Showing posts with label unusual plants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label unusual plants. 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.

Can Shamrocks be Hoity Toity?

The flowers of Oxalis Grand Duchess versicolor
(candy cane shamrock) are tiny.
An unassuming plant with a hoity-toity name caught my eye on the Easy to Grow Bulbs shopping site.  Oxalis Grand Duchess versicolor  was a dry-looking nub of a bulb when it arrived. I planted it as indicated and waited. The wait seemed too long and I figured it was never coming up so I planted a cutting of Brazilian plume flower (Justicia carnea) in one of the small pots.
Candy cane shamrock's unsightly stems.
How the candy cane shamrock got its name.
Eventually, weedy, spindly stems emerged. By now I had an overabundance of pots in my limited space, having acquired more Pelargonium and a few other full-sized plants plus the Amaryllis bulbs. So I ended up pitching two out of three pots containing these weedy stems that had no leaves on the first 2 inches and were flopping over the sides. The one with the plume flower cutting was saved. Finally, the three remaining bulbs in the one pot bloomed. The flowers were as adorable as shown in the source's photos, providing candy cane color on both furled and unfurled blooms. But there were fewer blossoms, and they were dangling clumsily over the side of the pot. I'll keep the pot after they've finished flowering, let the foliage whither by holding back water. If they come up next year I'll give them more light and see if they provide another crop of flowers on stems less ungainly.

Oxalis adenophylla blooms in 10 weeks.
Silver shamrock, or Oxalis adenophylla really tried my patience. My first attempt to grow these little beauties was successful, providing adorable leaves in a delicate, silvery shade of green that topped stems just 2 - 3 inches tall.

I planted the tiny bulbs in mid-November, and by the end of January, I had both leaves and flowers. Silver shamrock could be grown for its leaves, but its flowers are worth waiting for. Unlike most common shamrocks, its flowers are bigger than the leaves, and painted with a thumb-smudge of pale purple at the edge of each petal.

Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' is easy to love.
The easiest shamrock to grow was one I bought already in full leaf at the Porter County Master Gardeners Gardening Show, held in late January each year. Its name is as interesting as its leaves--'Plum Crazy', a diminutive cutie with purple-pink leaves that steal the show from its ho-hum flowers.

Oxalis 'Plum Crazy' is one tough plant. After making it through the winter as a houseplant, I grew it outdoors in a planter with other residents where it held its own and spread an appreciable amount. There is nothing to worry about with this Oxalis becoming to aggressive, as it is not hardy north of Zone 8.
Oxalis Iron Cross accents this
gaudy Scadoxus flower.

Another extremely easy shamrock to grow from a bulb is Oxalis tetraphylla Iron Cross, or lucky shamrock. I planted the tubers around the outer edge of a pot that held a Scadoxus (blood lily) bulb around mid-March, and the leaves began to poke out around four weeks later.

Give Oxalis Iron Cross full sun outdoors in summer for a flower reward.
Oxalis Iron Cross hails from Mexico and enjoys a long, hot summer, which is when it puts out a succession of rose-colored flowers.

Whether you grow shamrocks for indoors or out, for their leaves or for their flowers, they're charming little bulbs to try and are more readily available than used to be.

Humongous Plants: You Can Grow That!

Banana tops six feet by mid-July
If you chose to grow tropical plants this summer, your choice is paying off about now. It's not always the case in the southern Great Lakes region. I've been growing elephant ears for the past few years now, and this is the biggest they've ever gotten by this time of year.

Our banana has been taking care of itself in the garden, and except for a bout of Japanese beetles damaging one leaf, it's been the epitome of health.

I can't remember ever experiencing such a sustained period of high 80 degree temps and high 60 degree dewpoints. But I'll bet the jungle natives in my garden think they're in the tropics.
Colocasia 'Midori Sour' is the most bodacious of the bunch,
obliterating the other plants in the container.
Microsorum musifolium
I found lots of new (to me) tropical plants that are either threatening to take over my patio, and/or vying for inside status come October.

