Hairy Balls & Pollinators

I love arranging with “Hairy Balls” for a unique centerpiece
The single flowers are pendulous instead of a large ball of flowers like the common Milkweed

Visitors looking over my garden in the fall, always ask what the strange-looking plant is that is forming large spiny pods. Growing in my veggie garden, because of the amount of space the plants take, my Gymnocarpus physocarpa, or “Hairy Balls” are a conversation starter. A Milkweed family member, another common name is Balloon Plant. Native to South Africa, this plant is an invasive in tropical climates, but in my zone 6-7 area, winter cold keeps it in check.

Hairy Balls in full glory

Here are some facts about this amazing plant:

  • Fast growing annual Milkweed, hardy in zones 8-10
  • Can sustain lots of munching monarch caterpillars late season
  • Nectar source for monarch butterflies
  • Long stems with pods make beautiful table centerpiece
  • Last viable Milkweed species before fall frost
  • Start seeds at least 6-8 weeks inside; easy to germinate in about a week
  • Flowers aren’t super showy, but still attractive
  • Fewer pollinators use this than native Milkweed
  • Pinch back the plant to make it bushier and with a stronger stem
  • Place in the rear of a border as it can top off at 6 feet and may require staking
  • The pods become ripe when they turn a tan color and burst open with the fuzzy seeds
  • I save some seeds for planting in early spring in my greenhouse
The single flowers are pendulous instead of a large ball of flowers in the common Milkweed

Monarchs!

Though some people have told me that monarch caterpillars have ignored their Hairy Balls, I found at least a dozen of them on my plants at once.

You can see the white substance on the pod at the bottom which is why these plants are called Milkweed

When all of my common Milkweeds are done, Hairy Balls Milkweed is going gangbusters into October and ending with our first hard frost. I have had these plants look good up to Halloween with active caterpillars. But be aware in colder climates, you need to start the seeds early.

The ripe balls turn tan and burst open with seeds
The flowers are not showy

Starting these seeds in my greenhouse in early March is essential to Hairy Balls producing the balloon shaped pods by the end of the summer. For most of the summer, these plants grow up and branch out and then August/September hits and the pods start to appear after a flush of small dangling flowers. I love watching the pods form!

The nondescript flowers start forming pods in September
Split a hairy Ball open and you will find hundreds of seeds

For my monarch populations, this Milkweed is important as it still is standing with plenty of foliage late into the summer/early fall. My other common Milkweeds are totally denuded and finished when Hairy Balls hits its stride. For my post on other milkweeds, go to Got Milk….Weed? and Plant Milkweed for Monarchs. 

Common Milkweed has very different flowers and pods
Common Milkweed have long narrow pods

Starting From Seed

I start my Hairy Balls from seed inside around mid-March to get a head start. The plants take a long time to form their wonderful seed capsules and I usually harvest from August on as they form.

Starting Hairy Balls in my greenhouse
To plant, I separate the brown seeds from the fuzzy fibers

Plant the seeds in good potting medium and cover about 1/4″ deep and the plants emerge in about 10 days. I keep them in the greenhouse until they reach about 4-5 inches high and the weather is warm enough- about the same time as tomatoes.

Hairy Ball seedlings about a month old: they need a few more weeks before setting out

Once they are growing well in the garden, I usually pinch them to make them a little bit fuller and bushier. But if you don’t do this step, they still will grow fine.

The balls turn a tan color when mature

When cutting the stems to use in arrangements, I torch the ends with my propane torch (or use matches) to stem the flow of milky sap.

Pumpkin On a Stick

Use pumpkin on a stick in fall displays

Halloween is around the corner and people are starting to decorate with the many types of pumpkins available at the farmer’s market. The past 10 years have seen an explosion of all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes of pumpkins, but I am in love with a diminutive one, which actually isn’t a real pumpkin, but an eggplant., specifically Ornamental Eggplant, (Solanum Integrifolium). For different types of real pumpkins, go to my Pumpkin Eye Candy post.

Pumpkin on a Stick seed packet at Botanical Interests

Ornamental or Food?

Falling in the eggplant family, the little pumpkins, Solanum integrifolium, are not really pumpkins, but an ornamental used in stir-fried Asian dishes. I grow this cute ornamental jack-o-lantern for jazzing up my Thanksgiving table and fall flower arrangements as it dries nicely and lasts a long time.

Native to Southeast Asia, it grows 3 to 4 feet tall with very large fuzzy leaves that grow from a purple thorny stem. It towers over other eggplants in my garden and the plant looks remarkably like Bed of Nails or Solanum quitoense, profiled in Plant Geek Alert.

