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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Celebrating Caladiums, and Remembering Their Growers

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We’ve spent much of the weekend glued to news reports from Florida, watching the progress of Hurricane Irma on radar on our tablets, and checking the National Hurricane Center’s updates.  We have weathered a hurricane or three here in coastal Virginia, and have a pretty good idea what our neighbors in Florida are going through.

Of course, they are facing off with the biggest, strongest hurricane to hit the United States in any of our memories.  And hurricane force winds and rain have swept across the entire state.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ a 2016 introduction from Classic Caladiums. C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ is peeking out to the left.

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Our thoughts turn to friends and family in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.  We appreciate all that local governments have done to prepare, and marvel at the can-do spirit shown by even political rivals in the face of this catastrophe.  Let’s hope that more than a little of that pragmatic, cooperative spirit lingers once the flood waters clear and the clean-up and re-building commence.

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Calaldium ‘White Delight’ was introduced in 2015 by Classic Caladiums.

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Our Caladium suppliers all live and work in central Florida.  Classic Caladiums is based in Avon Park.  Another supplier is based just to the south in Lake Placid.  This part of Florida produces tons and tons of Caladium tubers each summer.

In fact, Florida produces a large percentage of the plugs and plants sold through nurseries on the East Coast.  I hope these hard working, largely family businesses, can weather a storm of this magnitude.  I certainly hope their crops and infrastructure can bounce back.  I would surely miss them.

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Caladium ‘Gingerland’

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I try to keep in mind the small businesses that feed my gardening addiction.  It is only through their dedication and continued hard work that such an amazing wealth of plants is brought to market each year.  These folks love the plants they raise and sell.  They work hard to educate the rest of us and to support the thousands of gardeners, like us, who turn to them each season.

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Caladium ‘Pink Beauty’

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And I believe that our best gesture of appreciation is to loyally support them with our repeat business.

I know it’s easy and cheap to turn to the big box stores for our plant purchases.  We can get inexpensive bulbs at Costco, bedding plants at Wal Mart, and shrubs at Lowes.  And I won’t pretend that I’ve not ‘been there, done that’ from time to time.

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And yet, every time I return to our local family run nursery, I’m reminded of the level of quality and customer service they bring to each transaction.  Many of the plants they sell are raised in the neighboring county, and come from greenhouse to nursery in an hour or less.  I am glad to support them and invest in their continued success!

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Caladium ‘Moonlight’ with hardy Begonia is in the pot, and C. ‘White Christmas’ grows beside it.

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We do our best to support small, local businesses.  When we find a special one, like Brent and Becky’s in neighboring Gloucester County, we deal with them as much as we can.  And we are richly rewarded with fine selection and top quality plants; and also with top quality horticulturalists and fine friendly people!

In fact, the Heaths source the Caladiums they offer each spring from Dr. Robert Hartman at Classic Caladiums in Avon Park.  Brent Heath piqued my interest in Classic Caladiums in the first place, by singing their praises for quality tubers!

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Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina,’ introduced by Classic Caladiums in 2016. 

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We come through trying times best when we pull together.  I know that many of us want to give when we see neighbors in trouble, and there are a plethora of charities wanting to channel our dollars into aid to those affected by catastrophe.

But let’s also keep small businesses in our minds and hearts during these challenging times.  Some purchases may cost us a bit more, but we have the peace of mind that our dollars directly support a family business and  a local economy.  They don’t wash into some vast, corporate pool of profit.

Doing business directly with growers and small nurseries is also a form of insurance.  We help insure their survival, and a continued long and happy relationship with them.

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Today, I’m thinking of our friends in dangerous places, and feeling appreciation for our garden.

