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

 

Living With Reality

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The Real World we each live in daily, sometimes feels like a living tutorial in ‘Chaos Theory.’  As much as we might admire integrity, neatness, organization and beauty; it proves elusive.

It takes enormous vigilance to maintain, especially without staff.  It requires action and attention to pick up every discarded newspaper, wash every empty cup, dead head every spent blossom, discard every outdated idea, and eliminate every errant weed.

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Have you ever watched a cooking show, and wondered how the host’s kitchen remains so spotless?  Have you ever watched a gardening show, and wondered how every path and plant remains so pristine?

I grew up watching movies and sit-coms , wondering why our home wasn’t as neat and elegant as the ones inhabited by TV families.  Was something wrong with us?

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We still consume the day’s media messages, peering through electronic windows into some else’s seemingly perfect world, wondering why we can’t live that way, too.

Or, maybe we watch the day’s news, and know that things aren’t unfolding in the world as they should.  We feel a visceral disconnect between how we know things should be, and how they currently are. 

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The hard truth remains that we all live in the midst of some measure of chaos and disorder.  We live surrounded by that which we can’t control, which constantly surprises us and throws new challenges our way.   And there is an art in knowing how to stage things for the photograph.

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“Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable.
It teaches us to expect the unexpected.”  
The Fractal Foundation

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We somehow figure out how to take control of those things that we reasonably can.  We plan ahead. We do our due diligence. We have high expectations for ourselves.  But despite our best efforts, perfection remains elusive.

And that is where we somehow learn to shift our focus.  None of us lives in a photograph or a bit of video.  We don’t have producers, set designers and make-up artists on hand to stage some imagined image of how things should be.  We can’t freeze time to capture that fleeting perfect moment.

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… unless we also happen to be photographers….

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Rather, we live in a dynamic and chaotic system.  Our lives play out and our gardens grow in the midst of many competing forces that we simply can’t control.

We eventually learn to expect the unexpected and flow with the living dynamic of our moment.

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But we each still hold great power.  When we add our energy to any system, we change it, for better or for worse.  Our personal influence and expectation might prove the tipping point of change.

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The choices we make in every moment, shape our future.  A small decision can forever change our lives, in ways we don’t even anticipate.

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“Chaos is not simply disorder.
Chaos explores the transitions between order and disorder,
which often occur in surprising ways.”
The Fractal Foundation

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Reality will always challenge our own ideas of how things should be.

The question remains, have we the courage to explore and understand the reality of what is? And once we begin to understand, to work within the flow?

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Can we find a way to ride the waves of our lives so that we live with joy, find the beauty in everything, and abide in love?

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Recognizing the chaotic, fractal nature of our world
can give us new insight, power, and wisdom.
The Fractal Foundation

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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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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Dense And Durable

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Dense planting not only looks nice, it protects our garden’s most precious resource, our soil.

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Vinca minor forms a dense ground cover in this mixed border beneath shrubs, spring bulbs, Violas and emerging perennials.

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A newly planted bed, whose perennials and ground covers haven’t yet grown in, looks rather naked and unfinished.  But all of that exposed soil provides a receptive spot for weed seeds to germinate with abandon.  It takes a great deal of time and effort to keep the weeds pulled.

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Ivy

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Naked soil also runs off in heavy rain, dries out quickly, and can get compacted.  Mulch helps, but living mulch in the form of ground cover and dense planting holds the soil and looks far more interesting.

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That is why most experienced gardeners will recommend dense, close planting in beds and pots.  And most experienced gardeners also plan for a low growing ground cover plants as the ‘shoes and socks’ of their designs.

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Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ fills this pot planted with bulbs. Bits of Sedum Angelina poke through the dense mat of Ajuga.  A Zantedeschia will soon emerge, if it survived winter in this pot.

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In a pot, some ground covers will eventually take over, given the chance.  Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, will eventually fill a pot with its own roots.  But it is a beautiful plant in its own right.

Gardeners willing to dig and divide the plant seasonally, and re-plant the design, find it very useful.

