Sunday Dinner: Brightness!

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“I can assure you
that the life outside the front door
is bright and full of life”
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Sunday Adelaja
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“The joy you feel
when you become a small life particle sun
and share its brightness and warmth
with those around you
is indescribably great.”
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Ilchi Lee
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“The true optimist
not only expects the best to happen,
but goes to work to make the best happen.
The true optimist not only looks upon the bright side,
but trains every force that is in him
to produce more and more brightness in his life….”
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Christian D. Larson
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“May your eye go to the Sun,
to the Wind your soul…
You are all the colours in one,
at full brightness.”
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Jennifer Niven
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“Let your love be the light of your life.
Now enlighten the whole world
with the brightness of that light.”
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Debasish Mridha
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“A day’s brightness is determined
by the light in our hearts.”
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A.D. Posey
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“One passionate heart can brighten the world.
From person to person
the chain reaction burns through us —
setting heart to heart ablaze,
and lighting the way for us all!”
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Bryant McGill
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Autumn Imperfection

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Autumn often brings a bit of imperfection to the garden. 

The foliage around us is a little tired and droopy.  Greens are fading to brown.  Bright colors may appear, highlights on our trees for a few days; but we know it will fade all too soon.

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Mexican blue sage

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“Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly…
but merely to be LIVED.
Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly,
imperfectly, magically LIVED.”
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Mandy Hale

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Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Ete’

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Every autumn flower feels precious.  We stop to enjoy the sweet, fleeting fragrance of ginger lily and roses.

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We stop to admire the ever deepening colors of the berries and Lantana.  We find beauty in the seed heads of the Rudbeckia, and the beauty berries so plump now they look like they might pop.

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“The eye always fills in the imperfections.”
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Rabih Alameddine

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Hibiscus

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Birds fill the garden, gorging themselves on the ripening berries, drying seeds and abundant insects.   They appear suddenly from their hiding places, shooting through the air from shrub to tree as we move about.  We see living flashes of yellow, red, black, white, grey and brown as they celebrate the moment and fill the air with life.

We hear their exuberant song from first light until they click and chirp softly to themselves, as they settle in the bamboo at dusk.

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Even as the garden fades into its autumn disarray, we find it beautiful.

Its ‘perfect imperfection’ reminds us to find the beauty in each day, and to savor its sweetness.

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“A scar is not always a flaw.
Sometimes a scar may be redemption inscribed in the flesh,
a memorial to something endured,
to something lost.”
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Dean Koontz
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Caladium ‘White Delight’ at sunset

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Blossom XXXII: Apple Scented Pelargonium

Pelargonium odoratissimum

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On species Pelargoniums, commonly known as ‘scented geraniums,’ the flowers are almost an afterthought.  I grow them for their beautiful, fragrant leaves, and am always thrilled if flowers appear.  I found a nice selection of scented geraniums at The Great Big Greenhouse this summer.  Though I was mostly interested in the huge leaves of the chocolate scented variety, I scooped up several others as well.

I bought this apple scented Pelargonium odoratissimum, which is a species and not a cultivar or hybrid, on the late summer clearance.  It didn’t look very promising on the day that I bought it.  But I planted it in a large pot in full sun on our front patio beside an established tri-color sage, and hoped for the best.

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With regular water and a bit of feeding, it has tripled in size and bloomed.  I am just delighted to find it giving us spray after spray of these tiny white flowers.

People often confuse Pelargoniums with Geraniums.  Most of the fancy plants we buy for summer blooms and call ‘geraniums,’ are actually Pelargoniums, originally from South Africa.  All of the wonderfully scented ‘geraniums’ like  P. ‘Citronella,’ and this one are also Pelargoniums.   Although perennial in warmer regions, we treat them as annuals if we can’t bring them inside during the winter.  Most Pelargoniums are hardy only to Zone 8 or 9.

Species Geraniums are hardy to Zone 5 or 6, with smaller leaves and less showy flowers.  These plants are native to North America, Europe, and parts of Asia.  Perhaps you’ve grown ‘Rozanne’ hardy Geranium or G. ‘Birch’s Double.’  Their flowers have a somewhat different form than a true Pelargonium.

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The first of summer’s perennial Geraniums bloom alongside the last of winter’s Hellebores last May.