Bed of Nails

Culture

Around for over 125 years which makes it an official heirloom vegetable, it has also been called Pumpkin Tree and Pumpkin Bush. Planted directly in full sun in your garden, the plant needs steady moisture and benefits from regular fertilizing as it grows large fast. Pretty soon, the insignificant blooms appear, followed by pale green nubby fruit that turn into their final pumpkin ribbed shape a few weeks later. Insects like to gnaw on the leaves as you can see but deer and rabbits leave it alone because of the wicked thorns.

Started from seed in my greenhouse, by early spring, the plants (with stakes) grow quickly and are ready to plant in the garden as soon as we are frost free
Pumpkin on a Stick growing in my veggie garden has thorns and can get tall (3-4 ft tall)

Harvesting

In late summer, the fruit changes to a scarlet color and when frosts start to hit, the eggplants turn their final rich orange color. You can harvest up to a dozen pumpkins on one plant. When you pick a stem of pumpkins for fresh use, cut the stems and use as is. If you want to dry the pumpkins, hang the entire stalk upside down in a cool dry location, removing leaves. This treatment prevents the fruits from sagging. Fruits will shrivel and the orange color will intensify. For eating, pick the fruits when orange and use in stir-fries.

Cutting my pumpkin on a stick plants
Remove all the leaves and hang to dry
Available in the fall at trader Joe’s

Pumpkin on a stick at the wholesale florist
Pumpkin on a Stick used in a seasonal arrangement

Foraged Flora for Seasonal Arrangements

Cutting flowers and weeds from the side of the road for a wildflower arrangement is as simple as taking a walk down a country lane, armed with sheers and a bucket. But more often, I am driving down a rural lane and see something interesting and slam on the brakes and try to find a spot to park.

If the road crews haven’t spray things with roundup, then wildflowers flourish
Fleabane daisy is ubiquitous on our local roads

There is no need to plant a cutting garden on your property, just explore the outdoors. It is healthy to get outside and walk and be with nature, so here is your chance to bring something home from one of your strolls.

Where to Look

I live in rural Monkton, Maryland, which I describe to people as a twin to the Cotswolds-winding narrow country roads surrounded with farm fields, stone walls, and horse paddocks. I spot lots of specimens that are ready to be cut and used in a flower arrangement. Occasion or not, I really just want some cut flowers to brighten up my house. If you are on the side of a county owned road, you don’t need permission, but if you forage onto someone’s property, you need to ask. I was driving down a road and screeched to a halt when I spotted crimson clover. I got out and approached the farmer nearby to make sure it was OK to cut a bunch. Better safe than sorry.

The best time for foraging is in the morning but the best time for me is when I am actively looking!

The farmer who owned this field was happy to let me cut
Crimson clover

But if I am on a hike with my dog, I am looking for things to cut. I always carry pruners with me just in case. I try to do a woods walk a couple of times a week to get away from the stresses of my job and often head to a local ‘hike and bike’ trail. Here I can  de-stress and often find plant material to bring home.

I often find orange native daylilies on my strolls

There are tons of health benefits from “forest bathing”.  Lowered blood pressure, decreased cancer risk, and mental health boost are all claimed to be part of being out in nature. Go to Health Benefits of Being Outside to see  more information.

Sometimes I score big with blue cornflowers or red poppies

Road crews plant wildflower mixes like these red poppies

But I can see that if you have a huge dinner party coming up, that you would scout out your locations in advance, and the day before go on a “fishing” expedition. I use “fishing” because you never know what you will find and you might land a whopper of flowers, or they might not appear at all.

If you live in Texas, your foraging might turn up Bluebonnets
In the fall, I browse old privet hedgerows for the blue black berries: this bunch cost $20 at a high end nursery down the road!