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Creeping Jenny spills from the white pot, planted in November beneath the Helleborus “Snow Fever.’ Moss (center) also makes a good, dense ground cover in pots and doesn’t compete with other plants in the container.

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Vinca minor also grows aggressively, striking new roots from its leaf nodes as it creeps along the ground.  It loves our garden. 

I frequently find myself weeding out clumps of it in newly established beds where I want other plants to establish.  And yet, I must admit that it looks beautiful growing beneath spring bulbs and around shrubs.

When it blooms each spring, its flowers contrast beautifully with daffodils.  But its evergreen leaves also give the garden color and structure throughout the year.

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Ajuga reptans, another low growing, flowering perennial, remains one of my favorite ground cover plants.  It forms dense mats of beautiful, colorful leaves which look good throughout the winter months.

And then it blooms with gorgeous flowers for a few weeks in the spring.  I would grow it for its flowers, even if it weren’t such a wonderful ground cover plant.  Is use it in pots, beds, and for edging.

Its dense mat of leaves protects the soil from erosion in heavy rain and cools the soil in summer’s heat.  It helps retain moisture, a living mulch, around shrubs.

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Perennials like Ajuga, which spread with runners, eventually form dense, ever growing clumps.  When planted, it is wise to space them a bit apart, knowing they will soon grow together.

Once you have plants like Ajuga, Vinca, Ivy, Lysimachia, and many Sedums established in your garden, you can easily divide them and spread them around.  Many of these root easily in water or damp soil.  Their interesting colors provide interest and contrast when paired with other plants.

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Another beautiful ground cover vine, Lamium also forms a dense mat in partial shade, protecting the soil, and  blooms in the spring.

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So go dense when planting.  Protect the soil, conserve water, and create a rich tapestry of form and color in your garden.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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for the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Dense

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Ordering Caladiums For Our Summer Garden

Caladium 'Desert Sunset,' introduced last season by Classic Caladiums.

Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ introduced last season by Classic Caladiums.

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Again this year, I am organizing a large Caladium order for friends, neighbors  and family.  By combining our orders, we can buy large lots of 25-50 tubers of each variety which gives us a lower price per plant.  We also save on shipping costs.  I’ve selected a dozen different varieties to order this year.

Six varieties are new hybrids on offer from Classic Caladiums.  All of these were  developed by Dr. Robert Hartman, CEO of Classic Caladiums,  to withstand more direct sun and produce more leaves than older Caladium cultivars.  These six varieties have only been available commercially in the last few years.

I grew C. ‘Desert Sunset’ last summer, and was very happy with how it looked and how it performed.    One of the benefits of these new Caladiums is the introduction of some new patterns and even new colors into the world of Caladiums.

I am most interested in growing out  the new C. ‘Peppermint’ this year.

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Caladium 'Sweet Carolina'

Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ sports chartreuse leaves and bright rose pink spots.  C. ‘Miss Muffett’ was a  parent of this new hybrid.

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You might have seen my posts last summer about C. ‘Sweet Carolina.’  I’ve saved the tubers I grew last summer and hope they survived winter in our garage.  That cultivar isn’t on the list, although the Caladium proved to be a strong grower.

Our friends who grew the tubers I shared with them weren’t very enthusiastic about it; likely because of its truly unusual appearance.

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Caladium, 'Cherry Tart'

Caladium, ‘Cherry Tart’ is a fairly short variety, but produces lots of intense, red leaves.  These plants were vigorous and vibrant until frost.

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They were much happier with C. ‘Cherry Tart.’  A gorgeous deep red Caladium, I would recommend it to anyone.  You won’t find it on this list because I want to see the new 2017 red Caladiums C. ‘Fireworks’ and C. ‘Flare.’

Here are the varieties I plan to order for 2017:

New Caladium Hybrids from ClassicCaladiums.com 

(Please follow the links for photos)

White Delight   ( part sun 18”-24”)

White Star  ( full sun/part shade 12”-18”)

Peppermint  ( shade/part sun 12”-18”)

Desert Sunset ( sun/part shade 12”-18”

Fireworks  ( full sun/part shade 18”-24” )

Flare  ( full sun/part shade 12”-18” )

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C. Florida Fantasy appreciates a little afternoon shade, but performs well in morning sun.

