Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holiday Pick-Me-Up

It's three weeks later and here are the paperwhites from my last post. They are now in full bloom. Actually, the first blooms appeared about eight days ago. So you can see that if you plant groups of bulbs in succession, say every week, you can have something blooming in your house well into the new year.

By the way, I went to the nursery today and they still had paperwhite bulbs available. Since you're out there doing all of your holiday shopping anyway, make a quick stop by your nursery or big box store and get a little something for yourself.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Flowers in Winter

The calendar may say November but that doesn't mean that you can't still have flowers. I'm always looking for ways to stretch the gardening season. Last year, I posted a lesson on forcing paperwhite narcissus indoors. Here's a repeat of that lesson, only this time, I'll show you how to grow them in rocks and water.

First, you have to pick healthy-looking bulbs. Your best bet is your local nursery but you can also check the big-box stores. Look for a plump bulb--you don't want anything squishy or dried up. Don't be afraid if it's already sprouting a little though--that's actually a good sign.

Turn the bulb over to the root side. This is the side that will come in contact with the water. They will look dried and shriveled but will plump up when "planted".

Use a water tight container. I like clear ones because I like seeing the roots growing. Fill the container with a shallow layer of rocks, stones, or gravel. Then place the bulbs in the container--they don't mind a tight squeeze.

Then fill the container with enough water so that the water level is even with the base of the bulb roots.

In a few days, you'll see the roots beginning to grow. Be sure to maintain the water level so that it is still even with the base of the bulbs. Keep your container in a spot that gets at least medium light. Near a window would be good.

In a few weeks, you'll have blooms (stay tuned for that posting). I buy a whole bunch of bulbs and then plant some every week over the course of about five weeks so that I can have blooms through February.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pesto Anyone?

This is "Pesto Perpetuo" and it's just what you'd expect it to be: a basil plant that never stops producing. Even in these early chilly days of fall, it still looks good. It thrives in full sun and requires no maintenance whatsoever. It grows up to 4 feet high and has a creamy green and white variegated foliage. From what I've read, it can be overwintered indoors in a sunny spot. If I do that, I'll have to be careful to dig it out of the pot that it's in without damaging the other plants. But it might just be worth a try. Just looking at it makes me want to start a pot of pasta boiling.

Bookshelf: Container Gardening Books

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Big, Leafy Greens

This is Xanthosoma--a great, statement-making foliage plant. The xanthosoma shown here is "Lime Ginger", a most spectacular shade of charteuse which serves as great contrast to purples, oranges, really just about anything. This is a tropical plant, so forget about trying to keep it alive through the winter unless you live in Hawaii or some other similar paradise. Also, it is not an inexpensive plant. I bought it at the beginning of the season as a 4" plant for $20. Yikes. But if you ask me, it's worth it. It grows fast, needs no attention as long as it's placed in part sun/part shade, and only requires water. Oh sure, it would probably be even more amazing if I fertilized a few times during the season but it's September already and I haven't done that once. So if you have similar tendencies, I'd recommend using a slow-release fertilizer when you first plant it. That should get you pretty good results.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Daisy in a Cup

This post is for anyone out there who still thinks they have a black thumb and that having a beautiful garden, even a small one, remains impossibly beyond their reach. This is a shasta daisy, growing in a plastic cup. It was given to me by someone who was dividing flowers in her garden and asked me if I wanted any. Well, I never turn down free flowers, and daisies are just about the most smile-inducing flowers around. How can looking at one not make you happy? Anyway, it was put in a plastic cup when there was only foliage--there was not a bud in sight. This temporary container was for transit purposes only. My intent was to get it home and replant right away. That was 6 weeks ago. As of yesterday, it was still in the cup. And much to my surprise, it was blooming. Quite nicely, in fact. All I did was water it. Now it will join some of my other plants in a larger container. So if you think you still can't grow a little garden in a pot, this daisy in a cup says that you can.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Touch of the Exotic

This looks like something you'd see in a place that has warm, sandy beaches and rum-filled drinks. It's called Crocosmia but is commonly known as Coppertip or Falling Stars (or Monbretia, in Britain). Crocosmia are actually grown from corms. Corms are sort of like bulbs in that you basically plant them the same way but they really aren't bulbs exactly. The discussion of the difference is, frankly, beyond the scope of this blog. Which is to say, I am not nearly expert enough on the topic and so I would suggest a Google search if you are so inclined to learn more about this particular subject.

