Wordless Wednesday: After the Rain

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“They both listened silently to the water,

which to them was not just water,

but the voice of life, the voice of Being,

the voice of perpetual Becoming.”
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Hermann Hesse

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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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: Alocasia

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Sometimes good intentions and a little informed effort pay big dividends.  Last fall, I wanted to save the two huge Alocasia plants that flanked our front porch through the summer.  But we’d planted them in very large pots; pots that hold their positions by the porch season after season.  I wanted to re-plant the pots with small variegated holly shrubs for winter, and didn’t have a plan in my back pocket for overwintering these 4’+ beauties indoors.

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Our Alocasia last November

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After a little research, I learned that they could be stored through the winter, root balls intact, in grocery bags kept in our frost-free basement.  All of their leaves had finally died back by early May, when I moved their root balls back outside, temporarily housed in large black plastic nursery pots.

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It’s alive! June 26

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It has taken several months for these Alocasias to wake up and grow again.  One responded weeks before the other, and it is easy to see the difference in their growth.   Their differing responses remain a mystery as the two plants have been treated much the same.  And so when I came across a huge bargain on a beautiful pot large enough to hold their roots, I was left to choose which plant to move into the roomy new pot.

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This is the faster growing Alocasia on July 10.

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Which would you have chosen? 

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The second pot is also showing growth on July 10, but is coming along more slowly. A Zantedeschia shares the pot  These are all pups… notice there is no sign of new growth from last year’s stem.

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I chose to give the advantage to the plant which is lagging a bit behind its mate, in hopes of inspiring it to catch up and grow into its potential this year.

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The larger plant now rests between a stand of Canna lilies and a mass of Lantana in partial sun.  Its nursery pot is less noticeable, tucked among these larger plants, and its leaves are stretching up for their share of the sunlight.  A nursery pot isn’t beautiful, but it serves the purpose and the plant is happily growing.

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This pot of Alocasia usually rests among the plants in the background, but is pulled forward here to observe its growth.  It is doing very well and growing quickly, now that it is finally awake for the summer!

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The plant I repotted (out in the pouring rain, mind you) this morning  is showing growth around the neck of last year’s growth, but not yet from the neck.  I suppose that means that the original plant didn’t fare as well in storage, but is valiantly trying to survive through its pups.

As a bonus, there is a Zantedeschia from last summer’s pot that remained embedded in the Alocasia’s roots over winter.  It is awake and growing again, too.

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The new pot is resting, for the moment, at the base of our white crape myrtle tree near a grouping of Begonias and Caladiums.  I expect that we’ll move the pot to the upper garden next week when things dry out a bit.  It’s too heavy to move around on a whim, so I’ll want to make a good decision on where the plants will show to best advantage, and make the move once.  Partial sun, with some afternoon shade seems to work best for this Alocasia.

Who knows, maybe this spot will work out for the remainder of the season?

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These Colocasias also overwintered in a bag in the basement, and are growing well again. C. ‘Coffee Cups’ divides itself prolifically and sends out runners all season.  A. ‘Stingray’ is the only one of these plants I’ve not found growing again this year.

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A lot of gardening friends shy away from growing Caladiums, Alocasias and Colocasias because most of these plants aren’t hardy in our area.  Overwintering them is more of a challenge than they want to take on each autumn, and the alternative of losing them to the frost isn’t acceptable.  I can understand their caution.

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This is a single bulb of Caladium. ‘Florida Moonlight’ saved from last year’s garden.  It certainly is putting on a beautiful show in an 8″ ceramic pot.

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On the upside, these aroids are all easy to grow, require minimal care during the season, and aren’t grazed by rabbits or deer.  They divide themselves generously and are very adaptable to varying amounts of light.  Overwintering is a fairly easy thing to do and takes very little space.

I think it is a good investment of time and effort that pays a tremendous benefit in stunningly beautiful plants that grow better each year.

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A new Zantedeschia leaf emerges from a clump of Caladiums in the large pot by our front porch. Too bad it was already filled with these beauties when the Alocasia came up from the basement this spring….