C. Florida Fantasy appreciates a little afternoon shade, but performs well in morning sun.

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Older Caladium Hybrids

Florida Sweetheart ( sun/ part sun 12”-18”)

 Lance Wharton ( sun/ part sun 12”-18”)

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C. Florida Roselight

C. Florida Sweetheart

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 Florida Fantasy (shade/ part sun 12”-15”)

 Florida Moonlight ( shade/ part sun 18”-24”)

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Caladium 'White Christmas'

Caladium ‘White Christmas’

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 Florida Roselight ( shade/ part sun 18”-24”)

 Miss Muffet ( shade/ part sun 12”-18”)

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Caladium 'Miss Muffett"

Caladium ‘Miss Muffett”

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All six of these older varieties are beautiful, strong growers.  It is very hard for me to choose a favorite.  Thankfully, we enjoy them all in different parts of our garden. 

All four varieties with ‘Florida’ in the name were developed at the University of Florida. They are fairly new hybrids with pretty good sun tolerance, vigor, and good health.  C. ‘Miss Muffett’ is a gorgeous Caladium, and one of the parents of the improved C. ‘Sweet Carolina.’

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Floriday Moonlight really lights up a shady spot!

Caladium ‘Florida Moonlight’ really lights up a shady spot!

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Although I shared an email invitation last week with a few friends and neighbors to join this year’s Caladium order, I am posting the list of Caladiums, and a few photos,  again here.  Some folks had trouble opening the page I sent with photos of all six varieties.

If you live in the Williamsburg area, and would like to participate this year, then please contact me sometime this week by email.  We will get in touch with one another and you can join our order anytime between now and next weekend.

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Caladium 'Lance whorton

Caladium ‘Lance Wharton’

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Caladiums prove a great plant for our hot Virginia summers.  They thrive in our heat and humidity!  Once they get going in May or early June, they keep giving and just grow better with each passing month until the weather cools in October.  Whether grown in a pot or in a bed, Caladiums have few problems and generally are left alone by deer and other wildlife.

These are a good choice for busy gardeners who don’t have time to fuss around with high maintenance plants.  Foliage plants have staying power in the garden.  These are some of the easiest and most interesting foliage plants we’ve found.

And now is the time to plan for the coming season.  Order yours now, while the selection is still good.

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Ajuga reptans 'Black Scallop' proves a hardy and beautiful ground cover in pots and planting beds. Evergreen, it blooms each spring. Caladiums love our summer weather!

 Caladiums love our summer weather!

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2015- 2016

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Caladium 'Desert Sunset' develped by Dr. Robert Hartman of Classic Caladiums LLC.

Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’

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CC banner-1

 

Water-Wise Pots

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Keeping potting soil well hydrated presents a challenge when the mercury rises and the gardener gets busy.

I’m always open to new ideas which allow me to use less water and keep my potted gardens happy.  I hate to water deeply, only to find a growing puddle seeping out of the pot.  Water is a precious resource, and grows more so each year.

I’ve used water globes in some pots and hanging baskets for a few years now, especially when the pots are indoors.    They deliver just the amount of water needed over several days, reducing both evaporation and the inevitable mess watering can make.  The large one I use to keep our Norfolk Island Pine happy through the winter is a two piece contraption.

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Yes, I realize the spike should be deeper into the soil. The tree's roots are so thick this was the best I could do! And it still works....

Yes, I realize the spike should be deeper into the soil. The tree’s roots are so thick this was the best I could do! And it still works….

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A terra cotta spike, about an inch in diameter, stays embedded in the potting soil.  The stained glass globe reservoir lifts out for filling.  You invert the filled globe into the spike (very carefully) and then allow the water to wick through the terra cotta spike, into the potting mix, as the plant needs it.  The tree grows happily, and I fill the globe about twice a week.

