I will be happy for whatever flowers they produce this year.  But I expect them to be even better next winter after spending the summer out in the garden.

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Potted Hippeastrum bulbs should have about the top third of the bulb showing above the soil line. But  planted outside in the garden, these Sonatini bulbs should be planted fully under the soil to remain hardy over our winter, and perhaps even mulched a bit in Zone 6.

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The bulbs are growing around a ‘Frosty Fern’ Selaginella krausiana variegatus, which isn’t really a fern at all.  This clubmoss, or spikemoss,  shows up at our local Trader Joe’s each December and makes a great winter houseplant.  It likes cool shade and moist soil, and will eventually grow quite a bit.  Growing it in this large bowl helps it, as it needs humidity and even moisture to thrive.

Under optimal conditions, Selaginella krausiana can grow to a foot tall and  creep to a foot or more wide.  It can be grown outdoors as a ground cover in cool, moist shade.  Sadly, it won’t overwinter outdoors in our Zone 7 climate, and so I haven’t kept one going for a full year, yet.  I’ll often move the overwintered plant outside into a pot come spring, but often our climate grows too hot for them by mid-summer.   Or perhaps I haven’ t found a shady enough spot for them yet outdoors?

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That isn’t to say that we don’t thoroughly enjoy watching this lovely little plant grow indoors all winter!  This combination will look great for several weeks, and I’ll have another potted Amaryllis, with another ‘Frosty Fern,’ ready to take center stage after this one finishes blooming.  Both the Selaginella and Hippeastrum are native to South Africa.

You may remember that I’ve grown and photographed Amaryllis bulbs indoors every winter for the last several.  A few of the traditional ‘florist’ varieties do prove hardy here and can survive a mild winter out of doors, re-blooming the following summer.

But not taking any chances with our collection, I dug them all up about three weeks ago, before our first frost.  They have been growing all summer in sunny perennial beds, growing great huge strapping leaves, but not showing a single flower bud.  Not to worry….

I have them all resting in the garage, bare root, and will begin potting them up again, one by one, shortly.  Online sources indicate they prefer a couple of months of dormant rest before starting their cycle of bloom and growth once again.

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I’m frankly amazed that the leaves have remained green and healthy looking this long!

If you are curious about the new, smaller Amaryllis varieties, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs will continue shipping for about another week.  They still have a few of the Sonatini (designated as ‘Hippeastrum SA’ in their catalog) varieties in stock.

Whether you order these for your own enjoyment, or as gifts, this looks like a promising improvement in  Amaryllis culture.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Our A Forest Garden 2017 gardening calendar is filled with photos taken in our garden over the past year. 

To order a copy, write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com.

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Autumn Makeover

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This is a good time to refresh our pots for the coming seasons.  In our climate, we have a good six months to enjoy cool-season arrangements.  I like to construct pots which will remain attractive from autumn through until early spring.  Sometimes, these same pots will make it through the following summer with minor adjustments.  This saves time, money, and makes decorating the patio or garden simple.

My favorite formula for a multi-season pot flows from the well know “thriller, filler, spiller” rule.  To construct a pot with staying power, combine evergreen woodies and perennials with cold-weather annuals, bulbs, evergreen vines and ‘accessories.’  Since this is a long-lived arrangement, plan for the inevitable growth and change these plants will experience over the months coming.

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Begin with a generous sized pot.  Remember the growing roots of all those plants you include!  Bulbs, especially, produce huge root systems.  You also want the plants to remain in scale with the pot as they grow.  A large pot allows you to leave the arrangement in place for a longer time before you need to re-pot or plant out the shrub.

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Glazed pots work well in our climate.  But if your winters grow very cold, you might consider a pot made of materials which won’t crack when  the potting soil freezes and thaws repeatedly.

Choose a good ‘thriller’ plant first.  Most garden centers offer great little evergreen shrubs this time of year.  I chose a dwarf Alberta Spruce in a quart pot.  Whatever shrub you choose, try to fill no more than half your pot’s volume with the shrub’s roots.  Osmanthus , Ilex, Camellia,  Thuja, Mahonia, Arborvitae, Buxus  and Leyland Cypress make beautiful pots, too.

