Six on Saturday: Rain Gardens

Both Caladiums and most ferns appreciate moist soil and can survive for quite a while in saturated soil. Ferns planted in wide strips as ground cover can slow down and absorb run-off from summer storms.

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It’s still raining here.  It has been raining off and on for days, but mostly on.  We’re under a multi-day flood watch and a flash flood advisory.   A tropical storm inundated us not long ago and another formed off of our coast yesterday, and even heading out to sea it pulls historic rains behind as it moves away.

The ground is already saturated and every little plastic saucer under a ceramic container overflows.  I smile at the thought of how long it will be before I’ll need to water the garden again.  August usually is a wet month, and welcome after hot, dry stretches in July.  But the tropical storm season forecast for 2020 is unlike anything we’ve ever known before.  (That is our new catch phrase for 2020, isn’t it?  Unlike anything we’ve ever known before?)

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Scarlet cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is a classic rain garden plant. It thrives in moist soil but will survive short droughts, too.  This clump grows in the wetlands area of the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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We have a program in our county that helps homeowners install rain gardens.  A friend is known for her beautiful rain garden designs. When working with local government and the Master Gardeners, county residents can have significant portions of their costs reimbursed.

The idea is very simple and elegant:  Rain gardens are dug a few inches below grade to catch and hold run-off from heavy rains.  Water loving plants growing in the rain garden help soak up the run-off, even as it settles into the ground to replenish the water table, instead of running off into local waterways, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.  Unlike ponds, they don’t hold standing water indefinitely.  Most absorb and process the run-off soon after a rain.

Rain gardens help catch pollutants that wash off of lawns and streets so those nutrients and chemicals can be recycled and trapped by vegetation.  This helps reduce the amount of pollution flowing into creeks, the rivers, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.  They also provide habitat for small animals like turtles, toads, frogs, dragonflies and many types of birds.

Even when we don’t excavate and engineer a formal rain garden, there are things we can do to help slow the flow of water across our yards and capture a portion of that rain water before it flows into the local waterways.  We’ve built a number of terraces in the steepest part of our yard and planted them with plants to help slow the flow of rain water.  We also have several ‘borders’ of shrubs and other vegetation to break the flow of run-off and absorb it.

In fact, the slogan of our county Stormwater and Resource Protection Division is, “Plant More Plants.”   Plants buffer the falling rain, help protect the soil from erosion, slow run-off and absorb large quantities of water, returning it to the atmosphere.  Just planting trees, shrubs, ground covers and perennial borders helps to manage the abundant rain we are getting in recent years.

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Zantedeschia, or calla lily, thrives in moist soil.  Some species will grow in the edge of a pond, and these work very well in rain gardens or wet spots where run-off collects.

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But when the ground is as saturated as it is today, we worry that even some of our plants might drown!  You see, most plants’ roots want air pockets in the soil.  Saturated soil is a quick way to kill a houseplant, and it can cause damage to the roots of some trees, shrubs and perennials, too.

As our climate shifts and these rain soaked days grow more common, it helps to know which plants can take a few days of saturated soil, and maybe even benefit from the extra water in the soil.  Many of these plants process a great deal of water up through their roots and vascular systems to release it back into the air.

You have heard of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia?  Well, that blue haze comes from moisture released by the many trees and shrubs growing on the sides of the mountains.  Some trees thrive in constantly moist soil.  Try birches, willows, swamp dogwoods, white ash trees, and beautyberry bushes.

Plants release both water vapor and oxygen back into the air as a by-product of their life processes.  Some plants, like succulents, release very little water, and that mostly at night.  They will quickly die in saturated soil.  In our region they need to be planted higher than grade on ridges and mounds, or be grow in freely draining containers.

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Colocasia and some types of  Iris grow well in saturated soil or even standing water.   Abundant water allows for lush growth.