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Many Pelargoniums are considered herbs.  Leaves may be used in tea or cooking, and often they are grown for their essential oils.  Sometimes the leaves or oils may be used medicinally, as is the case with P. odoratissimum.   Branches work beautifully in  a vase.  The foliage is long-lasting and holds its fragrance.  Dried leaves and flowers may be kept  in a drawer to scent its contents.

These wonderful plants can take full sun, and like many herbs, don’t need a great deal of water.  In fact, their most common cause of failure is over-watering and soggy soil.

They are generally pest-free and grow enthusiastically, once established.  Stem cuttings will root in moist sand or soil in summer.

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rose scented Pelargonium

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If you’ve not yet grown Pelargoniums, I encourage you to give them a try.  Whether they give you blossoms, or not, they will fill their space with beauty and fragrance.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Love is wild;
its whole beauty is in its wildness.
It comes like a breeze with great fragrance,
fills your heart,
and suddenly where there was a desert
there is a garden full of flowers.”
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Osho
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Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 
Blossom XXIV:  Buddleia 
Blossom XXX:  Garlic Chives
Blossom XXXI: Lantana

Sunday Dinner: Nostalgia

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“Memory believes before knowing remembers.
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William Faulkner
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“Remembrance of things past
is not necessarily the remembrance of things
as they were.”
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Marcel Proust
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“The ‘what should be’ never did exist,
but people keep trying to live up to it.
There is no ‘what should be,’
there is only what is.”
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Lenny Bruce
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“There comes a time in your life
when you have to choose to turn the page,
write another book
or simply close it.”
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Shannon L. Alder
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“We are homesick most
for the places we have never known.”
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Carson McCullers
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“It is strange how we
hold on to the pieces of the past
while we wait for our futures.”
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Ally Condie
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017 
For my friend, Janet, who I miss often, and learn from, always
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“Nostalgia in reverse,
the longing for yet another strange land,
grew especially strong in spring.”
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Vladimir Nabokov
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“For children, childhood is timeless.  It is always the present.
Everything is in the present tense.
Of course, they have memories.
Of course, time shifts a little for them
and Christmas comes round in the end.
But they don’t feel it.
Today is what they feel,
and when they say ‘When I grow up,’
there is always an edge of disbelief—
how could they ever be other than what they are?”
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Ian McEwan
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Fabulous Friday: ‘Black Magic’

Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’

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It has been a few years since I ordered Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic,’ and so it puzzled me a little when I noticed a few dark purple leaves peeking out among a stand of Colocasia, ‘Pink China’ around our bog garden.  Never one to quibble with gifts of nature, I said a silent ‘thank you!’ to the universe and let it be.

Its leaves were quite small, beneath the towering canopies of C. ‘Pink China,’ and they never particularly took off.  What with my extended absences from the garden in late June and July, and the punishing drought of July and early August, it is a wonder this remnant survived at all.

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Our bog garden in July, with  C. ‘Pink China’  backlit to show its beautiful color.

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But it did.  And it stubbornly kept pushing up leaf after leaf, despite everything.

It was mid-August before I followed through on my determination to rescue this plant from its less than hospitable spot.  It is the least I could do, considering that it has hung on through at least two winters and survived the crowding of our very rambunctious and energetic C. ‘Pink China’ growing all around it.

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After about 10 days in the pot, I was ready to move our little C. ‘Black Magic’ out into the sun of our perennial garden at the end of August.

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See what a little horticultural love can do?  From a single leaf on a bit of rhizome and root, our C. ‘Black Magic’ has not only rapidly grown in its pot, it has already grown an offset!  A second little plant has emerged inches away from the first.

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September 15, 2017,  C. ‘Black Magic has already grown an offset.

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It is a genuinely magical experience to watch this little guy grow!  At first, I set it in a shady spot for about 10 days to establish.  Once I saw evidence of new growth, I knew it wanted sun, and moved it out to this choice spot where I would keep it well-watered.  I expect to leave this Colocasia out in the garden until late October or early November.

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September 20

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Now that I know  it is winter hardy here, we can decide whether to move it to a sheltered spot on our patio, or into the basement when nights grow cold.

I have been watching for new leaves to emerge around the bog garden, too.  Surely, there are still a few of  its roots in that bed.  In fact, I dug two more tiny starts, each less than 3″ tall, earlier this week.  I’ve potted them up and set them in shady, sheltered spots to grow on.