Here are your pointers for plant foraging:

Safety & Sources

  • Learn to identify what you are collecting as you don’t want to pick anything poisonous or on the endangered/threatened list. Wear long pants and closed toe shoes to protect against ticks and poison ivy.
I am extremely allergic to poison ivy and I can identify it from a mile away!
  • If you don’t know what poison ivy looks like, just google images of this lethal plant before venturing forth.
  • If collecting by roadsides, wear protective gloves. Do not park or stop on the side of a highway!  I try to find smaller rural roads to do my collecting. Always put safety first and park only where safely off the road.
  • Follow the principles of “Leave no trace” and leave your collecting area the same or better than when you entered it. Don’t strip it clean! And don’t dig up roots.
  • Do your research and don’t collect from the threatened or endangered plant list. Go to the USDA website at https://plants.usda.gov/threat.html for a state by state list. In my home state of Maryland, I don’t collect things like partridge berry, wild orchids, or ground pine, as many of these are on the endangered list.
  • Armed with bug spray, pruners, scissors and collecting buckets and bags, I troll the sides of the roads for likely prospects and always have a “foraging kit”  in the back of my car.
My bucket of tools in the back of my car
  • When you get your treasures home, strip all the lower leaves off and plunge into water filled buckets in a cool spot for several hours at a minimum.  I add some packaged flower sachets to the water.  Conditioning your fresh cuts in this way will greatly prolong the life of your flowers, sometimes up to a week!
Strip off all the lower leaves: this is pink lythrum, an invasive in wet areas
  • Know your areas for particular plants. There are some wet boggy areas around me that harbor the invasive pink lythrum and when it is blooming, I take advantage.
  • Dried seed heads and berries are great for arrangements. Also interesting twigs, lichens, and, pods are excellent.
  • Don’t forget greens. Contrasting with your flowers, greens make an arrangement stand out. Wild asparagus, ivy, ferns, conifers, deciduous tree branches with fall color. All these bring a lot of color and texture to an arrangement.
Tiny rose hips from multi flora roses
Foraged wild ivy
Gathering lichen covered branches
Grasses are excellent foraged material
When Queen Anne’s Lace blooms, I cut tons for arrangements

Putting It All Together

There are huge differences between a florist arrangement and a foraged one. Foraged ones are usually a bit wilder looking and have things you would never encounter at a florist, like dock, seed heads, and wild asparagus.  I much prefer the wild foraged arrangements to the static florist arrangement and it doesn’t cost you a dime.

An arrangement of all foraged materials
Buckets of conditioned materials ready to go
Elder Flower is a great find
Here I started with a filler of Daisy Fleabane and Wild Asparagus
I added ferns and elder flower
I finished if off with brown dried dock, pink lythrum, blue cornflower, and orange native daylily
I covered this wooden bird house with foraged materials in the fall. The corn cobs were left over from farm fields and laying on the road. By spring, the squirrels had chewed it up.

 

Top 12 Cut Flowers

One of the main reasons that I grow flowers in my garden is for the fresh cut flowers. Blooms to bring in by the arm load and arrange in buckets and vases, is the reason that I slave hours in the garden.

Buying fresh cuts from a florist or grocery store isn’t the same as bringing in blooms that are decorating my garden with fragrance and color. Regretting removing those blooms from my garden isn’t an issue when I can enjoy it for many more hours up close and personal in the privacy of my home.

Poppies are planted early in my cutting garden
Planting out my cutting garden in the spring

To get the best of both worlds – a beautiful garden along with beautifully arranged vases – I always designate a special area a ‘cutting garden’. Expanding year by year as I discover just another flower that is perfect for cutting, it has encroached on my vegetable garden. Less veggies-more flowers!

Blocks of flowers in a cutting garden; mesh netting supports the stems
I grow so many dahlias, I arrange them in bowls

But what defines a good cut flower?- Simply put: long bloom times, tall sturdy stems, and ample vase life.

Zinnias, Amni majus, and Bells of Ireland
Peegee hydrangea with ‘Henry Eilers’ Rudbeckia, and Chelone

Garden-to-Vase 

Growing specialty cut flowers for me ranges from crowd favorites like peonies and dahlias, to more obscure varieties rarely seen at a local florist, like ‘Love in the Mist’, is both a money saver and a little bit of luck. Starting many of these varieties from seed can be tricky, and some years I have a bumper crop, and other years, I bomb. Gardening is not an exact science and the more I experiment, I find that there is always more to discover.

Planting seedling plugs at Great Dixter, UK

Growing my own source of private bouquets is something I will be doing as long as I have a  garden, as I crave fresh flowers in my house and I don’t want to rely on the florist. My vegetable garden is about 50% flowers now!

Allliums and coneflowers
Growing cutting flowers for drying

Not only do I use my fresh cuts for arranging, I also dry a bunch of them for use in the Fall and Winter. See Dried Flowers for ideas.