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Plants with very large leaves, like our Caladiums, Colocasias, Hibiscus, Alocasias, Calla lilies, Canna lilies, ginger lilies, and banana trees use large amounts of water and release water vapor from their leaves throughout the day.  Some types of Iris also perform very well in saturated soil.  They can live in drier soil, but do just fine planted in the edge of a pond or in a rain garden.  Ferns are always a classic choice for moist and shady areas of the garden.  Their fibrous roots help to hold the soil against erosion and perform well as ground cover on slopes.

Those of us living in coastal areas where flooding has become more frequent can use plants to help deal with the inches and inches of extra rain.  We can build ponds and rain gardens, or even French drains and rock lined dry gullies to channel the run-off away from our homes.

We are called on in these times to wake up, pay attention, and find creative and beautiful solutions to the challenges we face.  We are a resilient people, by taking every advantage, even in the choices of plants we make, we can adapt to our changing world.

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Iris ensata, Japanese Iris,  grow with Zantedeschia in the ‘wet’ end of the Iris border at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. Clumps keep their foliage most of the year, blooming over a long season in late spring and early summer.  These are excellent rain garden and pond plants.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

 

Visit Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Blossom XL: Zantedeschia

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The first of our overwintered  Zantedeschia  opened its first blossom this morning.  I might have missed it, had I let the misting rain keep me indoors.  This cool, foggy morning coaxed me outside to do a little planting; a little moving of pots from their protective shade into their permanent summer spots.

Feet damp, and camera covered in raindrops, I was taking a quick turn around the upper garden when the pure white elegance of it caught my eye.

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Zantedeschia albomaculata is named for the white spots on its leaves.  Spotted leaf calla lilies want wetter soil than those without spots.  Both want full sun, and reward good care with elegant flowers.

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Zantedeschia looks so tropical.  And yet, they survive our winters, here in the northern reaches of their hardiness zone (Zones 7-10).  Their elegant leaves never fail to surprise me when they finally emerge each spring.  The leaves would be enough, some would say.  That is, until their blossoms begin to appear.

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Zantedeschia ‘Memories’ will have deep purple flowers when it blooms.

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Although we have Zantedeschia blooming in shades of purple, pink, rose, peach and white in the garden; the pure white flowers remain our favorites.

Many people call these flowers ‘calla lily,’ especially when ordering stems from the florist.  There is actually a North American Calla palustris, which grows in bogs, swamps and ponds.  A near relative, it looks very similar, but is not as refined.

The newest Zantedeschias  in our collection are called Z. aethiopica ‘White Giant,’ and may eventually grow to 5′ to 6′ tall in good soil and consistent moisture.

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Z. ‘White Giant’ is still a very young plant in our garden. We expect the leaves to grow larger as the weeks go by, and hope it will bloom this first year. Here, it grows with Caladium ‘Burning Heart.’

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Like this beautiful blossom in form and color, they will grow more like the tremendous clumps of white Zantedeschia aethiopica I’ve admired in front gardens in coastal Oregon, where the hardy clumps expand a bit each year.  Mature clumps grow 3′-4′ tall there, already blooming by early April.

We have our new Z. ‘White Giant’ all in pots at the moment, but I plan to plant most of them from their pots into the garden this fall, and expect them to grow a bit better each year..

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Like other Aroids, Zantedeschia is a good plant choice in areas grazed by deer.  They have tiny calcium oxalate crystals in their leaves which will irritate the mouth and upset the stomach of any who try to eat its leaves.   Zantedeschia belong to the same family and subfamily, Aroideae, as Caladiums, Colocasia, and our beautiful Arum italicum. 

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Do you see the family resemblance to this Arum italicum, which is preparing to go dormant for the summer?  As the leaves die back, the green berries will grow bright reddish orange, when ripe.  Its flower is also the simple spadix and spathe form, in a creamy green.

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Their leaves are large and beautiful.  Their flowers are the simple ‘spathe and spadix’ form, which in many genera turn into green, berry covered stalks after fertilization.  Other than calla lilies, most of the plants in this family are grown for their leaves or for their edible tubers.

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This Caladium flower isn’t nearly as sturdy or long lasting as a calla flower. Most gardeners cut Caladium flowers away so all the plant’s energy goes into leaf production.