I like this beautiful, dark purple leaf, and C. ‘Black Magic’ is known for growing into a spectacularly large plant.  Plant Delights Nursery, which offers this variety, reports that the plant will grow to 5′-6′ tall and wide when given rich, moist soil and plenty of sun.   They also suggest that it can stand winter temperatures down to 0F when grown in a sunny spot, well-mulched through winter.

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This variety is known to spread quickly, as many Colocasias will, with lateral stems which run just above or just below the soil.  New plants will spring up from the nodes, rooting  into whatever soil is available; eventually forming a thick patch of plants.

I have to say that didn’t happen in the areas where I planted this variety originally.  My guess is that the part of the garden where I first planted it was too dry for it to thrive.  I moved an offset from the original plant down to the bog garden a couple of years ago, where it eventually survived.

C. ‘Black Magic’ may be grown with its pot submerged or in a wet, boggy spot in the garden.  In fact, I’m growing C. ‘Mojito’ and C. ‘Tea Cups’ most successfully with their pots partially submerged.  These are thirsty plants, needing a  lot of water to hydrate their huge leaves on hot summer days.

But I’ve learned my lesson now, and will make sure to offer plenty of water from here on to keep these rescued plants growing strong!

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Colocasias love rich, moist soil. They will grow into a dramatic display when their needs are met.  Allow plenty of space, as most cultivars will grow to 4′- 5′.   From left:  C. ‘Pink China’, C. ‘Tea Cups’, C. ‘Mojito’, C. ‘Pink China’

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C. ‘Black Magic’ was originally spotted growing in the Philippines.  It was collected, grown on, and eventually introduced to the nursery trade.  It is a dramatic plant; a touch of the tropics which will thrive in a more temperate garden if simply given a little consideration and care.

I’m happy to have another chance to get it right with this beautiful plant.  Every season we learn a bit more, don’t we?  That is one of the fabulous gifts gardening gives us, always another chance to grow our gardens well.

Woodland Gnome 2017
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September 22 …  It is Fabulous how much this Colocasia has grown since we moved it to its pot about six weeks ago.  (Why the plastic dish?  The wet sand is there for the butterflies, who frequent this part of our garden.)

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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

 

 

Time for Autumn

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“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
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C.S. Lewis
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“This is a wonderful day,
I have never seen this one before.”
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Maya Angelou
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“I cannot endure to waste anything
so precious as autumnal sunshine
by staying in the house.”

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Nathaniel Hawthorne
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“He found himself wondering at times,
especially in the autumn,
about the wild lands,
and strange visions of mountains
that he had never seen came into his dreams.”
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J.R.R. Tolkien

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“There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.”
.
Bliss Carman

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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Native Beauty

Virginia thistle growing with goldenrod and beautyberry on Jamestown Island, Virginia.

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We headed out onto the Colonial Parkway yesterday afternoon, to see what we could see.   We were watching for signs of the changing season, and of course watching the sky for signs of the approaching storm.  Hurricane Jose was swirling out in the Atlantic, well away to our southeast.   Even so, the outer bands of this enormous storm were already creeping across our sky.

Once we reached  the ‘roads less traveled’ on Jamestown Island, we were delighted to see bright purple beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma , bright golden Solidago, yellowing marsh grasses and occasional reddening leaves.

The outer tips of branches on our native dogwoods, and some maples, have begun to change into their autumn finery.

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Yellowed Poplar leaves have been falling for weeks now.  A few inky purple berries still cling to magenta stems on the many native Aralia spinosa trees lining the road.  Their leaves will soon turn golden, too.

We stopped in a few of the pull-offs on the island to read the signs yet again, and for me to hop out to take a few photos.   As we approached one pull-off in particular, along the longer Island Drive, I was intrigued by the bright wildflowers and purple berries right beside the road.

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A pull off on the longer Island Drive on Jamestown Island.

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In addition to the vivid beautyberries  which lined the whole of the road in abundance, and the stands of goldenrod, there was something uniquely different.  This had flowers like a thistle, but on a radically different tall and lanky plant that I’d never noticed before.  What was it?

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The wild thistles we’d seen on Ocracoke Island, many miles to the south, were much stockier and shorter plants with larger blossoms.  I quickly ruled out perennial Cardoon, and every other ‘thistle-like’ plant I’ve known.

We have a passing acquaintance with most all of the native trees, ferns and perennials in the area.  And this one was new to us.