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We were at Trader Joe’s last week when I spied another gorgeous Alocasia in a little quart sized pot, all wrapped up in pretty paper.  A good friend had just had her birthday, and I couldn’t resist bringing the sweet little Alocasia to her as a gift.  I’ve warned her, mind you, that like a little greyhound puppy, her ‘sweet little Alocasia‘ won’t stay small for long.  She is a gifted green handed gardener and I can’t wait to see how the Alocasia grows in her care!

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C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ must be stealing all the rays from C. ‘Desert Sunset,’ growing below it. This pot sits in a shady corner of the patio.  C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ is in its third season in our garden.

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If you want to grow an absolutely stunning potted arrangement that holds its beauty all season, you won’t go wrong by choosing any of these gorgeous aroids.  They may look exotic and difficult, but they are quite easy once you understand their needs for steady moisture, nutrition, filtered sun and frequent admiration.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ is growing into a spectacular display alongside Zantedeschia. This photo was taken in early July, and all of the plants continue to sprout new leaves weekly.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Green Thumb Tip #19: Focus on Foliage

New growth on Mahonia

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A garden built from woody trunks, stems, branches and beautiful leaves will last through the seasons.  Abundant foliage offers cool shade and privacy.  It screens the view, cleans the air, muffles outside sounds and protects the soil, all while offering a sense of enclosure.

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Crape Myrtle

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Flowers can be exciting, for a while.  But they fade or explode into a heap of petals all too quickly.  Their perfumes entice us, but flowers aren’t enough to create a lasting garden.

Better to focus on foliage plants for a garden’s flesh and bones, and appreciate ephemeral flowers as seasonal accents.

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Once one gets past wanting a garden filled with fragrant flowers, there is a beautiful palette of foliage waiting for the curious garden designer.  In fact, I’ve been reading an intriguing book on garden design by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz  called Gardening With Foliage First:  127 Dazzling Combinations That Pair the Beauty of Leaves With Flowers, Bark, Berries and More.

The authors have photographed and described associations of shrubs, perennials, vines, ferns and grasses that will grow well together for a variety of climate zones and locations.  The color combinations are striking, and the authors discuss how the association will change as the four seasons unfold.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ in August

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One of the nicest things about designing with foliage is the wide selection of colors and textures in the plant palette.  And with woodies and perennials, the plants grow larger and more complex with each passing year.

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A native redbud tree seedling has appeared by our drive. This tree can eventually grow to 20′ or more.

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We plan and plant our gardens in at least four dimensions.  We create out door ‘rooms’ by creating ‘walls’ with large shrubs and trees, or perhaps vines growing on a pergola or trellis.  Our carpet is a selection of low-growing plants and ground covers.   Some of us cultivate a simple carpet of moss.

The leafy canopy of trees offers us a bit of shelter and shade, enclosing our garden from above.   So we are planting foliage plants of varying heights to serve different purposes.

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Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is a native, deciduous tree in coastal Virginia that will grow to about 25 feet.  It often grows as a multi-stemmed shrub, growing a bit broader with each passing year.

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Perennials tend to also spread, growing wider with each passing year.  A plant or two this year may propagate itself into two dozen plants within just a season or two.  Even within the short span of a single season, a small tropical plant purchased in a 3″ pot may grow to be 5′ tall and wide before frost.

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Our garden is also constantly changing over time, the fourth dimension.  Sculptural stems and branches cover themselves in buds, then ever expanding leaves.  The leaves grow and change colors as the season progresses, often developing intricate veins or spotted markings as they mature.

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Begonia

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Eventually, we are enclosed in leaves and woody growth before winter sweeps the season’s tender growth away.  Leaves glow with autumn color, then fall.  Perennials die back to ground level, harboring the promise of next year’s growth in their roots and crowns.

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It is this foliage framework which demands a garden designer’s attention. This is where we make our main investment of time and treasure. 

When beginning a new garden, one selects and plants the trees first to give a head start on growth.  When renovating a garden, it is wise to replace tired shrubs, or rejuvenate them with heavy pruning before the season’s new growth begins.

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Once we have good woody ‘bones’ in place, then we fill in the ground covers and herbaceous plants to occupy the mid-level spaces .

