Showing posts with label begonia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label begonia. Show all posts

Challenging Plants Weird Yet Wonderful

Begonia 'Silver Jewell' in MOBOT conservatory.
April is the perfect month to visit a conservatory. One of my favorites is at Missouri Botanical Garden. Even though we might see a few warmish, sunny days, there is nothing like a warm humid room full of plants to get your gardening engine going.

Jade vine in conservatory.
While I'd never be able to grow most of the plants inside, some pique my interest, which is one of the reasons I take photos so I can check them out later on. I know I could do it on the spot with my phone, but I prefer not to interrupt my enjoyment of the surroundings to go as Google.

The American Begonia Society rates the culture of Begonia 'Silver Jewell' as on the difficult side, but ideal for the advanced begonia grower. You've been forewarned.

Callistemon citrinus
During visits to MOBOT's conservatories, I got to see a jade vine, which comes from the jungles of the Philippines. It's a pretty rampant vine, and wouldn't like it much in the Chicago region. It's botanic name is Strongylodon macrobotrys, and its flowers are of a other-worldly turquoise color. Logee's Plants offers it, but they don't recommend it for a one-summer bloomer, especially in cooler climates.

Callistemon citrinus is a plant you can't possibly pass by--especially when it's in bloom. This Australian native is a tree, and even though there are dwarf forms that grow no taller than four feet, it is another one that probably wouldn't do well as a summer tropical on my patio.

I had lots of fun growing hardy dunce cap, though. This cute little succulent with a tongue-twister of a name--Orostachys moehmari--makes it okay to call it by its common name.

Hardy dunce cap can survive winters as cold as Zone 6, but only if it's planted in rocky, well-drained soil. It has been known to survive temperatures as low as -30 F, but only if it is growing in the ideal conditions.

Orostachys boehmeri, or hardy dunce cap, blooms in September. It is hardy to Zone 6.
As with any plant that you hope to live on beyond one summer, keeping it very healthy throughout the growing season is essential. Fertilize if necessary, but cut back the food as the days grow shorter. Its roots should be robust and full of nutrients in order to survive the winter. Because nobody likes to go to bed hungry.

I'll be including batfaced Cuphea to my summer plant list again this year.

From a distance, Cuphea llavea, or batfaced Cuphea is well-covered in small red flowers. But up close, it's a lot more interesting. It got its common name from its central purple "face" surrounded by bright red "ears."  It's a shrub in its native Mexico, but will remain compact and bushy at no more than two-feet tall in a summer garden. It thrives in full sun and the hummingbirds love it.

Always consider a plant's requirements before bringing it home to enjoy. Give it some time to acclimate to its new surroundings, and then enjoy the challenge.




Think You're An Impatient Gardener?

If you've ever wondered whether you're a patient or impatient gardener, try growing houseplants in the winter.

Even with lights on a 16 hrs on/8 hrs off timer, a heat mat, and frequent grooming and inspection, growth is painfully sluggish.

Well before the Slow Food movement, the slow houseplant crusade had already written its very own, very literal, manifesto.

Hippeastrum 'Razzle Dazzle' inspiring me in my writing room.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, I head immediately to the room where my plants are, a banquet table covered with an inexpensive plastic tablecloth beneath bars of lights strung from cords. Like my outdoor garden, it's more laboratory than it is landscaped.

The good news is that the blooming plants' flowers last a very long time. The bad news is that they seem to take forever to flower. I'm watching a slow-moving romance instead of an action flick, which I much prefer. So I've been making up for the lack of activity with the addition of new plants. When that fails, I play with my plants--which for the most part means I prune them, clean their leaves, and take their photos.

  This bulb's flower has been in a holding pattern for six weeks.
It's so embarrassed, I've had to disguise its identity.     
On ambitious days, I drag out the plant accouterments and repot them. This is a dicey operation in the middle of winter, though, because even with the lights, the roots don't grow that fast either! I'm waiting at least another month, when the days will be longer, before graduating any plant to a larger pot.