Perhaps we’d never visited the island at precisely this point in the seasonal progression before…  And so I took lots of photos, and determined to investigate the plant later, at home.

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As it turns out, the plant we found is a native of the Southeastern United States, called Cirsium virginianum, or Virginia thistle.   A biennial, it prefers moister, sandier soils along the coast.  It has a dangerously thorny stem, long thin leaves, and had grown a bit taller than I stand.  In some areas along the Gulf coast, it is considered a ‘noxious weed.’  But in Virginia, it is still relatively rare, at least in my experience.

I enjoyed the natural combination of its lavender blossoms growing against a back drop of purple beautyberry, with a skirt of bright goldenrod.    For this forested, marshy island especially, this was a rare colorful sight along the road.

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The beautyberry is rampant now in our garden, too.  In fact, so many volunteers have appeared that we often must cut them back throughout the season.  This is one of the plants I cut back hard in early spring to somewhat control its size.

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One of the larger beautyberry shrubs in our garden, which we cut hard every spring, reaches up for the lower limbs of the dogwood tree which shelters it.

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Solidago has self-seeded in sunny parts of our garden, too.   And we have a single berry-topped Aralia proudly presiding over it all.  A neighbor tipped me off to how badly the Aralia can sucker, and so I ruthlessly cut out the many small clones trying to grow up around the main stem this spring.  I suppose that will be an ongoing part of our garden routine from now on.

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Our Aralia, in its first season of bloom, surrounded by native Phytolacca americana, or pokeweed, another rampant native plant.  The birds love these berry laden natives.

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There are definite advantages and disadvantages to inviting native plants into one’s garden.  It is something to consider, especially for aging gardeners who want neat, easy maintenance landscapes around their home.

Native plants self-seed easily, and often grow and spread with enthusiasm.  It can take great effort to control them, especially if they establish on good garden soil, in areas tended and irrigated to keep them productive.  We are nearly overrun with the stunningly beautiful Rudbeckia hirta and Rudbeckia laciniata.  They both quickly claim far more real-estate than a gardener plans to give them.

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Three natives growing together in our front garden: black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta; mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum; and obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana.  A Master Gardener friend gave us a large clump of obedient plant this spring. I divided it into several smaller clumps, and planted them in different areas to see where they perform best.  I am thrilled that this beautiful plant survived our summer drought and is blooming this first year.

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The R. laciniata wasn’t even invited; a gardening friend gave me a clump of white Monarda passed on from her friend, and some R. laciniata roots just happened to be in the clump.  But these gargantuan, flower covered plants are now filling my former ‘butterfly garden.’  I must tend to their removal this fall, when the weather cools, and weed them out ruthlessly next spring.

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Rudbeckia laciniata now fills what once was our butterfly garden, filled with various flowering shrubs and perennials.  I intend to weed most of this out over the next month, sharing it with a friend who wants it!

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The Rudbeckia hirta I shared lavishly with all gardening friends who would accept a few this spring.  I dug up clump after clump, and still have the largest, lushest stand of it, ever.  There are worse things than a sea of golden flowers come August and September, I suppose.

The rich drifts of perennials one admires in public gardens are attainable with natives, without stretching the budget, I’ve learned.

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This is the season for native plant sales, sponsored by local native plant societies.  This is a good service for communities and enables more of us to grow natives, if we choose.  While I support the effort in theory, I must admit that in general I prefer more curated, controllable cultivars.

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Self-sown Solidago in our garden, a week and a half ago, nearly ready to bloom. It has just begun to show color, and will be fully in bloom by next weekend.  This huge perennial attracts many pollinators and provides late season nectar for our bees.  But, large natives often shade and crowd out the more desirable cultivars of perennials one has purchased for the garden….

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Yes, I acknowledge the many and varied benefits native plants offer wildlife, and we absolutely grow our share of natives here.

That said, a word to the wise:  carefully research and observe any native plant you want to grow, before you invite it home to your garden.  Let  the natives you grow remain natural beauties, and may they never cross that line to become noxious weeds, overtaking your garden.