Flowers are the ephemeral elements which can come- and go- with the seasons. Whether we choose blooming shrubs, perennials with a short season of bloom like Iris, or even if we plant annuals for several months of bloom;  the flowers themselves are very short-lived.

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Japanese painted fern emerges among the Arum italicum, and is interlaced with creeping Jenny.  Bulb foliage will die back soon.  You can just see the new leaf of a hardy Begonia catching sunlight like a stained glass window to the right.  They will grow to about 18″ tall before their tiny pink flowers emerge.

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Many traditional gardens rely on foliage for all of their seasonal interest.  This is easy to do with herbaceous perennial foliage plants like ferns, Heucheras and Colocasia.  But a ‘foliage only’ garden doesn’t mean a monochromatic garden.  Beautiful contrasts and color combinations may be painted with colorful leaves.

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And stunning beauty may be created with little more than variations of texture and form.  Leafy plants swaying in the breeze bring life and movement to the garden.

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Lamb’s Ears, Stachys Byzantina. is grown more for its velvety gray leaves than for its flowers. In fact, many gardeners remove the flower stalks before they can bloom. Bees love it, so I leave them.

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As you plan and plant your pots and garden borders, remember to focus first on the foliage framework.   This will last over many months or years and will grow better with time.

The flowers will come and go, but your garden’s leafy presence will make the lasting impression.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what you know from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I’ll update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!

 

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The Arum Affair

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My new-found friends at the Native Plant Society might not approve, but I’m still falling in love with this beautiful Italian Arum.   After six days under the snow, with temperatures falling near zero at night, it still looks this fresh and crisp as the snow melts around it!

Arum leaves hold their vibrant green throughout the winter, as though unaffected by the ice and freezing cold.  The beautiful geometric patterns traced on their leaves in softest cream remain elegant from autumn through to early summer.  They remind me a little of a cold hardy Alocasia.

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Arum growing with our daffodils last February

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Native to Southern Europe and North Africa, Arum originated in a much warmer climate.  But it has a superpower: Arum italicum is thermogenic, capable of producing heat from its leaves and from its unusual flower.  The mitochondria in each cell produce excess heat, which gives the plant some protection from the cold.

A member of the Araceae family, it also has calcium oxalate crystals in its leaves.  These crystals are very irritating to skin and soft tissue… like the tender mouths of hungry deer.   All parts of the Arum are poisonous, including the corm from which it grows; which is the other reason I love these beautiful foliage plants.

Deer, squirrels, voles and rabbits won’t touch them.

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Columbine emerges through a winter ground cover of Arum italicum last March.

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These are a useful ground cover species in our woodland garden.  They grow best in shade and though drought tolerant, grow more prolifically in moist and fertile soil.

While I am thrilled to see these beautiful plants spread through our garden by seed and division, their prolific growth and nearly indestructible nature make them problematic in other regions of the United States.  Areas like the Pacific Northwest consider them invasive and ask home gardeners not to plant them.

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But Arum remain my cold-weather guilty pleasure.  I ordered over 200 of them this fall from Brent and Becky Heath, sharing a little more than half with my gardening friends.

I’ve planted them in beds and pots, beneath shrubs and amongst spring bulbs.  Interplant them with Hosta to keep a beautiful foliage presence in your Hosta beds year round.  Pair them with either hardy or deciduous ferns for delicious spring time associations.

I use them in parts of the garden where we grow Caladiums in the summer.  As we lift the Caladiums in fall, the Arum emerge from their summer dormant period.  Arum die back in early summer as the Caladiums fill in.

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Exotic as they may be, Arum still fill a niche in a North American woodland garden.  They hold and protect the ground against erosion.  They produce both nectar and pollen for pollinators each spring.  Birds eat their seeds in mid-summer.  And, their beautiful leaves make this gardener very happy. 

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Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester, VA,  feature many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heath’s call Arum italicum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well as a ground cover beneath shrubs.

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I’m still wavering up and down the native plant/exotic imported plant continuum.  I’m hanging out more these days with the native plant enthusiasts and reading the literature.  I understand the nativist point of view, and yet I still believe that there is space in our garden for a population of exotic ‘come here’ plants, too.

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How would I garden without our Camellias and Rhododendrons, Alocasias, Narcissus, Caladiums and Mediterranean herbs?