I’m enjoying our beautiful Caladiums, even as I remember those who grew and supplied them to us.  I hope their lives return to normal soon, that their challenges are manageable, and that we will enjoy many more beautiful years of working together!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“We have to recognise that there cannot be relationships
unless there is commitment, unless there is loyalty,
unless there is love, patience,  persistence.”
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Cornel West

 


 

Sunday Dinner: Grace

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“Grace is a power that comes in and transforms
a moment into something better”
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Caroline Myss
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“…whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
And peace will be with you.”
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Barbara Kingsolve
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“Grace is the celebration of life,
relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.
It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way
through the streets of the universe,
flinging the sweetness of its cessations to every window,
pounding at every door in a hilarity
beyond all liking and happening,
until the prodigals come out at last and dance,
and the elder brothers
finally take their fingers out of their ears.”
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Robert Farrar Capon
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“How we fall into grace.
You can’t work or earn your way into it.
You just fall. It lies below, it lies beyond.
It comes to you,
unbidden.”
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Rick Bass
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Leaf III: Decoration

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Unusual leaves bring great energy and interest to our garden.  Caladiums, like this C. ‘Gingerland’ offer a long lasting, bold accent in sun to partial shade.  Each leaf is unique, painted in clear bright color across its graceful, undulating form.

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A pot filled with Caladiums can be stunning.  But mix Caladiums with ferns, vines or annuals for uniquely interesting arrangements.  ‘Gingerland’ was our first Caladium in leaf this year from the new batch ordered in April.

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Caladiums also mix well with other Aroids, like Alocasia ‘Stingray.’  Their cultural needs are similar.  These C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ overwintered together with the Alocasia in their pot in our garage.  Heavy feeders, the more generous you can be with water and fertilizer, the larger and more lush they will grow.

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Newer Caladium varieties can take more sun than you might imagine.  I had this pot of C. ‘Moonlight’ and C. ‘Desert Sunset’ in partial sun until our recent spell of hot, dry weather.  It is photographed here in deep shade, a temporary resting spot until the weather moderates.

We enjoy the beacon like effect of these luminous white leaves shining from a shady spot in the garden.

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Alocasia ‘Frydek’

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Alocasia have just appeared on the market in recent years.  This unusual tropical plant also grows from a tuber.  One of the first commonly available was Alocasia micholitziana.  A widely marketed cultivar is known as A. ‘Frydek’ or ‘African Mask’ or Alocasia Polly.

These ‘elephant ears’  are often sold as house plants, and do well in normal indoor conditions year round.  Sometimes they will go dormant and appear to die back.  Just be patient and keep the soil a little moist.  You will usually be rewarded with new leaves in a few weeks.

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Alocasia are long-lived plants, which grow larger each season.  They enjoy a partially sunny spot in our summer garden.  Their deep green, substantial leaves last for months at a time.   Bring them indoors in winter, if only to a garage or basement, and you will be rewarded with additional years of beauty.

There are many new types of Alocasia on the market these days.  In addition to A. ‘Frydek’ and A. ‘Stingray,’ we also grow A. ‘Plumbea’ and A. ‘Sarian.’  

I recognized some plants at our local Trader Joe’s as unnamed Alocasia back in February, and bought two.  We kept them going in the dining room until it warmed enough to move them outdoors this spring.  they have put out prodigious growth and their leaves are now about 18″ long, each.

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Begonia Rex with fern

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Another genus with unusual and beautiful leaves, Begonia, also thrives in our summer garden.  Tropical, most varieties of Begonia enjoy heat and humidity.  Although they often pump out delicate flowers all summer long, we growth them mostly for their outrageous leaves.

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Cane Begonia

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Although not as large as Caladium or Alocasia leaves, some Begonia varieties have large, extravagantly marked and highly textured leaves.  B. ‘Gryphon’ appeared in local shops perhaps six years ago.  It will grow quite large by the end of summer, and the plants keep well from year to year.

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A newly unfolding leaf on B. Gryphon.  The red fades to a more even green as each leaf matures, though the stems remain red.

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B. ‘Gryphon’ can be propagated from stem or leaf petiole cuttings.  Simply stick a section of the trunk into a pot of moist soil, and wait.  I generally use a little rooting hormone on the cut end of the stem.  The stem will root in moist soil, with new growth appearing in just a few weeks in summer.  I overwintered a stem cutting in our garage last winter, and new growth appeared a few weeks after we put it outside this spring.

B. ‘Gryphon’ is grown for its beautiful leaves and tropical form.  It will eventually produce some small flowers in its second or third year.