My Top Twelve List of Fresh Cuts

  1. Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’ or ‘Dondo Blue’
  2. Larkspur-comes in pink, blue and white and gives a great vertical accent to your arrangements
  3. Poppies-comes in a rainbow of colors and my bees like them; go to Poppy Love
  4. Zinnias-all kinds, but I especially love the cactus varieties
  5. Sunflowers-forget the mammoth ones (too large), but the different colored varieties with branching stems are my favorites like ‘Valentine’
  6. Dahlias-for late season interest, these are perfect! For my post on Dahlias, go to Dahlias – Divas of the Garden
  7. Lilies-Oriental and Asiatic, not daylilies as these only last a day
  8. Love in the Mist– not only beautiful flowers, but beautiful foliage and dried seed heads
  9. Peonies-a flash in the pan and they are gone, but I indulge in them when in season
  10. Tulips-forget these if you have deer; wonderful form and they grow in fantastic shapes in the vase
  11. Bishops Flower(Amni majus)-looks like a Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids
  12. Alliums-long lasting statements that make good focal flowers; go to my post on Alliums-All Season Long.
Alliums are easy to grow and deer resistant
My purple alliums with the purple obelisk
Love in a Mist
Dried seeds heads of Love in a Mist
Bishops flower
Lavender blue of ‘Blue Horizon’ ageratum
Ageratum, Sunflowers, and Dahlias in an arrangement
Cosmos with its ferny foliage is a great cut flower, seen at Falkland Palace, Scotland
Masses of sunflowers ready for cutting, seen at Falkland Palace, Scotland

Out of Season

When summer is over that doesn’t mean I don’t have plant material in the house. Transitioning to colorful berries, leaves, and branches takes me into the holiday season. After that, I bring in evergreens, cones, and branches, until flowers appear again in the spring.

Fall arrangement with berries and branches in a bowl

Placement

Deciding on a place for your cut flowers is a personal decision, but you have to have lots of sun. Growing flowers in my vegetable garden which gets the most amount of sun on my property makes sense for me. Most of my other beds are full of perennials and evergreens, and shrubs, so I usually don’t have room for them in my garden beds. I will plant early bloomers, like poppies, larkspur, and cornflowers in areas that will hold late appearing perennials, like hostas. By the time the hostas are up, the early bloomers are just about done and I can remove them.

Red and white tulips-great for cutting
Rows of flowers in a vegetable garden (not mine!)

Allow enough room to maneuver around the blocks or rows for watering, weeding, and picking. I plant in blocks about 3 feet wide for good access and air flow.

Bouquet of dahlias from my garden
My veggie garden serves also as my cutting garden

Starting some seeds inside and others like Zinnias outside, I start about two dozen varieties each year. Some years I have a bumper crop of something that has done especially well, I just can’t predict what will be blooming in my garden.

Starting seeds under grow lights gets me a jump on the season

For cool season flowers like Larkspur, Bells of Ireland, Poppies, Love in the Mist, and Cornflower, go to Cool Flowers.

Bells of Ireland are a great cut flower

Pink cornflower
I

Floral Ice Bucket

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, and what better way to do this than by having an intimate Valentine’s dinner at home. Create a space that smells delicious by grabbing some veggies from the garden and putting together your significant other’s favorite meal. Make your table look equally as beautiful with an elegant floral ice bucket made from fresh flower clippings from your yard.

Floral Ice Bucket

Floral ice buckets are the perfect statement piece that also doubles as a way to keep your favorite celebratory wine or champagne chilled. To help you create your own, here is a YouTube tutorial on how to make a floral/fruit ice bucket or you can follow directions below for a romantic one with red roses, from FTD. Follow simple steps and you’ll have a DIY centerpiece in no time!

Floral Ice Bucket
Floral Ice Bucket

DIY

Materials

  • Large plastic container
  • Smaller plastic container (that fits a champagne bottle)
  • Floral tape
  • Rocks
  • Flowers and greens (eucalyptus)
  • Filtered water(for clear ice)

Set out a large container with a container that will fit inside, leaving an inch or two around the perimeter. Gather roses and greens, or other flowers such as hydrangeas and carnations.

 

Fill the large container with two inches of filtered water. If you don’t have filtered water, boil it twice and use it when it is cool. This will clear out any impurities and it will be clear instead of cloudy. Put in freezer to freeze completely, about 24 hours.

 

Place smaller container in large container in the center and fill with rocks to weigh it down.

Create circular garlands of flowers to fit around the outside of the smaller container, holding them together with floral tape or wire. This keeps the florals from floating to the top.

Place the floral chains around the smaller container and fill the rest of the large container with filtered water. Situate the flower as you’d like them to freeze. If the flowers float up and you want them to be completely covered, push them down every few hours as the water freezes. I like some flowers sticking up around the rim for texture. Let it freeze for 24 hours.