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Obedient plant with black-eyed Susans

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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A waterway through the marsh on Jamestown Island

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“In the rain forest, no niche lies unused. No emptiness goes unfilled.  No gasp of sunlight goes untrapped.  In a million vest pockets, a million life-forms quietly tick.  No other place on earth feels so lush.  Sometimes we picture it as an echo of the original Garden of Eden—a realm ancient, serene, and fertile, where pythons slither and jaguars lope.  But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees.  Truant plants will not survive.  The meek inherit nothing. Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for, and they do.  One of the first truths one learns in the rain forest is that there is nothing fainthearted or wimpy about plants.”
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Diane Ackerman

 

 

Fabulous Friday: Pineapple Sage In Bloom

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A hummingbird came zooming across my shoulder just as I began watering in the front garden this morning.  It went first to the nearest Canna blossoms, towering now 8′ or more.  But then, it zoomed straight down to the bright lipstick-red blossoms of our pineapple sage, just opening for the first time this morning.

The little hummer flitted from blossom to blossom, drinking deeply from each long, tubular flower.  Pineapple sage is a great favorite of hummingbirds, and gives that extra boost of energy before they leave for their migration.

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Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, grows together with a small Buddleia in the heart of our butterfly and hummingbird garden.  It began blooming today, immediately attracting our resident hummingbirds to taste its nectar.

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Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans, has grown easier to find at spring plant sales in our area.  It is often offered in small pots, right among the other herbs.  It is easy to grow in full to partial sun, and quickly grows from a small start to a nice sized herbaceous ‘shrub.’  Other than keeping it watered during drought, and pinching it back from time to time to encourage bushiness, it needs little care.

A native of Central America and Mexico, pineapple sage loves heat and humidity.  But it is the shorter days which signal it to begin blooming.

It’s best season is autumn, and it will cover itself in flowers from now until frost.  We are fortunate that pineapple sage tends to return in our garden.  Although it is listed as hardy to Zone 8, it will survive our winter if its roots are deep and well established.  A little mulch helps it survive through winter.

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Like so many herbs, pineapple sage is easy to propagate from stem cuttings or by division.  In the spring, you often can pull a rooted stem, left from the previous season, away from the crown and plant it elsewhere to help this clumping plant spread more quickly.  But we’ve never had a pineapple sage ‘run’ or grow out of control.  It is far better behaved than the mints!

Edible, the foliage has a wonderful fruity fragrance all season.  It is beautiful in fall arrangements and mixed container gardens.  In containers, it might crowd out other plants over the long summer season.  But rooted cuttings or small starter plants would be beautiful in pots newly refreshed for fall.

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Pineapple sage in a vase with Mexican blue sage, Artemisia and Hibiscus acetosella, October 2015.

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Salvia elegans has been identified as one of the top three favorite flowers  hummingbirds choose for feeding, in a study done in Central Mexico.  It’s long, tubular flowers just invite a hummingbird’s beak!  And since the flowers are clustered close together, it takes little effort to move from one to the next.

Our hummingbirds are happily darting about the garden this week, enjoying the Lantana, Verbena, ginger lily, Canna, and now also the pineapple sage, just coming into bloom.  They visit us as we sit on the deck and as we water and work among the plants.

It is fabulous to see fall’s brightest flowers blooming at last!

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Pineapple sage lights up our garden in October 2014.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious,

Let’s infect one another!

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Flowers  our hummingbirds enjoy visiting:

 

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Wednesday Vignette: Growth

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“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically.
We grow sometimes in one dimension,
and not in another; unevenly.
We grow partially.  We are relative.
We are mature in one realm, childish in another.
The past, present, and future mingle
and pull us backward, forward,
or fix us in the present.
We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
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Anaïs Nin

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“A single day is enough
to make us a little larger
or, another time, a little smaller.”
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Paul Klee

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“We are not trapped or locked up in these bones.
No, no. We are free to change.
And love changes us.
And if we can love one another,
we can break open the sky.”
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Walter Mosley

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“Patience is not the ability to wait.
Patience is to be calm no matter what happens,
constantly take action to turn it
to positive growth opportunities,
and have faith to believe
that it will all work out in the end
while you are waiting.”
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Roy T. Bennett

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Do you not see how necessary
a world of pains and troubles is
to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”
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John Keats
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Small Pots

Small pots free us to experiment with plants and planting styles we might never try in the larger garden.  Sometimes called ‘Bonsai accent pots,’ these tiny gardens allow us to create detailed little worlds in a small, shallow container.  All of the plants in a composition should share requirements for light, moisture and nutrition. 