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Begonia Rex come in hundreds of varieties.  Their leaves are beautifully patterned.  I’m seeing these offered at big box stores in spring along with annuals and other shade perennials.  Although perennial, they are tender and won’t survive freezing temperatures outdoors.  I normally grow these in pots to keep from year to year.

They grow from rhizomes, and may appear to ‘die’ at times.  Often, the plant has gone dormant due to stress, and will begin to produce leaves again if given minimal care and warmth.

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Begonias can be heavy feeders.  They like their soil to dry out a little before you water again, and thrive in bright shade.  They enjoy the humidity when placed under trees in our summer garden.

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Begonia

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Unusual and colorful leaves keep a garden fresh and fun.  Ours have the garden looking Fabulous this Friday!

Whether you have one wonderful pot of Caladiums, or a garden filled with striking foliage, you will soon be hooked.

When you realize how easy and resilient these plants can be for you to grow, and how long-lived and tough these tropical beauties become;  you may soon will find yourself collecting them, too.

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Unusual

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, Let’s infect one another!

 

Shade Haven

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As June fades towards July, we appreciate every speck of shade our garden offers.  Summer days in Virginia routinely heat up to over 90F.  And it’s a moist heat, here near the coast.  Some days we have nearly 100% humidity.

When I was growing up in Virginia, we somehow survived it, often without any air conditioning.  The first few schools where I taught didn’t have air conditioning, either.  Maybe that is why I love the shade and know the value of a cool breeze on a summer day.

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Japanese painted fern’s silvery fronds make it especially cooling on a sultry summer day.

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The lowest slope at the back of our garden enjoys a lot of shade.  It is steep, and erosion remains a concern.  This is one of the first areas where we began planting ferns in our first year of tending this garden.  A dense stand of bamboo grows just beyond, where our garden falls off into the ravine.

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Ferns emerging on our sloped fern garden in early April

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I add a few more ferns and shade-loving plants to this area each year.  I began a new planting bed around the stump of a newly fallen tree, at the base of the slope, several years ago.  It began with a transplanted Hellebore seedling and some  little autumn ferns, planted into a mound of compost poured in and around the stump.  Well, they  survived into the next year, and so I made the circle of compost a little wider and added a few more plants.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns planted are  in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.   June 2013

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I’ve added a few more plants each year, including some Sauromatum venosum, or  Voodoo Lily tubers, in 2015.

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I thought I might have ruined this ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.  July 2016

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We finally decided this spring to extend this whole area and give it a proper border.  This was very early on when I was studying rain gardens, and thinking about places on our property where we needed to do more to catch and use run-off from storms.

This shady slope has fairly good soil, but is ridden with roots.  So I simply outlined the new dimensions of the bed, laid an outline of landscaping bricks, and set to work eliminating the existing  weedy growth.

Some of the weeds, near existing perennials, needed pulling.  Some areas where moss was well established, I wanted to simply leave alone.  But much of the new garden could be covered with brown paper grocery bags, and topped off with a few inches of compost.  This is the best method I’ve found for creating new planting beds in this garden.

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I chose a selection of ferns and shade loving perennials to harmonize with the ferns, Hellebores, and voodoo lily already growing here.  Although I’ve planted mostly hardy ferns, there are a few more tender ferns that I potted up last fall, and returned to this bed after danger of frost.  Others are planted into containers and  displayed in this area.

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Bamboo leaves drift down on every breeze.  I clear them, occasionally, off of the larger plants in this bed.  One day, when I’ve nothing else to do, I plan to grab our leaf blower and blow all of the bamboo leaves away from the garden and back towards the ravine.  I’m sure the moss establishing here would be better for it, and so would my character.  How I admire fastidious gardeners!  Perhaps one day I’ll join their ranks….

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Ken Druse has written a delightful book entirely about gardening in shade.

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His The New Shade Garden is one of those beautiful books I lusted after for more than a year, before I finally ordered it this past winter.  The luscious photos and useful information and encouragement on every page left me wondering why I waited so long to read it.  This book is a treasure, and I highly recommend it to you if you share my affinity for finding cool haven in the shade.  You’ll find whole chapters devoted to shade loving trees, shrubs, perennials and ferns; along with useful lists and recommendations for plants for particular situations.