Once the water is completely frozen, remove from the containers by running hot water over them. Keep the ice bucket in the freezer until you’re ready to display. When the time is right, place it on a plate (to catch any water) and add your favorite bottle of wine to chill.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

For more ideas and pictures, go to FTD. Images and story courtesy of FTD.

Last Minute Christmas Centerpiece

Centerpiece with orange roses and satsumas

Centerpiece with orange roses and satsumas

I was having the family for dinner and want a sensational centerpiece for my table. Too busy all week with work and other chores, I was too pressed for time to do anything about it. But I found an old  bubble bowl that had been sitting in the basement from an old flower arrangement. I threw some fake snow in the bottom and placed a bottle brush tree and a Putz house ornament with some small glass balls. The finishing touch was battery-powered tiny lights. And I could have stopped there. That is absolutely all you have to do and it is awesome!

Bubble bowl with fake snow and putz house
Bubble bowl with fake snow, lights, and putz house

But to bring it up to another level, I added a fresh flower arrangement on top.

I added a little bit of floral clay to keep the tray from slipping

A metal saucer that I use for many arrangements was sitting around and it happened to fit exactly on top. I stuffed it with water-soaked oasis and went looking for fresh flowers. When I went to my local grocery store (Wegmans), and found some orange ruffled roses called Milva, I had to have them! Also there, I bought some Satsumas, which is a larger type of Mandarin/tangerine orange which is one of my favorites and is grown in the south-eastern US. Very sweet and juicy, this is the orange that you find in cans called mandarin oranges.  The mandarins still had the foliage attached so I knew they were fresh. A perfect pairing, oranges and the Milva Roses!

Satsuma mandarin orange
Satsuma mandarin orange
I had a dozen Milva Roses and cut the stems short and inserted them in the oasis
I had a dozen Milva Roses and cut the stems short and inserted them in the oasis

Gold was the next color that I wanted to use with this coppery orange rose and I found some glittery gold leaves from a local craft store that were sitting in my basement. I added a touch of purple using statice and some seeded Eucalyptus for texture, also some peach Alstromeria, and the arrangement was complete. An easy centerpiece that took about 20 minutes to create,  it looked like it took much longer. Adding some Satsumas and gold and silver orbs on my green plaid table runner completed the look. Not the typical red and green arrangement, but I love peach and orange.

Start filling in with seeded eucalyptus and purple statice
I filled in with seeded eucalyptus and purple statice and some peach Alstromeria
I added purple statice, purple statice, and seeded eucalyptus
Finish up with gold glittery leaves

 

Bubble bowl with putz house
Bubble bowl with putz house

At the last minute, I decided to add some variegated white pine from my yard to add some extra texture and I lit the lights and I was done! This should last about a week with regular watering of the oasis.

Merry Christmas!!

Centerpiece on table runner
Centerpiece on table runner

‘Tis the Season for Poinsettias

Princettia Poinsettias branch more and produce more flowers
Poinsettia, Sparkling Punch
Poinsettia ‘Sparkling Punch’
The newer white Poinsettias are really beautiful
The newer white Poinsettias are really beautiful

No flower says Christmas like the beautiful Poinsettia.  I was amazed to learn that the Poinsettia is the most popular potted plant by far in the U.S. and Canada. Here are some other interesting tidbits:

Lime Green is a new color in Poinsettias

History & Legends

  • The Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, means “very beautiful”
  • The showy leaves or petals, called “bracts”, are not the actual flower. The flowers of the poinsettia are in the center of the bracts and are inconspicuous and contain a sweetly fragrant nectar
The center portion that is green and yellow is the actual flower
The center portion that is green and yellow is the actual flower
  • The cultivation of Poinsettias originated with the Aztecs hundreds of years ago in Mexico.  Montezuma, the last Aztec king, would have Poinsettias brought into the city, which is now known as Mexico City, by caravans because he liked them so much
  • Aztecs used the bracts, the colored portion, as a dye, and the sap as a medicinal to control fevers
  • Joel Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. minister to Mexico in 1825, found the plant blooming on the side of the road, which the native people regarded as a weed, took cuttings, and sent some plants to his home in South Carolina
  • Poinsett shared his finds with other plant enthusiasts and that is how the poinsettia came to the United States
Poinsettia Valentine
Poinsettia ‘Valentine’, a double ruffled flower
  • The Ecke family grew Poinsettias in southern California in the 1920’s, primarily as a cut flower and landscape plant and remain to this day, the largest producer of Poinsettias in the US
  •  Grown as field grown potted plants for the cut flower trade, Poinsettias were shipped all over the country by train. Poinsettias really gained wide-spread recognition through media promotions on The Tonight Show and The Bob Hope Christmas Specials. This promotion ensured that Poinsettias were as much a part of the holiday tradition as Christmas evergreen trees
  • When the flowers or stems are cut, they ooze a milky sap that can cause people with latex sensitivities to have an allergic reaction.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Poinsettias are not poisonous. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf.
  • Red is the most popular color, and the variety called “Prestige Red” tops the popularity list
  • Poinsettias are now the best-selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada!
Poinsettias with blue hydrangeas
Poinsettias with blue hydrangeas at Longwood Gardens