Basically, if it will grow here and not end up as breakfast for a deer, I’m willing to entertain most any plant for at least a season or two.  And when it makes me happy, I just might explore a more lasting relationship.  Which perhaps explains the Arum affair….

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Arum italicum blooming in our garden last April

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Dark Beauty

Zantedeschia ‘Hot Chocolate’

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Are you drawn to nearly black foliage or flowers when designing your garden?  Many new cultivars have come to the market in recent years sporting very dark shades of purple, burgundy, green and bluish black.

I like them.  My partner doesn’t.

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We were shopping together this spring, and I was ready to buy  a Colocasia ‘Black Coral.’  I must admit that I was seeing the poor little start as I expected it to look in July.  My partner saw the pitiful dark little thing in its plastic nursery pot and didn’t like it at all.  We had words.  And I chose to keep the peace by making a different selection.

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Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ with coleus, petunias and peach verbena

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But I always admire dark leaved Colocasias, especially shiny ones like C. ‘Black Coral’ or ‘Black Ripple.’  And I find them stunning when they are planted near chartreuse or burgundy tropical foliage.

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And so when we returned to the shop some weeks later, I asked my partner to trust me, and bought my C. ‘Black Coral.’  Once I planted our little Colocasia in its new blue ceramic pot with a peach verbena, some coleus and purple petunias, it looked completely different.  Once it was planted up with contrasting plants, he liked it, too.

And that is the key, I believe, to using very dark flowers and foliage:  create contrast in the planting.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ with Oxalis

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The Heath’s catalog describes their Zantedeschia ‘Black Star’ this way:  “…this is close to the illusion of shadow…”  Our garden vignettes are composed of light and shadow, form and emptiness.

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As we design with plants, we splash color against a backdrop of green; or perhaps the backdrop of our home or other hardscape.  As we work with colors, it is sometimes energizing to create contrasts as well as harmony.

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And I enjoy the rich dark colors of some leaves and flowers for the beautiful contrasts they create.

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Try mixing these dark plants with clear bright color in nearby foliage and flowers.  I especially like pairing dark foliage with chartreuse or grey.

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Begonia Rex with fern

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Create a hot tropical feel by using dark Colocasias with  orange or bright pink flowers.  Harmonize by pairing with foliage or flowers a few shades lighter or brighter.

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petunias

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Choosing dark flowers and leaves for your garden needn’t make your garden drab or mournful.  Rather, use these unexpected and unusual plants to energize and excite.

Let them inspire you to create a beautiful space uniquely yours.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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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.”

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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. ”

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Oscar Wilde

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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.”

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Henry David Thoreau

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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.”

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Pablo Picasso

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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.

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Henri Poincaré

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June 27, 2014 garden at dusk 041

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“Nature does nothing uselessly.”

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Aristotle

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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.

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

let me swallow the sunset and drink the rainbow.”

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Kahlil Gibran

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Caladium 'Lance Whorton'

Caladium ‘Lance Whorton’

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

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Caladium 'Florida Sweetheart'

Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’

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“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece”

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Claude Monet

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Caladium 'Sweet Carolina'

Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2016

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Caladium '

Woodland Tableau

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Cathy, at  Rambling in the Garden, urges us to bring cut flowers indoors for a vase each Monday.  But instead of filling a vase, I’ve made my foliage arrangement today in small pots.

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My inspiration came from an intriguing photo in the fall 2016 Country Gardens magazine.  In the article, ‘The Splendor of Seedpods;” there is a log centerpiece, covered in moss, small ferns, Rex Begonias and various seedpods.  It is simply stunning. 

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But, copying this arrangement meant finding a partially hollowed out log of the right size for one’s table.  The more I thought about putting a real decaying log in my dining room, and the little bugs which might come with it, the more I searched for another way to accomplish a similar effect.

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Center pot from Mossy Creek pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

Begonia Rex in a hand thrown pot  from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

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My version uses a handmade pottery tray as the base.  The  ferns, ivy, and Rex Begonias are all potted, then their pots arranged with small animals, bits of glass and stones.  Moss pulled from the garden finishes each little pot.