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All we need now, to complete this beautiful shade haven in our back garden, is a little patio and a place to sit.  That may still be a few years off, though.  Somehow I’m always more interested in plants than hardscape, and rarely find time to just sit in the garden.

There is always more to do…. something waiting for me to plant….

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Sunday Dinner: Small Worlds

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“The world is awash with colours unseen

and abuzz with unheard frequencies.

Undetected and disregarded.

The wise have always known that these inaccessible realms,

these dimensions that cannot be breached

by our beautifully blunt senses,

hold the very codes to our existence,

the invisible, electromagnetic foundations

upon which our gross reality clumsily rests.”

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Russell Brand

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“Infinity is before and after an infinite plane.”

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RJ Clawso

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“It is frightfully difficult

to know much about the fairies,

and almost the only thing for certain

is that there are fairies

wherever there are children.”

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J.M. Barrie

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“It didn’t seem possible to gain so much happiness

from so little.”

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Peter Lerangis

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Do the little things.

In the future when you look back,

they’d have made the greatest change.”

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Nike Thaddeus

 

Wednesday Vignette: Intricacies

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“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind:
Study the science of art.
Study the art of science.
Develop your senses-
especially learn how to see.
Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
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Leonardo da Vinci
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“The artist is the confidant of nature,
flowers carry on dialogues with him
through the graceful bending of their stems
and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms.
Every flower has a cordial word
which nature directs towards him.”
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Auguste Rodin
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“All sciences are vain and full of errors
that are not born of Experience,
the mother of all Knowledge.”
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Leonardo da Vinci
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“Patience is also a form of action.”
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Auguste Rodin
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“While human ingenuity may devise
various inventions to the same ends,
it will never devise anything more beautiful,
nor more simple,
nor more to the purpose than nature does,
because in her inventions nothing is lacking
and nothing is superfluous.”
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Leonardo da Vinci
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“If you paint the leaf on a tree without using a model,
your imagination will only supply you with a few leaves;
but Nature offers you millions, all on the same tree.
No two leaves are exactly the same.
The artist who paints only what is in his mind
must very soon repeat himself.”
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
of Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia,
a  North American native shrub
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“Details make perfection,
and perfection is not a detail.”
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Leonardo da Vinci

WPC: Surprise

Athyrium niponicum ‘Joy Ride’

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The Daily Post’s Photo Challenge this week invites us to explore the often overlooked details in form.  A ‘macro-lens view’ opens up new worlds of beauty.

Often, in the hurry of our daily lives, we glance around us and take the world into consciousness in chunks of meaning.  We register the traffic moving around us, the child moving towards us, the inventory of our fridge. Even in the garden, we register our landscape in chunks of form and color.

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It takes undistracted time to focus the lens of our mind on the tiniest of details, like the uncurling fronds opening on our ferns this week.  This annual springtime show might otherwise be overlooked as the garden explodes in color and fragrance.

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’

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Who can pass a fragrant Iris to contemplate a tiny fern?  Only the child or the gardener!  Our eyes train on those tiniest of details as we pace the paths of our garden each day, documenting what changes have unfolded since our last visit.

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Fiddlehead of Brilliance autumn fern

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I had a few minutes to wander this morning, camera in hand, as I waited for a friend’s arrival.  And although I couldn’t pass the Iris without capturing another shot or two, I also spent time with several of our ferns.

Jen kindly crafted a challenge this week especially for us craven gardeners, who must photograph our flowers in minute detail.  But because that was the model she set, I decided to leave flowers to others this time, (well, almost….) and instead focus on the elegant and fascinating details found only in the leaves of ferns.

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The Japanese Painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum, have just emerged from their winter dormancy.  Their fragile fronds disappear after a heavy frost each autumn, to reappear quite suddenly and surprisingly some warm spring day.

They are one of the most beautiful surprises our garden offers us each spring.  I realized today, in sharing our garden with friends, that we have something of a collection now of Athyrium niponicum cultivars.