A ‘small pot’ shares much in common with a terrarium; save it is open to the air.  The pot may or may not have a drainage hole, and can be a shallow tray or a few inches deep.  The soil may be finished in mosses, or with fine gravel, small stones, or low, vining plants.

Many of the plants in a small pot may eventually need re-potting to a larger container.  Other plants may remain small and can be grown on in the same pot for several years.  The plants begin as rooted cuttings, small divisions, or perhaps a small bulb, rhizome, seedling tree or tuber.  When kept outside, windblown seeds often germinate and grow.  The gardener may choose to allow the volunteer plant, or pluck it.

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Begonia, nearly ready to bloom for its first time.

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‘Small pots’ need regular watering and grooming, and most want light shade.  They may need daily misting if kept indoors.  They can dry out very quickly if forgotten. 

Tending these small pots allows us to cultivate mindfulness as we construct and care for them, and as we watch them grow and evolve over time.

These ferns, and the Begonia, all came from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, where they are sold in 1″ pots for terrariums, bonsai, and fairy gardens.

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Caladiums Year to Year

Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ grown from a single bulb we dug last fall and overwintered.

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Caladiums are tender perennials, growing bigger and better each year in warm climates where they may be left undisturbed.  The catch is that they are tropical by nature, and want to stay warm, even when dormant.

The general rule of thumb tells us to store them at 60F or warmer, even when the tuber is dormant.  Certainly, one would want to bring them indoors in any climate where the soil temperature dips below 60F, right?  Not necessarily…

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Admiring my friend’s Caladium bed last week, she told me that they had overwintered in place.  She’d never gotten around to digging them, and just piled some leaves on their bed at the base of a small tree.  Voila!  They emerged this spring, bigger and better than they had been in 2016.

Now, understand that my friend is a gifted gardener.  She always amazes me with what she grows and how she does it so artfully.  She is the friend who inspired me with a rooted Caladium leaf sprouting new leaves while growing in a glass of water on her kitchen windowsill.

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Inspired by my friend, I successfully rooted this Caladium leaf last month.  I pulled it accidentally when weeding a bed at my parents’ home, and placed it in water right away.  If the Caladium’s petiole has a bit of the tuber attached, then it has the potential to root, regrow a new tuber, and produce additional leaves.  Once the roots were several inches long, I planted this rooted leaf in moist peat and sand.

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This same friend showed me Caladiums growing in a half whiskey barrel last summer, which she explained had overwintered in place.  She had thrown some mulch in the barrel in fall. The Caladiums surprised her when they emerged the following May.  This encourages me to re-think the art of keeping Caladiums going year to year.

My friend and I both garden in a suburb of Williasmburg, Virginia, on the cusp between USDA Zone 7b and 8.  We generally get at least a week or two of very cold weather, with night time temperatures in the teens, or lower.  We get quite a few nights in the 20s over a period of at least four months.

Our climate allows frost from mid-October through until late April.  We definitely get winter, and we are by no means tropical here; though I would argue that we have tropical heat and humidity for several months in the summer.

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Caladium ‘White Christmas’ and C. ‘Florida Sweetheart’ share the pot. 

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Most gardeners in our area grow Caladiums as annuals.  We don’t really expect to keep them year to year.  This is good business for the growers and garden centers who sell us gorgeous Caladiums in 6″ pots each summer.  But it also causes some to shy away from investing in these sometimes pricey foliage plants.  They would rather buy annual packs each spring, or invest in hardy perennials.

Yet Caladiums are surprisingly easy to keep from year to year.  The benefit is not only the savings, but also the superior tubers developed by an older plant.  You see, the underground tuber, from which the individual leaves grow, gets a bit bigger and beefier each year.  More eyes develop, allowing more points of growth for leaves to emerge.  This beautiful Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ grew from a single tuber dug last autumn, kept overwinter, and re-planted in April.

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When you order Caladium tubers, the grower often offers anything from a tiny dime sized ‘starter’ tuber, up to a ‘jumbo’ or even ‘colossal’ tuber.  Once the tubers sprout, you’ll see the difference in how many leaves each tuber can produce.

Each leaf’s height is determined largely by the characteristics of the variety.  But the number of leaves produced, and the density of the plant, is determined by the size of the tuber.

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Caladium tubers as they arrive from the grower, ready to plant.  An eye has already sprouted on the tuber on the right.  This is the point from which new leaves will grow.