One that is small enough to make the cut is a fern called Microsorum musifolium, whose registered trade name is Crocodyllus (think Kleenex as the trade name for tissue).

Take a close look at the leaves of this beauty, and you'll see why it's been given the crocodile-esque moniker. I've been keeping it in pretty deep shade as it's still in its original pot and dries out quickly. But information online indicates it can take partial sun. (Sounds like a perfect houseplant.)
Piper auritum dominates a corner of this raised bed; its leaves help shade the crocodyllus fern.
A plant that would challenge even the largest indoor space is Piper auritum or root beer plant. In its home region, the huge leaves are used to flavor food. I just like the novelty. It's a shade-lover, but has been pushed to its tolerance limit with extra water. I've also discovered it to be a great umbrella--I placed some small pots beneath its big leaves to keep them from getting too much moisture and sun, and it performed beautifully.

When else could you grow such humongous plants but in the summer, especially if you live in an area where it freezes. For more ideas, tips and a celebration of growing things, head on over to a round-up of inspiration at You Can Grow That!

What's the Name of that Plant?

Plants are all identified at Sunrise Greenhouse, Grant Park, IL
I chose my first car because it was cute. Honestly--it was a lemon-yellow 1972 VW Beetle. Even the salesman tried to talk me out of it. "It's a repo," he told me, as if a 19 year-old would understand what that meant.

I learned the significance after I got home with my new car. There was a hole in the gas tank, which was located at the front of the car so that gasoline dripped on the floor beneath the dashboard.

Cute, huh?
There were other issues. The defroster didn't work, both headlights flickered, and the wires to the turn signals were crossed, confusing both me and anyone on the road who tried to guess which way I was going. I learned quickly the meaning and consequences of owning a repo.

Less expensive perhaps, but just as frustrating, is learning the limitations of anything else purchased solely for its cuteness quotient. I buy a lot of plants, many of which catch my eye with their unique beauty, and in some cases, their cuteness.

I make it a point to support independent garden centers, and have been buying quite a bit from mega-garden-centers within a two hour drive from my house. So far, these businesses have had a nice variety, carry plants you don't often see either at the big box stores or smaller garden centers, and (usually) good prices. One of my favorites for their prices and quality has been Sunrise Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL.

Another of my favorites is Vite Greenhouse in Niles, MI, which is currently running neck and neck with one other fairly close garden center, and vying for Michigan favorite.
River Street Flowerland

I fell so much in love with River Street Flowerland in Kalamazoo, Michigan that I visited it twice in one season, the second time with my equally plant-enamored neighbor, Lesley. Even though it was late June, we came close to filling my car. They had a sale on nearly all of their annuals, and I had a few dollars worth of coupons from my previous visit.

All in all, I was extremely pleased with the variety of plants and the prices. Until I picked up this little clay pot with no label.
Mystery plant turned out to be Ledebouria.
It was the only one left, and its price was steep, especially for an unidentified plant. I took it to the young lady at the register, who was about to tell me it was a houseplant. I said, "I'd really like to know what it is so that I can care for it properly." The girl at the register called another young lady who was caring for the plants. She didn't know but said she would ask. She eventually came back and told me it was a Squill.

The Squill ID at least pointed me in the right direction. I knew it was tropical, and that it was a bulb that is possibly in the Scilla family. I learned that it is a South African false scilla of the genus Ledebouria, that blooms in summer.

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm extremely anal and organized when it comes to my plants. I keep a Word document on my computer with the names of all of the plants I buy, dating back to 1996. Sometimes, with just one name to go by, I find the exact plant either in a book or online in order to learn how to care for it and what to expect.
Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' has flowers that create a color echo of the tiny Viola below it.

My husband still laughs about an incident at a garden center when the cashier had the nerve to identify a potted mystery I wanted to purchase as a "houseplant." He said I gave her a look that could have curdled milk, before I told her I needed to know genus and species or I wouldn't buy it.