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Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’

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Not that I intended to make a collection of them, I simply like them and wanted to watch some of the different varieties grow out.  I have ordered a few, like A. ‘Joy Ride’, A. ‘Branford Beauty,’ and A. ‘Burgundy Lace’ from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC, in years past.  They carry a staggering and surprisingly wonderful variety of ferns and other unusual perennials which do well in our Zone 7 climate.

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I am still lusting after A. ‘Lemon Cream,’ A. ‘Godzilla’ and A. ‘Thrill Seeker.’  And that lust will go unrequited for the foreseeable future, it seems, as their shipping charges just keep climbing each year.  Now that the minimum shipping charge is nearly $30, I am seeking out these wonderful cultivars locally, and asking our nearby nurseries to consider stocking these beautiful new varieties.

I was absolutely thrilled to find a beautiful pot of A. ‘Ghost’ at Green Planters, Inc., in Gloucester earlier this week.  I will be returning, as they carry a satisfying selection of native ferns in addition to their various Japanese Painted ferns and other cultivars.

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The best ferns in our garden, year round, are our Autumn Brilliance, Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’.  Their tough, but graceful fronds weather sun, rain, drought wind and winter.  Who could ask for more?

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These sturdy clumps expand a bit each year, and each new year’s fronds seem a few inches taller than the last.  We’re not talking tree ferns, of course, but the older ferns make a substantial presence.  What I admire in these ferns is their wonderful bronze color as  new fronds emerge each spring.

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As each frond unfolds, the hairy brown fiddleheads relax into soft, shiny fresh rose-gold leaves.  It is quite a show and goes on for several weeks.  By mid-summer, each leaf will have relaxed further into a soft medium green.  It’s not until winter that the same fiddlehead brown begins to frost the edges of the mature fronds once again.

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It is the surprising beauty of leaves which carries our garden through the seasons.  Flowers come and go all too quickly.  They may delight with a bold color or enticing scent.  But flowers prove ephemeral by nature.

They are only there long enough to lure a bee, butterfly or hummingbird to pollinate them. so they can get down to their real business of seed production.  Even the hybrids seem confused on this point, and fade far too quickly despite their sterility.  Like kids gone off to college, what is left behind is none too pleasant to look at, oftentimes….

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But leaves prove their worth and loyalty; offering sum and substance, color, drama and incredible detail.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Surprise!

 

Soil Security

Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry Begonia

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Gardens offer endless surprises and seemingly endless challenges.  One hopes to discover most of the challenges in the first year or two.  Better to address them right off and be done with it, right?  But that’s not how this business works…. things change….

Ours is a very steep property.  Our bit of James City County spreads across ridges and ravines.  We happen to live and garden on the slope of a ravine.  Water drains down across the yard to a creek running through the ravine, which flows to a pond and then out to College Creek.   Managing all of that water during a heavy rain remains a challenge for us.

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This area suffers serious erosion in heavy rain, and is frequented by voles.  It is hard to get anything much to grow here.  We have just added the stones to offer some protection and planted a dozen seedling Hellebores to help hold the bank.

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Our county’s division of  storm water management staff advise:  “Plant more plants!”  I take that advice to heart, regularly, and have struck up a working relationship with one of the staffers.  They work with the local Master Gardeners to help homeowners design rain gardens to catch some of the run-off after a heavy rain, and offer grants for those who install them.

I like that proactive, cooperative approach.  This spring, I’ve done a bit of reading about how to construct a rain garden.  And one of the first things I realized is that steeply sloping land isn’t a very good place to site one, unless you are prepared for a major project of earth moving and engineering to construct a berm on the down slope side.

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This was our steep, eroding slope before our work began this spring.

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As I thought about rain gardens, and walked our property looking for a place to catch run off and use it in a new planting bed, my partner pointed out a new erosion problem on the very shaded and inaccessible slope beside and below our driveway.

This is an area we’ve largely neglected over the years.  Towering, mature Ligustrum shrubs cast deep shade across this slope.  Their leaves drop here year round, and the ground has been covered in a tangle of Vinca vines and wild growth.  Where there is bare earth, it has been covered with fallen leaves. I planted  some Mahonia and Hydrangea in this area when we first took over the garden, and they have expanded, but never bloomed.