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Natives of southern Africa, these elegant callas enjoy full sun and consistently moist soil.  Buy them as dry tubers in the early spring, or as potted plants at many nurseries and grocery stores.  Plant tubers near the soil’s surface in good potting mix, and keep just moist until growth begins.

If growing callas in pots, make sure to add fertilizer to the soil to keep them at their best.

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I’m not sure where these peachy orange calla lilies came from…. I was expecting them to be purple when I planted their tubers earlier this spring….  Is this Z. ‘Mango’?  At any rate, we will enjoy them and appreciate their generous blooms.

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Zantedeschia are often grown commercially for their flowers, much loved by florists world-wide.  Calla stems are long-lasting in a vase, perhaps for several weeks if one changes the water and re-cuts the stem every few days.

If you love their flowers, why not grow them yourself, and enjoy the beauty of the entire plant?  This is an easy plant if you give it the sun and moisture it craves.  Whether you grow it in a pot or in a bed, it will reward your efforts with many years of gorgeous foliage and elegant blossoms.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Pot Shots: First Caladiums

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We are just beginning to have weather warm enough for the Caladiums to come outside and get some sun!  The ones basking in the warmth of our spare room have grown long and leggy, reaching for the light.  And so I’ve brought the other tubs and bins outside to our deck, up against the house and under cover of the eaves where they have enjoyed the warmth of our late spring and gotten a lot more light.

I’ve kept my eye on the new ones with their first leaves beginning to unfurl.  The first to open is C. ‘Burning Heart,‘ a 2015 introduction from Classic Caladiums This is one of the new hybrids from Dr. Robert Hartman that can take full sun.  It is a new color for Caladiums, and I am looking forward to growing it this summer.

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Once I found that I had four of this special variety in leaf, I lifted them this morning from their bin, and brought them into the garden to the pot I have planned for them.

Already growing are two Zantedeschia ‘White Giant’.  These Zantedeschia want consistently moist soil and full sun.  This area of the garden has a high canopy of oaks, but gets a fair amount of sun during the day.  I think that it will be enough sun for them, and not too much for the Caladiums to both do very well.

Completing the pot is one of my favorite ‘spillers,’ Dichondra ‘Silver Falls.’  This silvery gray vine will spill over the sides of the pot, eventually filling in to form a nearly continuous curtain of fine foliage gradually enveloping the pot and its pedestal.  If you buy a pot of Dichondra, you will notice lots of little vines all massed together in the nursery pot.  These pull apart very easily.

A single 3″-4″ pot from the garden center could easily give you a half dozen clumps, each with its own roots.  This vine roots easily from each leaf node and may be divided again and again as you spread it around.  Although a perennial, it will only overwinter here in a very mild winter.

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When we found this huge pot in February, on deep discount at one of our favorite nurseries, I hesitated over its color.  I favor blue pots.

This screaming chartreuse, in February no less, was almost too much.  It sat upside down in our nursery for several weeks while I contemplated what to do with it.  A gardening friend came by and admired it enough that she took straight off to go buy the last one like it!

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Once we actually moved it up into the garden a few weeks ago, we soon realized that the green blends right in and doesn’t look brash at all…. at least not until we added the red Caladiums today!

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I am working this week to plant out as many of our Caladiums, Colocasias and Alocasias as I can.  This is slow going, but will reward us with beautiful foliage plants in the garden over the next six to seven months .

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This is Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ planted into an established planting of Saxifraga stolonifera.  Although just an old nursery pot, it is large enough to support the Colocasia as it grows to its 4′-5′ potential.  This Colocasia likes moist soil and shade.

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We’re bringing the pots out gradually, and re-working the pots which held other plants through the winter to accept their summer tenants.   Now that the weather has settled, I want to get the plants we saved last fall out of storage as quickly as we can, so they can all begin a new season of growth.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ is finally back outside in its blue pot. It overwintered in the garage. The soil is just warm enough to plant out these white Caladiums today. No more cold snaps, please!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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