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The three main pots are cast clay, shaped to look like stones.  I’ve grown succulents in them most years, but they’ve been empty for the past several months.  They recycled nicely into this arrangement.

The two glazed pots came from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, Oregon.   The tray was found at a tag sale a few years ago.  But it is a signed original, and I enjoy it very much.

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The classic terra cotta pot has languished in my potting area for several years, awaiting inspiration to find it a new use.  It, and the other pots with drainage holes were lined with a sheet of burlap before I filled them with good potting soil.  Lay a layer of aggregate, like pebbles, in any pots without drainage holes, before adding the plant and its soil.

I’ve chosen two tender ‘Tabletop’ ferns (Pteris species) and a division of a tender Lady fern from one of my hanging baskets.  These little ‘tropicals’ are easy to find at big box stores which sell little houseplants, and the needlepoint ivy and Begonia came from our local Lowes.

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This is a nice, relaxed, woodsy arrangement to carry us through the autumn months.  I can add a few little pumpkins or gourds in the weeks ahead.  All of these plants should grow fine in the low light of our dining room.

If you want to copy this design, be creative with re-purposing things you already have lying around.  I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week,  collecting the materials and plants before assembling it all this afternoon.  It can be great fun to find new ways to use containers already in ‘the collection.’

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I hope that Cathy will accept this humble aberration from her floral meme.  Eventually, those Begonias will sport blossoms, after all.

But I find great beauty in foliage, too, and appreciate its longevity.  This little arrangement should be alive and growing for many weeks on our dining table.

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Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a 'houseplant..'  These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a ‘houseplant.’ These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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‘Sweet Carolina,’ Love at First Sight

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A new Caladium on the market, ‘Sweet Carolina,’ has already found its way into my gardener’s heart.

This recent introduction, bred in 2002 by Dr. Robert Hartman, CEO of Classic Caladiums, resulted from his cross of C. ‘Grey Ghost’ with  pollen parent C. ‘Miss Muffett.’  ‘Grey Ghost’ lends its vigor, its true green coloring and tolerance for sun;  ‘Miss Muffett’ lends the interesting chartreuse coloration and pink veins and splotches on the leaves.

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But ‘Sweet Carolina’ surpasses both parents for size and vigor.  Considered a ‘fancy leaf  Caladium,’ these beautiful leaves resemble large hearts.

Our  package of tubers arrived from Classic Caladiums in the first week of August, and I planted a few in pots right away.  The staff very generously sent more than I ordered, which were shared with a number of gardening friends.  These friends and I are growing out ‘Sweet Carolina’ and the dwarf  ‘Cherry Tart’ to observe how they grow for us in Virginia.   We’ll send photos and our notes back to the folks at Classic Caladiums in October, the end of the Caladium season for us.

‘Sweet Carolina’ unfurled its first leaves for us around August 24, less than three weeks after planting!  All of the tubers I planted haven’t yet sprouted, but they were planted over a period of about 10 days in various conditions and types of soil.  And of course, a week of growth isn’t nearly enough for me to see the full potential of this plant.

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This is the first pot of 'Sweet Carolina' that I planted on August 6. There are 4 tubers in this pot along with 4 rooted cuttings of Coleus, 'Bone Fish.'

This is the first pot of ‘Sweet Carolina’ that I planted on August 6. There are 4 tubers in this pot along with 3 rooted cuttings of Coleus, ‘Bone Fish.’  The dry leaves on the ground are new ones fallen from our trees this week… It is that dry here!

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‘Sweet Carolina’  is said to grow to over 36″ tall!  That is just enormous for a Caladium!  I’ve never grown one that topped out much over 24″.  None of these new plants are growing in full sun.  The heat and sun have been too intense here this month, and so far I’ve kept them in full to partial shade.  But I’ve been moving some of the pots to sunny spots as the leaves begin to grow.  And these do grow very fast!

I’ll keep taking photos as the ‘Sweet Carolina’ plants develop and we’ll learn about them together.

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You can see that the leaves are growing very quickly and will soon make a large, beautiful display here.

You can see that the leaves are growing very quickly and will soon make a large, beautiful display here, in partial sun.  Begonia ‘Gryphon’ and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ grow in the pot behind.