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Daffodils have replaced Caladiums here at the base of our driveway, where a great deal of water runs off when it rains.  An Autumn fern has thrived here for five years or more, and I decided to expand the planting last summer.

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But last summer, I began clearing some of this strip, nearer to the drive, and planted it in Caladiums, Zantedeschia, Ajuga, Oxalis, some transplanted Liriope and a few ferns.  We enjoyed it enough that when we dug the Caladiums in October I planted Daffodils and Arum in their place.

Below this planted area, we noticed a new area of erosion a few weeks ago.  Storm water had found its way into a vole tunnel, and a whole piece of the bank had collapsed.  There was a gorge, partially filled with leaves and other debris.  Finding that bit of erosion sealed the deal that we would invest our time, energy, and gardening dollars in fixing this neglected, and now crumbling, bit of the garden.

Too steep for a single ‘rain garden,’ we decided to create several terraces to catch and slow the flow of water down the slope, directing the run-off from one planted area to another.  We found several Rhododendron shrubs to anchor each terrace, and planted the first right into that nasty gorge to stabilize it.  We found some sturdy trapezoidal concrete blocks for building the terraces.  They fit together snugly to make a secure wall.  We installed the first ones below that Rhododendron to hold it in place.

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The first Rhododendron we planted to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. We planted in the hole and stabilized the area with two concrete blocks.

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We trimmed up the lowest Ligustrum branches to let in light and make the area more accessible and raked back the leaves and debris.  Then, we studied the area for several days to decide where to place our blocks to form natural terraces.

After building the terraces, and planting three more of the shrubs, I began filling each terrace with plants.   I selected a variety of perennials which will thrive in shade, tolerate a lot of moisture, hold and cover the soil by spreading, put down extensive root systems, and stop voles with their poisonous roots. Oh, and did I mention they also must repel deer?

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The terraces before today’s torrential rain.

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Remember our mantra:  “Plant more plants!”  It was going to take a lot of plants to fill these spaces.  Luckily, we have a pretty steady supply now of a few perennials which fill these criteria.  They are ours to dig, divide, and transplant as needed.

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Divisions of Strawberry Begonia transplanted from another part of our garden. Each division will send out numerous stems, with a tiny plant growing at the tip of each.  They will form a thick mat over time. 

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I was able to transplant Hellebore seedlings, Ajuga and Saxifraga stolonifera in nearly unlimited quantities from other parts of the garden.  The Hellebores have  poisonous roots, and so I planted them around each of the Rhododendrons to protect their roots from curious voles.  I also planted them below the lowest row of blocks to form an additional vegetative barrier for any run-off.

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This Rhododendron is ringed with seedling Hellebores.

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I purchased holly ferns, Japanese painted ferns and Autumn Brilliance fern.  Although the Japanese painted ferns aren’t evergreen, they spread wonderfully and give about 7 months of presence here.  I also purchased some little 2″ Columbine and Heuchera and a couple of quart sized Tiarella .

I prefer to buy the smallest pots of perennials I can find to  minimize the size of the holes we must dig.  Living on a slope, we dig as little as possible.

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Tiarella is a shade loving native perennial which runs and spreads over time. It blooms each spring, feeding hungry pollinators early in the season. It resembles Heuchera, but proves more deer resistant.

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Heuchera is the only perennial in our palette for this new bed which may be grazed from time to time.  I am willing to take the chance for its beautiful foliage.  The rest of these plants have already proven themselves in our garden and I have confidence in using them here.  They are tough and thrive in our climate and soil.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ and Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ anchor the end of this terrace. I will add Caladiums next month when the weather is settled.

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And this was surprisingly good soil!  While we have clay in other parts of the garden, this was good, rich dirt.  Although I had stocked up on compost, I was able to build these beds without adding a great deal.

The key to planting on sloping ground is a good gravel mulch.  We’ve learned over the years to minimize digging, top dress and even out the ground with compost, and then mulch heavily with gravel. Finally, we pack this all down firmly with hands and feet.