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This is why growing a tuber for several years allows it to grow larger, and more spectacular, with each year’s additional growth.  You can order a ‘jumbo’ tuber from the grower, or you can eventually grow it yourself from a small starter.

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Expect each Caladium leaf to last for many months. New leaves continue to emerge when the plant is well watered and well fed.  A perennial Begonia shares the  pot with this Caladium.

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There are several tricks to growing beautiful Caladiums.  They prefer consistently moist soil, they appreciate a steady supply of nutrition, and they want space to expand.  I often grow them in mixed planters, but a Caladium develops more of its potential if it isn’t competing too much with other plants.

Older Caladium varieties wanted shade.  The newer cultivars are bred to grow in brighter light, with some even tolerating full sun.  The leaves develop with slightly different coloration depending on the light, and the ready availability of water and minerals in the soil.  Caladiums grown in bright light will remain a little more compact.  Grown in shade, the leaves will grow a bit taller and lankier.

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Most Caladiums perform well in hanging baskets.  This is C. ‘Postman Joyner.’  Postman F. M. Joyner bred many varieties of Caladiums in the late 1930s and early 40s.  He lived and worked in Tampa, Florida, and named this one for himself.

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When the nights grow cool in autumn, it is time to plan for each Caladium’s winter vacation.  You might have success with simply mulching the bed, as did my friend.  But if you want to save a special Caladium, try the grower’s approach:

  1.  Dig each Caladium tuber, being careful not to damage it.  Rinse the soil off the tuber and roots, and remove the remaining leaves.  ( I often put the best leaves in a vase of water indoors.)  Sort the tubers by variety if that matters to you.
  2. Allow the tubers to air dry for several weeks in a fairly warm spot.  I lay them in paper lined flats in our garage.  Turn them occasionally so that all surfaces dry.
  3. Growers often dust the tubers with an anti-fungal powder, especially if there are broken or exposed places on the tuber.
  4. Remove any remaining bits of root or stem, and pack the dried tubers loosely into a mesh bag or cardboard box with rice hulls, wood shavings, or dry peat.  I pile my mesh bags of tubers into a paper grocery bag, and store the bag in a closet.  Indoors, the tubers stay above 65F all winter.

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I moved this cluster of Caladiums from a very shallow pot to this basket in mid-August. C. ‘White Delight’ is bred for full sun, which it receives in this location.  Notice that in bright light the plant has stayed very compact.  Leaves vary from soft green in deep shade to bright white in sun.  The tubers were tiny in April,  just dime-sized bits that had fallen off larger tubers in transit.

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I’ve also had good success bringing potted Caladiums indoors.  Although they may lose their leaves over winter, the tubers sprout the following spring and grow on.  They perform best kept in our living room, near large windows, where they may sprout new leaves in late January or February.

But I also have fair luck with potted Caladiums kept overwinter in our frost-free attached garage.  I keep potted Colocasia and Alocasia tubers overwinter in the basement, and believe I could do the same with potted Caladiums.

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C. “Carolyn Wharton” grew from a tuber we overwintered for my parents, and replanted this spring.  This variety can grow exceptionally large leaves on long stems.  This variety is old enough that it isn’t patented, and so new plants may be produced from leaf cuttings or division.

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I’ve learned that Caladiums perform better if given fresh, enriched soil each spring.  Although they will keep growing in soil left from the previous season, their growth is less spectacular.

I mix some Espoma organic fertilizer with the fresh potting soil, pot up the sprouted tubers, and then top dress with time release Osmocote.  I’ll also add some fish emulsion, or other water soluble fertilizer, once a month or so when I water them.  Caladiums are heavy feeders and produce more leaves when well-fed.

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If you enjoy growing an abundance of Caladiums, as we do, it certainly pays to make the small efforts required to keep them going year to year.   These are very versatile plants which may be used for hanging baskets, pots, bedding, mass displays, and mixed planters.  Shorter varieties are good ‘socks and shoes’ ground cover for larger plants.  They come in a wide range of colors and leaf patterns, and are one of the few plants to grow reliably in the shade.

Preserve your favorites from season to season, even as you sample a few new varieties each year.  You will be so happy to see your tubers grow and increase with each passing year.

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‘Florida Moonlight’ Caladiums grow with perennial Begonia in this pot devoted, during the winter, to Hellebores.  The Hellebore is peeking out, along with a Columbine. Dormant daffodil and Muscari bulbs rest in the soil.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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