Labels don't have to be fancy.
I was pretty sure I knew what it was--a somewhat overbaked Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender'. Its coloration was all wrong, owing, I guessed, to its placement in full sun. I wanted corroboration, though, to be sure I knew what I was getting. The cashier called over another young lady who seemed to know more. She doggedly traveled down the rows to find the answer, and finally located another one with a label, verifying its ID as 'Mona Lavender'.

No one argues that we should get what we pay for, but is it really too much to ask that we know what we pay for? In a world where it's vital to know the serial number of each tiny part of a phone or computer accessory, I wonder why we don't demand the name of the plant growing inside a pot at a garden center.

I keep hearing that Millenials don't care what a plant is called. They just buy it, take it home and incorporate it into their decor. But what if they want to buy another one? Or it dies and they want to replace it?

Finding unlabeled or mis-labeled plants is nothing new. It's not that big a deal if it's obviously a petunia or a pansy, but with the more unusual plants, there is more at stake--they're usually more pricey and harder to find.

Here's a label that does it all, including identifying the plant.
Anyone who somehow benefits from selling plants should also consider themselves to be in the education business, at least peripherally. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by the simple labeling of plants. How else can a satisfied plant buyer post a photo with the name of where it came from on their Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, or Snapchat pages?

Flower Favorites for Fall

Dendranthema 'Pumpkin Igloo'
I'll admit to being a snob when it comes to fall mums. They're not my favorites. Oddly enough, I like their fragrance, which many people do not, but I'm lukewarm on the typical form on the typical bedding mum.

That is, until this year when I grew 'Pumpkin Igloo' from Blooms of Bressingham. I didn't expect to like it, but planted it after receiving it from the company to try in my garden. Instead of the muddy burnt orange I'd expected, these little beauties featured a glowing deep peach--just enough saturation to make them stand out on a gloomy day, but with a softness that puts them above the rest.

I especially love their bright yellow centers and double-ish form. Like a button in the center of the cushion, the center of 'Pumpkin Igloo' does what it's meant to in keeping back the perky, partly quilled inner petals.

Franklinia alatamaha in bloom
Taking a page from fellow-blogger Carol Michel in May Dreams Gardens, not to brag but my Franklinia alatamaha bloomed this year. I had two flowers on this mysterious disappearing native tree. For details, see the Penn State Extension tree site. With this tree, it's just a matter of keeping it alive. It's not thriving, though it seemed to have been able to take care of itself at one time on the banks of the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia in 1765. That's when two explorers discovered it and brought it back to civilization.

Although its blooms are said to be fragrant, I've not detected a scent, but there is no denying its beauty.

Passiflora 'Lambiekins'
It wasn't its beauty that attracted me, but its name. Who could resist a flower called 'Lambiekins'? Passiflora 'Lambiekins', to be correct. I ordered one from Grassy Knoll Exotic Plants, knowing I couldn't give it as much sun as it would like.

It is extremely vigorous and generous in its size. My plant was stingy with its flowers, but through no fault of its own. It only gets about three to four hours of direct sun, after all. Its first bloom didn't arrive until late August. I probably got about half a dozen flowers from this tropical passion flower.

Two varieties of Salvia provided me with great color and entertainment through the late summer/early fall season. The giant of the two is 'Amistad', a deep blue variety that's covered a space of six feet by six feet, providing a succession of blooms by July. It hit its stride in August, stretching its stem and becoming the obsession of our two resident hummingbirds.

Its Salvia companion, called 'Love and Wishes' didn't get as large but performed like a trooper despite its raucous neighbor. Both Salvias came from Flowers by the Sea, a place with some really cool plants.

The cool back story about 'Love and Wishes' is its parentage. According to Flowers by the Sea, it was hybridized by Australian retiree John Fisher when he crossed it with Salvia x 'Wendy's Wish'. He decided its sales, like its parent plant, should benefit Australia's Make-a-Wish Foundation.

I grew 'Wendy's Wish' a couple of years ago in a very large container and loved it. The only variety of this special trio I haven't grown is 'Ember's Wish'--and yet another plant to look forward to growing next year.