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Columbine and Tiarella anchor this terrace. Two tiny lady ferns, grown from bare root starts, will one day flourish in this moist bed.

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We discovered that the first gardener on this property often used a large stone or hunk of concrete or brick to anchor shrubs he planted on slopes.  I’ve followed his lead and often anchor a newly planted shrub or perennial with something heavy to hold it in place until it establishes.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ will eventually grow to three feet. This evergreen fern has interesting spring color on new growth. We have anchored it with stones as it sits at the top of the slope.

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We’ve been working on this new area over the past week or so.  We have been trying to fix the erosion ahead of the heavy weather forecast for this week.  The rains have shown us the weak spots, and where more work was required.  We had to go back and re-pack the area around the first Rhodie’s roots, for example.  And we also placed some stones above it to divert the flow of water around it from the slope above.

A front came through mid-day today, with torrential rain, about an hour after I finished the last of the planting and gravel mulch.  We were pleased that the terraces held.

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Additional erosion after today’s rain left roots exposed. It showed us additional engineering was needed where water pours off of the driveway.  The terra cotta pots helped anchor plastic bags to protect the Hydrangea on the right during freezing weather in March.  It is slowly recovering and finally pushing out new leaves.

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There were only a few spots of erosion, and only one Hellebore partially washed out on a terrace this time.  But the path along this slope was badly eroded.  Ligustrum roots were exposed where the path was washing away.

We studied the path the water took from driveway to ravine, noted where the gravel had washed out, and re-engineered parts of the project.  Translation: Back to Lowes for more concrete blocks, a few more bags of gravel and a bag of topsoil.

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Additional engineering should slow the run-off flowing into the path from heavy rain.  My partner placed the blocks to divert the water’s flow.  We’ve added topsoil and gravel over the Ligustrum’s exposed roots in the path.  Sadly, some daffies may be sacrificed in the process….

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We aren’t quite sure why the erosion on this bank suddenly got worse in the last year.  We must have made some small change in how the water flows, without even realizing it, when I planted the Caladiums last summer.  But whatever the cause, the problem was getting worse with each heavy rain.

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“Soil security”

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When you live on a slope, stable soil is a measure of security as heavy weather blows through.

We’ve created terraced beds throughout the garden, planted lots of shrubs and perennials, and dumped hundreds of bags of pea gravel on this property over the years.   We rarely visit our favorite garden center without adding a bag or two of gravel or compost to our order. It is an investment in holding the soil in place and keeping our home’s foundation stable.

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We trust that these new terraced beds, and the reinforced path we’ve created for water to flow down our sloping garden, will meet the challenge of heavy rain and the run-off it generates.  But more than that, we trust they will grow into beautiful additions which bring us many years of enjoyment.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Note: I don’t often like to show parts of our garden that aren’t ‘beautiful.’   We have a lot of rough edges here in our Forest Garden.  It is a work in progress. I hope the techniques we use to hold the slope and garden on uneven land will help others trying to garden in similar circumstances.

I’ll show you this bed again as the plants grow in.  We trust that it will soon be one of our most beautiful areas, filled with photo-worthy foliage and flowers.  We expect it will attract the attention of our turtles, lizards and toads as the season progresses, too.  

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Security

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Columbine

 

 

Ordering Caladiums For Our Summer Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caladium 'Sweet Carolina'

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

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

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

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Caladium, 'Cherry Tart'

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

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

Here are the varieties I plan to order for 2017:

New Caladium Hybrids from ClassicCaladiums.com 

(Please follow the links for photos)

White Delight   ( part sun 18”-24”)

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

Peppermint  ( shade/part sun 12”-18”)

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

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

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

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

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

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Older Caladium Hybrids

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

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

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C. Florida Roselight

C. Florida Sweetheart

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

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

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Caladium 'White Christmas'

Caladium ‘White Christmas’

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

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

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Caladium 'Miss Muffett"

Caladium ‘Miss Muffett”

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

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

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Floriday Moonlight really lights up a shady spot!

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

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

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

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Caladium 'Lance whorton

Caladium ‘Lance Wharton’

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

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

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

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

 Caladiums love our summer weather!

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2015- 2016

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

Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’

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