I just think it is a beautiful flower. This is a close up so don't let the image fool you, the bloom is really only a few inches in diameter but it sure packs a wallop. It requires full sun (preferably a.m.), the foliage is swordlike, it grows to about 24 inches high and is only half hardy. So for those living in climates where the winter temperatures dip below zero degrees, you'll want to dig them up and bring them inside to a cool, dry place for the winter.

Apparently hummingbirds love crocosmia but I have yet to see one come calling. I'll continue to keep watch though.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Is it Lunch Yet?

I had a visitor today that hung around long enough for me to run to get the camera and take a picture through the glass door. Look closely, it's perched on the chair back. Try clicking to enlarge so you can get a better look. This finch visits often but usually only in the morning. And it always seems to know when I'm going for the camera because it flies off right when I've clicked the shutter so I end up with nothing but a frustrating yellow blur. This might be the best picture I ever get.

I had to do some sleuthing to see what it liked so much about my garden. Then I saw that it had clearly been going to town on my zinnias. It evidently really likes the seeds. This finch has a little friend that often tags along for a visit to the buffet but it didn't stay very long this afternoon.

Note to self: more zinnias next year.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Million Bells

This is a great flower for containers. It's called Calibrachoa but is also known as Trailing Petunia or Million Bells. The blooms are petunia-like in shape, just a whole lot smaller. You know how petunias are sticky? I hate that. Well, these aren't. And you know how you have to pinch back the spent blooms on petunias? I hate that too. Well, you don't have to pinch back or deadhead these. They keep blooming and blooming and ask for nothing in return but plenty of sun and water. Calibrachoa is an annual and it loves good drainage which is why it's ideally suited for containers. Million Bells looks like a million bucks all summer long.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Partial to Purple

Themes have never been my thing when planting my container garden. I don't try very hard to coordinate colors because I figure, if it's found in nature, it must go together. Besides, why complicate something that's really supposed to be simple? But I do seem to naturally gravitate towards certain things. Like lime green foliage (Creeping Jenny). And things that climb (Mandevilla). And purple blooms. Shown here are two of my favorite annuals: Angelonia and Scaevola. Sure they come in different colors--pretty ones too. But I always end up with some variation of purple.

The scaevola tends to sprawl and spill over. The angelonia grows upright to about 9 inches or so. Both plants bloom like crazy all summer long and require no, I repeat, no maintenance. You can't ask for much more than that.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

According to my husband, this plant has a bit of an alien look about it. It's called Penstemon, or Beardtongue. I get where the beardtongue name comes from and if you zoom in on the bloom, you'll see too. It is kind of peculiar looking but it sure adds interest to my containers. Multiple flowers bloom on each stem and it attracts bees (which I've seen plenty of) and hummingbirds (yet to appear--but I'm hopeful). Penstemon is supposed to be hardy to zone 5 but I planted it last year and it did not return. Maybe I'll have better luck this time around.

Oh, and one more thing: I read that Native Americans used Penstemon root to relieve toothaches. Well, toothaches are rare for me but it's still nice to know that I am growing a plant that is not only attractive, but that might tide me over if it's a while before I can get a dental appointment.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Perle d'Or

Perle d'Or (or Pearl of Gold) is one of the two new roses that I bought this year from Antique Rose Emporium. Shown here is its first bloom of the season. According to my research, this rose was bred and introduced in France in 1884. The bloom's size and shape look a lot like the Cecile Brunner that I bought last year, which, by the way, seems to be struggling a bit right now. My fingers are crossed for her recovery. I'm chalking it up to the torrential rains we've had for the past couple weeks.

Anyway, back to Perle d'Or. Its maximum height and width is supposedly 4 feet which is why I thought it would be ideal for a container. It's hardy to zone 6 so with a little luck, it will return next year. Perle has a lot going for it: size, beauty, fragrance and, perhaps, the biggest selling point (especially since I rarely wear gardening gloves): nearly thornless branches. No Band-Aids required.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lucky Find

The display at Crate and Barrel had a wire- framed basket on a dining table filled with decorative fruit. What got my attention was the markdown sign: 70% off. Of the basket that is. I'm always on the hunt for great containers and, bargain lover that I am, there was no way I was going to pass this one up. The sales associate suggested various ways of displaying it in the house. I told him, "No way, I'm planting flowers in it and putting it in my garden!"