There is no doubt that the lights are encouraging my plants to remain green, perky and alive. I've set the table up against the south windows of the room, so their growth is also subject to day length.

         Episcia 'Alice's Aussie' in her plant sauna.        
Plants are grouped by light and heat requirements. And then there is height. Some pots are perched precariously on top of upside down vessels in order to keep them from becoming shaded out by their taller neighbors. Some are too tall to keep under the lights and are relegated to another room in the house.

Even more so than garden plants, houseplants are in-your-face humbling. You've let them into the house, for one thing. And there is no getting away from them. With the elaborate setup I've devised, I'd damn well better be successful. And I have been, for the most part.

So far, I've killed an Episcia, and have successfully nursed a tragic Begonia back to health. Another Begonia is still in intensive care. I've learned that some need to be left alone in order to strengthen their spindly stems. I've replaced the dead Episcia with another of a different variety called 'Alice's Aussie'.

For now, a foliage plant, I have high hopes for
Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star'
Inspiration for this exercise has been the books that display beautiful plants in imaginative and lovely containers "effortlessly" placed throughout the house in little vignettes. Two of my favorite books have been The Indestructible Houseplant, and The Unexpected Houseplant, both by Tovah Martin.

Unfortunately, this whole "houseplants as decor" thing requires clearing off a table or some other spot in the house where plants are viewed to their best advantage.
Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' looks best without the
flowers, which occasionally appear to let
me know I'm doing something right.

And here is the ugly truth--my house is a mess. Although far from being called a hoarder, I'm definitely cavalier about where and how I leave things. There are boxes on the floor with catalogs and magazines and books on top of them. A laundry basket holds clothes I washed last September and won't need again until May. They're held in place with books and then a layer of clothes I plan to take to the resale shop.

Our house is too big for us, apparently, as I only spend time in three out of the seven rooms (not counting bathrooms) that make up our 60s-era ranch. And those three rooms are heavily lived-in. I could put plants in the other four rooms, but since I don't spend time in them, there is little point.

This in-situ vignette contains Oxalis 'Plum Crazy', Paphiopedilum 'Napa Valley'
and Begonia 'Black Fancy'. 
So I'll create my vignettes in situ, occasionally bringing them into the room where I write. For inspiration, or simply to give me something to feel good about. And isn't that the basic reason for growing them?


Lilium 'Red Velvet'
 In the better late than never category, Lilium 'Red Velvet' is in bloom after a two-year hiatus. It bloomed the season after I planted it (Old House Gardens), and the following year before its buds even started to think about coloring up, a deer had it for dinner. This is one of the lilies I used soap on a stick to protect and it seems to have worked so far.

The soap on a stick idea came from Taltree Arboretum & Gardens:

1. cut bars of soap (I used Irish Spring) into icecube sized chunks and wrap them in pieces of cheesecloth.
2. tie the soap pieces onto stakes of some kind.
3. place the stakes close to the plants you want to protect.

Anyway, 'Red Velvet' is an Asiatic triploid hybrid that was bred in 1964. Which means it was introduced when my Mom was baking me red velvet cake every year for my birthday.


Begonia 'Beaucoup White'

I picked out this begonia for its looks (Isn't that the way it usually goes?) It's thriving along with chenille plant and chartreuse sweet potato vine. Luckily I make it a point to save my annual plant tags, and I found out what its name is. Begonia 'Beaucoup White' from Green Fuse Botanicals is so much more than white. With its cute button centers and appleblossom pink outer petals, it's an easy-care step up from the ho-hum wax begonias.








Dragon (or damsel) fly on Clematis 'Rooguchi' bud.

And finally, in the realm of the blue, it's hard to beat Clematis 'Rooguchi' for its color. And it certainly doesn't hurt when a pretty insect poses for the camera.