This is a neat system, and got me to wondering whether I could construct something similar for the large pots I keep out on our patio and deck all summer.

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My favorite, clean, pea gravel, with a lot of fine grit.

My favorite, clean, pea gravel, comes with a lot of fine grit.

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I’m not keen on buying more globes for the outdoor pots.  For one thing, the kit runs around $20.  For another, our squirrels might just knock the globe out and  shatter it while they explore the pots.

But tiny terra cotta pots are fairly cheap at the big box stores.

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Burlap over the drainage hole keeps potting soil from seeping out of the pot's drainage hole.

Burlap over the drainage hole keeps potting soil from seeping out of the pot.

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I found stacks of little pots today for about 40 cents each at WalMart.  So I’ve dreamed up a little gadget which should work reasonably well to help keep a pot hydrated in summer.  I am going to try it out this spring and see whether it works.

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My idea is to construct a hollow, terra cotta column towards the middle of the pot, that will hold a reservoir of water.  The water will then wick back out into the soil as it is needed.   Unglazed clay, like these little pots, absorbs and holds water easily.  Although solid, they work much like a sponge.

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I've positioned the terra cotta pot a little off center, on about 2" of potting mix. There is a little scrap of burlap in the bottom, covered with a very shallow layer of pea gravel in the bottom pot.

I’ve positioned the first terra cotta pot a little off center, on about 2″ of potting mix.

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That is the main reason I generally avoid unglazed pots for planting anything except succulents:  water evaporates from the clay pot pretty quickly.  They need constant monitoring in summer’s heat.  But that porous clay, which allows water molecules to pass quickly and easily through the pot’s walls is exactly what makes terra cotta  good for watering devices.

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I put a few inches of potting mix into the bottom of the pot, and then began the tower.  There is a little square of burlap in the bottom pot to slow water from simply pouring through its little drainage hole.

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I've added some slow release plant food in the next to the top little pot, and also sprinkled some into the potting mix.

I’ve added some slow release plant food in the next to the top little pot, and also sprinkled some into the potting mix.

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A thin layer of pea gravel in the bottom of each pot in the stack helps space the pots apart and again, slow the movement of water.

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I filled in with potting mix, as I built the tower, to hold it steady.  This pot is planted up with Lily of the Valley roots, Convallaria majalis, found bare root in one of the little packs you find everywhere each spring.  Lily of the Valley grows and spreads from rhizomes, and so should be planted shallowly.  The package said to plant them an inch deep.

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The pot is topped off with potting mix, covering the newly planted roots about 1" deep.

The pot is topped off with potting mix, covering the newly planted roots about an inch deep.

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After topping off the pot with soil, I added a few little Strawberry Begonia divisions and a few Arum italicum seedlings.  These have small root systems still, and so planting didn’t interfere with the Convallaria roots just beneath the surface.

It is still a little early here for planting up pots.  Our last frost date, in April, is weeks away.  Whatever goes  into this practice pot has to be hardy!

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Strawberry Begonia divisions and Arum itallicum seedlings can be tucked into the pot without disturbing the Convallaria roots below.

Strawberry Begonia divisions and Arum itallicum seedlings can be tucked into the pot without disturbing the Convallaria roots below.

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All three of these plants may be transplanted out into the garden in a few months when I want the pot for something else…. or not.

Maybe I will like this perennial arrangement enough to just leave it to grow through until next spring!

The very top little terra cotta pot is filled up with gravel.  Although I watered the whole pot in thoroughly to settle the plants and wet the potting mix, I paid special attention to filling the little terra cotta reservoir.

In retrospect, I wish I had thought to soak the terra cotta pots before using them.  Next time, right?

~

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Finally, I laid a layer of moss over all of the exposed soil to further slow evaporation.  Mulching pots gives a nice finished look even as it reduces the need to water.  The potting mix won’t splash around when it rains.

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In full sun, I would have mulched with gravel.  But since these plants prefer partial shade, the moss will work just fine.

You might notice a few decorative stones in the finished pot.  I often put stones beside little transplants to protect them.  The stones give a little obstacle to curious birds and squirrels and protect the plant’s tender roots as they establish.  Stones also tend to keep the soil beneath cool and moist.