Since I had not yet planted my annual foliage-only arrangement, I decided this would be the container I'd use. I first put in a large round coconut liner and filled it with potting soil and a scoop of Osmocote time-release fertilizer. Here are the plants I chose:

Heuchera sanguinea "Bressingham Hybrids', zone 3
Heuchera 'Plum Pudding', zone 3
Juncus 'Unicorn', zone 4
Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip', zone 4, (two plants)
Origanum 'Kent Beauty', zone 5
Stonecrop sedum, zone 5
Green santolina, zone 7
Purple sage, annual (two plants)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Little Extra Help

Mandevilla is on my shopping list every year. I usually opt for white. I try not to buy it too early in the season because it can only be left outside after nighttime temperatures consistently remain above 55F.

I always repot my mandevilla so that it can climb up the trellis that I already have. It requires some unwinding from the support that is provided in the nursery pot and sometimes that takes a while so a little patience is required. Often times, you can buy the mandevilla in a good-sized pot with its own small wooden trellis and there's nothing at all wrong with leaving it just like that. I saw a whole bunch at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago--healthy plants at a price that was well below that of the area nurseries.

I unwound this white mandevilla and planted it in my pot with my green wire trellis. The plant was sort of drooping forward and I thought it might need some immediate help locating its support. So I got some garden tape and loosely tied several of the plant stems to the trellis to give it a helping hand. Now there's no stopping it.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Tasty Trio

It's year number three for this plant and it's finally producing fruit, albeit in small quantities. But boy, is it tasty. This strawberry plant is called "Mara des Bois" and I bought it from White Flower Farm a few years ago foolishly thinking it would produce a bumper crop of strawberries the first year. It didn't. In fact, I don't think I got a single one. I figured it was just one of my gardening experiments that didn't work out. But in March of last year, I saw foliage emerging and was surprised to see it return. I did get some berries--maybe about 7 over the course of the entire summer. This year it's back again and so far I've gotten about 8 or 9 and I hope that's a promise of many more to come.

My Internet research taught me that "Mara des Bois" is quite well known in French circles which would explain why I know nothing about it. What I do know is that it is a beautiful strawberry in every way: size, shape, color and, most importantly, taste. Whatever my plant yields this year, I'll be thankful for it. In my opinion, this is what a strawberry is supposed to be.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Whew, That Was Close!

I was back at the nursery yesterday, in pursuit of a plant that I loved last year but had been unable to find so far this year: Coleus "Fishnet Stockings". I mentioned it in a post last year. I've seen it written about twice already this year. The first article I saw appeared in Fine Gardening magazine and, at that point, I wasn't worried because that's not a magazine that reaches the gardening masses. But then the plant was featured in the Sunday Washington Post a couple of weeks ago. Oh boy. Good luck finding it now.

Off to Merrifield Gardening Center I went yesterday. They had rows upon rows of every kind of coleus imaginable. There were hundreds. You can bet I looked at every single one. And you know how it is when your desire for something increases exponentially in relation to the dimishing probability that you'll ever find it. Desperate, I finally did what I rarely do at nurseries--I asked for help. The people that work at this nursery are so friendly and know what service is all about. The sales assistant offered to check the back stock. Given the tens of thousands of plants on display at this place, I found it hard to believe there even was a back stock. Anyway, she trotted off, leaving me to cool my heels for a while. I told her if she found any, I'd take three. Originally, I only went looking for two but that whole scarcity thing took over.