If you are satisfied with woody structure during the winter, you might consider planting a deciduous shrub or small tree that blooms in early spring.  Cercis, Witch-hazel, red twig Dogwood, or fruit trees all work well.

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Miniature daffodils grow to only 6"-8" tall and work well in spring pots. Plant the entire bulb and foliage out into a permanent spot in the garden when switching out plantings for summer.

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For a smaller composition, choose a good evergreen perennial instead of a shrub or tree.  I often begin with a Hellebore, which gives great structure and may grow to nearly 2′ high when in bloom.  Arum itallicum is another good choice for a shady location.  Evergreen ferns, Iris, and Heuchera also work well in our Zone 7 winters.

I always plant in a good quality potting soil, amended with fertilizer.  Whether you use slow release Osmocote, Epsoma, or some combination, remember to feed these plants for the best show.  Some gardeners recommend adding good compost or worm castings to the pot when planting shrubs and trees.

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Potted Mahonia blooming on the patio.

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Once you’ve chosen your ‘thriller’ plant, consider adding the surprise element of spring blooming bulbs.  Although the flowers may last for only a few weeks, they pack a punch when little else is blooming.  And, their foliage lasts much longer and helps fill in the pot.

You might choose one type of bulb or several, depending on how much space is left.  And bulbs can be ‘stacked’ according to their required planting depth.  Begin by nestling some Daffodil or tulip bulbs around the bottom of the shrub’s roots.  They should be planted at a depth about 3x their size.  Most large bulbs will go about 6-8″ below the soil level.  You might also choose big showy Fritillarias or Alliums, which will bloom a little later.  Cover the large bulbs with a few inches of potting soil, and then lay a layer of Muscari, Crocus, or even Galanthus for earlier flowers.

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Violas jnder a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.

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Next, fill in around the shrub with cold weather annuals like Violas or Snapdragons, or possibly plant a few seeds for cool weather annuals. These are ‘fillers’ to add interest to your arrangment, and are the plants most likely to get switched out frequently.  Perennial Heuchera, Dianthus, or even herbs like Thyme or Rosemary work well as fillers.

If you like grasses, try an evergreen Carex, Mondo grass, or  Liriope.  These tough evergreens will look great no matter the weather and grow more dense as time goes on.  I’ve transplanted Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’ from elsewhere in the garden for this pot.  Ajuga blooms in the spring.

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Finally add some plugs of trailing Ivy or Vinca as ‘spillers’ for your pot.  While I like Ivy, many gardeners avoid it as it can become invasive.  There are many attractive Vincas which will also bloom in the spring, as well as Creeping Jenny and some evergreen varieties of Sedum, like ‘Angelina’ which will continue growing all winter.  I like to finish pots like this with sheets of moss lifted from the garden.

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Violas

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You might use moss, pebbles, aquarium gravel, or even cones or mulch to finish the pot.  This layer looks neat, adds interest, and can help insulate the soil during a freeze.

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The beauty of a potted arrangement like this only increases with time.  When you first plant, water in well with compost tea or a product like Neptune’s Harvest to get everything off to a good start.  You might give a liquid feed again in early spring as the perennials begin to grow again.

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This is a dynamic arrangement which will continually change as the plants grow and fade.  You might enjoy placing it where you can watch it through the winter from a window, or where you will pass it daily as you come and go.  This pot now crowns our ‘stump garden,’ beside the driveway, where we will see it daily.  But it will also remain visible from the street during the winter.

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In early summer you can switch out the annuals and let the pot keep going, or, you can dig a hole large enough to simply set the whole thing into the garden like a plug.   This is a good way to start out small, affordable shrubs or trees and grow them on until they are  large enough to move into the garden.

The first frost doesn’t need to end our gardening adventures.  With a little planning, most of us can enjoy beautiful pots year round.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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