I like how this pot came together.  As all the plants grow, the terra cotta reservoir should disappear behind their foliage.  But it will still be easy enough to find when I’m watering.

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In summer, or when I’m traveling,  I could remove most of the gravel from the top terra cotta pot to make enough room to upend a plastic water bottle into the reservoir.  While not pretty, the bottle would feed water, as it is needed, to keep the pot going when I’m not here to water! There are lots of possibilities here.

What do you think?  You are probably clever enough to already see ways to improve this scheme.

Please share your ideas, and we’ll tinker around to make an effective, affordable, water wise system to make summer a little easier on us all.  I’d love to see photos of your pots if you try out this idea.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Wednesday Vignettes: Summer Love

C. 'White Christmas'

Caladium ‘White Christmas’

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth

find reserves of strength

that will endure as long as life lasts.”

.

Rachel Carson

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Caladium 'White Queen'

Caladium ‘White Queen’

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“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning,

and unallied with definite form,

can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways. ”

.

Oscar Wilde

~

Caladium 'Desert Sunset' develped by Dr. Robert Hartman of Classic Caladiums LLC.

Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’ hybridized by Dr. Robert Hartman of Classic Caladiums LLC.

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“Live in each season as it passes;

breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit,

and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

.

Henry David Thoreau

~

Caladium 'Moonlight' is an older white variety which prefers full shade.

Caladium ‘Florida Moonlight’

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“Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing?

Can one really explain this? no.

Just as one can never learn how to paint.”

.

Pablo Picasso

~

Caladium 'Miss Muffet'

Caladium ‘Miss Muffet’

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The scientist does not study nature

because it is useful to do so.

He studies it because he takes pleasure in it,

and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful.

If nature were not beautiful

it would not be worth knowing,

and life would not be worth living.

.

Henri Poincaré

~

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~

 

“Nature does nothing uselessly.”

.

Aristotle

~

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot. Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Assorted Caladiums.  On the right, C. ‘Lance Whorton’  blooms.

~

 

“Let me, O let me bathe my soul in colours;

let me swallow the sunset and drink the rainbow.”

.

Kahlil Gibran

~

Caladium 'Lance Whorton'

Caladium ‘Lance Whorton’

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“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

~

Caladium 'Florida Sweetheart'

Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’

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“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece”

.

Claude Monet

~

Caladium 'Sweet Carolina'

Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2016

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Caladium '

Plan Now For Winter’s Flowers

Muscari

Muscari, Grape Hyacinth

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Color drains from the garden as frost works its wintery magic.  Leaves turn brilliant orange, scarlet and gold before tumbling from their trees on autumn winds, soon to turn soggy and brown underfoot.  Newly bare branches stretch high against the sky, sometimes blue but often grey and sodden.

Shiny green remains only on our evergreen shrubs and trees, now brilliant against an otherwise drab and barren landscape.  We admire red berries against prickly holly and soft Nandina leaves and purplish blue ones now noticeable on the Wax Myrtle and Ligustrum.

~

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Yet some of us crave flowers, even during the restful months between frosts.  It would be altogether too depressing to me, a Virginia girl, to face long months ahead of a dormant garden without anything in bloom.

In Zone 7 and south, we can enjoy flowering shrubs, annuals, perennials and bulbs during the winter.  Even through periods of freezing weather, snow, ice storms temperatures down into the teens; these plants soldier on.  When they thaw, they just keep growing.  Some of these plants still grow and flower through the winter in zones well to our north.

If you need winter flowers, consider some of these beautiful choices: (Follow the links for more detail about growing each plant)

Shrubs

 

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Camellia Sasanqua

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Edgeworthia

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia

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Forsythia

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Japanese Magnolia

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Magnolia stellata
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Mahonia aquifolium

 

Hamamelis (Witchhazel)

 

Perennials

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Helleborus

 

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Primula

 

Annuals

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Viola

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Bulbs

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Crocus

 

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March 25, 2016 Daffodils 016
Daffodils

 

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Muscari

 

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February 24, 2014 snowdrops 036
Galanthus nivalis ( Snowdrops )

 

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Iris reticulata

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Vines, ground cover

Perwinkle flowers bloom on the Vinca minor vine in early spring.