After about 10 minutes she returned--plants in hand. She said she had almost given up hope but she managed to find four of them mixed in with some other types. Keeping my word, I only took three. I wanted to leave one for the next person who might come in all wild-eyed, looking for Fishnet Stockings.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Gap Fillers

When I do mixed plantings, I often combine perennials and annuals in one container. The following year, I'm faced with gaps where the annuals were and I have to decide how to fill them. I've shown an example here. In this galvanized tub, I have three perennials: a heuchera and, barely seen, a chocolate eupatorium and a swedish ivy. A lot of empty space remains where I had annuals planted last year. I found a few more plants at the nursery and to see what the arrangement might look like before I commit any further, I place them in the pot before I remove them from their original containers. Once I'm satisfied, I can go ahead and plant. It's always a good idea to sprinkle in some time-release fertilizer like Osmocote in the planting holes before adding the new members of the container.

In this container, I added coleus "Dipt in Wine" (yes, I bought it just for the name), creeping wire vine, sedum "Vera Jameson", and origanum "Kent Beauty".

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Shopping Day

I usually plan my first big shopping trip right around this time because I'm fairly certain that the cooler evenings are behind us. When I first started gardening, I'd make a beeline for the nursery on the first warm spring day (usually early April) because my hands were itching to plant something. And I was never alone. As with most important lessons though, I had to learn the hard way. Invariably, we'd get hit with a blast or two of cold air in the following weeks, leaving me with a bunch of dead plants and fewer dollars in my bank account.

No more. I now wait until Mother's Day. It's worked so far.

I went shopping today. Here's the cart before and after. This is a little more than half of what I'll need to complete my garden this season. Many plants returned this year. I also ordered some things via the Internet. Still on my shopping list: mandevilla, red Abyssinian banana plant, lots of herbs, and some miscellaneous fillers. That will be next weekend's shopping trip.

Stay tuned for more frequent postings and some review material on planting technique. Meanwhile, get those pots cleaned out--it's time to start planting!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Salvaging Jenny

I just read on a website that Creeping Jenny (a.k.a. Lysimachia for you Latin fans) has one of the most extensive root systems on Earth. In fact, many people have written in asking how to permanently rid their gardens and landscapes of it. And here I am, trying to save it. Go figure.

As I've said before, it's one of my all-time favorites for trailers in containers. It has come back every year for me. This year, it returned in a pot that was also previously planted with annuals. Of course the annuals died but I wanted to keep the Creeping Jenny. It seemed like it returned in sufficient quantity as to allow for division and distribution which is exactly what I did.

I used this great Felco saw that my brother gave me for Christmas. I don't know how I've survived this long without it. I cut the Creeping Jenny into several pieces and I've planted it into a couple of other pots. Now let's see if it lives up to its reputation.

Bookshelf: Container Gardening Books

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Graham Thomas Returns

I had my fingers crossed all winter and it worked. Graham Thomas has returned. I bought this rose online from Antique Rose Emporium. It promised to be hardy to Zone 5 but planting in containers is different than planting in the ground what with the increased exposure to the elements. I vowed to do nothing special during the cold spells--no wrapping in blankets or any of that other inconvenient nonsense.

I'm happy to report that it looks pretty good so far. That's not to say that I didn't have to cut back some branches that didn't make it (see picture below). Of course, time will tell whether it demonstrates the same vigor and bloom that it did last year. I'll keep you posted.

While yesterday was a glorious day here, I did not succumb to the siren song of the garden center. Well, that's not altogether true. I did buy potting soil and a couple of perennials. But I saw lots and lots of people buying plants that probably are not yet ready to go in the ground. I anticipate a few more chilly nights in the coming weeks and I've been burned before. I'll be making most of my purchases in the second week of May. That's when I have schedule the arrival of my mail order plants as well.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back in Business

Here's my collection of garden catalogs that I've been poring over the past several weeks. I rarely get paper catalogs anymore since I do most of my shopping over the Internet but there are a few that make for good reference material throughout the growing season.

Of course, my all-time favorite is White Flower Farm. In fact, I recently received a gift certificate and I've narrowed my selection. I usually try to pick something fairly unique, something that I don't normally find at my local nursery. The other catalog that I really like is Antique Rose Emporium. I ordered from them for the first time last year on the recommendation of my friend Barbara. This year will tell the tale as to whether I made good choices and whether or not I took proper care of them (which is to say, I did absolutely nothing at all) over the winter.

It's been rainy and dreary here for the past couple of days and there are no immediate signs of it letting up. So I'll continue to peruse my catalogs and start formulating some plans for the upcoming season.