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The first of the ‘Cherry Tart’ Caladiums planted showed themselves yesterday.  The first leaves are a lovely rosy red, and the tubers are quite vigorous with multiple leaves breaking the ground at once from each.  Watch for photos of these beauties in the coming days!

Breeding better plants proves exciting, but painstaking work.  There is inspiration to select the best parents for a desired result; but then there is a long time to wait for the seeds to develop and grow on before any real judgements can be made.

I admire the work of Dr. Hartman, and also the staff at the University of Florida for their contributions in the field of Caladium research.  I know Caladiums would be far more popular among my gardening friends if they were hardy to Zone 7.

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This is 'Miss Muffett,' pollen parent (father) of Sweet Carolina. Do you see the similarity? Sweet Carolina will grow taller and will have bigger leaves than these.

This is ‘Miss Muffett,’ pollen parent (father) of  ‘Sweet Carolina.’  Do you see the similarity? Sweet Carolina will grow taller and will have bigger leaves than either parent.

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Currently these plants are considered tropicals, hardy only to zone 9 or 10.  That said, one of my friends swears that Caladiums she left outside over the winter in a large barrel, well mulched, returned this summer!

And I have been surprised by the Caladiums which  continue to sprout in pots, overwintered in our garage, that have shown themselves only in recent weeks.  Obviously, the more recent hybrids on the market have improved tolerance to cold.

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This tuber was planted nearly a week later than the first, and the leaves have just begun to emerge since Sunday.

This tuber was planted nearly a week later than the first, and the leaves have just begun to emerge since Saturday.  It is planted with Begonia ‘Arabian Sunset’ and Begonia ‘Richmondensis.’  This one has had more sun since it emerged and you may notice the leaf is darker here.

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Besides cold tolerance, newer hybrids can take more sun, grow larger, produce more leaves, and grow faster than the older Caladium varieties.  And, of course, there are always new colors and patterns on their beautiful leaves.

We appreciate Caladiums in our garden for their long lasting beauty, but add more each year as they are one plant the rabbits and deer definitely leave alone!  We can plant them with confidence, knowing we will actually enjoy them over a long period of time.

Caladiums appreciate a good meal, and I am watering with a dilute solution of Neptune’s Harvest to supplement the Osmocote already in their potting soil.  They don’t suffer from any blight, disease or infestation in our garden; which is saying a lot!  All they require is regular moisture and a light grooming as older leaves fall and fade.

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Do you like the leaf of  ‘Sweet Carolina’?  Is this a color combination and pattern you would choose for your garden and pot designs?

Grown primarily for their leaves, Caladiums do produce simple, but interesting, flowers.  Many gardeners cut these away as they appear so the plant’s energy remains invested in producing more leaves.

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I added a few tubers to this worked over pot, where a Heuchera and ivy already grew. I added some fern and Begonia cuttings when I planted the Caladium tubers. Other Caladiums grow in a pot nearby.

I added a few tubers to this worked over pot, where a Heuchera and ivy already grew. I added some fern divisions and Begonia cuttings when I planted the Caladium tubers. Other Caladiums grow in a pot nearby.  This area enjoys shade for most of the day and may prove too shady for ‘Sweet Carolina.’

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I find the pink splotches a charming shade, going well with the flowers I already have growing nearby.  I’ve planted tubers in combination with angelwing Begonias, Creeping Jenny, Heuchera, ferns and with Coleus.  These seem good companions thus far, but we’ll see how the combinations work as the Caladiums grow.

If you are interested in growing Caladiums, you’ll probably need to wait until next spring to plant tubers.  A few local garden centers still offer actively growing plants in pots.  They still  had a reasonable selection to choose from when I bought a pot of C.’Aaron’ for my father last week.

But Florida growers stopped shipping bulbs around the end of July.  You can still place your order now for next spring, to make sure you can get the choice tubers of new introductions, always in short supply.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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August 23, in a shady spot, as the 'Sweet Carolina' Caladiums first began to grow.

August 23, about 17 days after planting, as the ‘Sweet Carolina’ Caladiums first began to grow in this shady and protected spot .

 

“Imagination is everything.
It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
.
Albert Einstein

 

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So Much to Love: African Rose Mallow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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