Vinca Minor, Periwinkle

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This is the time to plan for winter flowers.  Find a good selection of Violas, Hellebores, shrubs and bulbs at garden centers now.  Plant through the end of December, at least; and enjoy these beautiful plants for many years to come.

Winter flowers are brighten our gardens and bring a touch of joy to frosty winter days.

~

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Packing It In… Before the Frost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

~

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

~

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

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

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

~

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

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

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

~

Colacasia 'Mojito'

Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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

~

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

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

~

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

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

~

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

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

~

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

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

Surely, we’ll learn something new, too.

~

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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

Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ will bloom indoors through the winter.

 

‘Sweet Carolina’ Charms

Caladium 'Sweet Carolina'

Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ on September 22, 2016, about seven weeks after planting the tubers.

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‘Sweet Carolina’ Caladium takes the prize for the most entertaining Caladium I’ve grown; maybe the most entertaining foliage plant of any sort I’ve grown.  Why?  Because no two leaves unfold the same.

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There is so much going on with this plant!   First, there is the background color of the leaf.  Will it be cream or green?  How chartreuse will it turn?  How much darker green, and where?

Then, there are the blotches of cherry pink.  How many will appear?  How light or dark might they be?  What shape and patterns will they take?

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And finally, there are the veins.  Will they be pink, red, or white?  Will the edges of the leaf have a pink stain, too?

Thus far, no two leaves have come the same.

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‘Sweet Carolina’  is bred to take full sun, which is very unusual for a Caladium.  Ours grow in several different places with varying amounts of light.  I wanted to see how the plants would perform in everything from mostly sunny to partly shady.  I’m growing four plants directly in the ground, others in pots.

I’m also watching to see how tall the plants will grow.  Breeder Dr. Robert Hartman reports they grow into large, bushy uniform plants.  The Classic Caladium website indicates they will grow to over 36″ tall.  This hybrid is know for its large, broad leaves.

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There are four tubers growing together in this pot.

There are four tubers growing together in this pot.

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Ours have been growing now for between 5 and 7 weeks.  The pot started the first week of August is doing the best, and the tallest leaf is at around 18″ growing in only partial sun.  Fed with both Osmocote and regular feedings of Neptune’s Harvest, these plants are very well nourished.

Caladium tubers planted directly in the soil have not performed as well as those in pots.  They are shorter and have fewer leaves, and got a slightly later start.  I expect them to show a great deal of new growth now that there is plenty of moisture in the soil again.

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Caladiums delight us with their beautiful colors, patterns and forms.  They also satisfy us because they suffer little or no damage from grazing animals.  This makes them a good value for us.

The exception here is some insect damage to a few leaves of our ‘Sweet Carolina.’  Caterpillars ate a few leaves of a single potted plant.  Removing the caterpillar solved that problem.

But some of the plants in the ground have lost their tips to some other sort of grazing insect.  I’ve not noticed this problem with other Caladium varieties.

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This pot holds Begonia 'Arabian Sunset' and Begonia 'Richmondensis along with a single Caladium.

This pot holds Begonia ‘Arabian Sunset’ and Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ along with a single Caladium tuber.

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We expect to enjoy our Caladiums outside for about another month.  We will see how these plants develop now that they are all in active growth.

Our nights are dropping into the 60s now, a little on the cool side for Caladiums.  But we are still enjoying warm days.  With the warmer than average weather we’ve had so far this year, we may get to enjoy Caladiums into early November.

I hope you find these plants as interesting as we find them.  They are different from the more standard Caladiums in several ways, but that is part of their charm.  Their colors blend beautifully with other plants we enjoy.

All in all ‘Sweet Carolina’ Caladiums are an excellent addition to our forest garden.

~

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Woodland  Gnome 2016

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