Color Palette

Breeding of the poinsettia began with the goal of improving cultivars that would retain their leaves and bracts for a longer period. The breeding also created stronger stems, multiple branching, earlier blooming, and the palette of colors that we recognize today. These modern cultivars last longer, bloom earlier, and are available in a vast array of colors from red to white, pink to burgundy, and with many variations including doubling of flowers and flecks of color on contrasting backgrounds.

Purple is very popular, but is sprayed on
Purple is very popular, but is sprayed on

Spraying of blues and purples and glitter is done to jazz up the color spectrum. It isn’t my favorite way to treat these plants, but recently at a local nursery, I heard people swoon over the purple Poinsettias!

 

Glitter applied to Poinsettias at the supermarket
Glitter applied to Poinsettias at the supermarket

Selecting a Healthy Poinsettia

Poinsettias do great in the home with proper care and will keep their coloration until mid-March. When choosing a healthy plant, look for dark green uniform foliage. But be aware, that lighter colored or mottled bracts typically sport lighter green foliage, and the darker colors like burgundy, will have very dark green foliage. Reject any plants that have dropping leaves, or ones that have pale green or yellowing foliage.

Jingle Bells Poinsettia-the actual flower is in the center of the bracts
‘Jingle Bells’ Poinsettia is one of the top selling Poinsettias
Visions of Grandeur Poinsettia with Orchids
‘Visions of Grandeur’ Poinsettia with Orchids at Longwood Gardens

When purchasing, make sure that the plants are well wrapped or sleeved before transporting, as low temperatures, even for short periods, can damage the plant.

Sleeved poinsettias
Sleeved Poinsettias

Care-5 Tips to Keep Poinsettias in Tip Top Shape Until April

Yes, you read that right-until April! The newer varieties will last until April, namely the Princettia varieties. These varieties branch more readily which produces more flowers, and are shorter- not so top heavy as older varieties. I brought home one of these pastel pink ones from my local nursery, Valley View Farms, as it was so different looking from the old mammoth flowered Poinsettias.

Princettia Poinsettia sign at Valley View Farms
Princettia Poinsettia sign at Valley View Farms
Princettia Poinsettias branch more and produce more flowers
Princettia Poinsettias branch more which produces more flowers
  • Keep in indirect, natural daylight
  • Water when soil is dry to the touch-overwatering is the biggest cause of leaf drop and death 
  • Keep in temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees
  • Make sure the pot drains, removing the foil wrapper if necessary
  • Fertilization is not necessary
A white double poinsettia
A white double poinsettia

Reflowering-Tough But Not Impossible 

It is possible to get your poinsettia to “rebloom” next year, but you need to follow strict requirements for light, temperature, and fertilization. Following all these rules is way too much trouble for me, so I consider this plant a “throwaway”. Poinsettias are very inexpensive and I leave the growing of them to experts who have the right equipment to make this happen. If you really want to get your Poinsettia to bloom again, go to University of Illinois for detailed instructions.

Peach Poinsettia
Peach Poinsettia
Monet Poinsettia
‘Monet’ Poinsettia

Poisonous??

Contrary to popular opinion, Poinsettias are not poisonous, but neither are they edible. There was a study done that determined that a 50 pound child would have to eat 500 leaves to get really sick! And the leaves supposedly taste awful. The Poinsettia plant is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family of plants, which includes the rubber tree, where natural latex comes from. So, If you are allergic to latex, and ingest this plant, you may have some degree of discomfort, but not fatal. Likewise, if you handle the plant, you could develop a rash. Poinsettias are not harmful to pets either, unless they ingest leaves or bracts in very large quantities. Cats who chew on the leaves may salivate and can vomit if the leaves are swallowed, but it will not kill them.

Princettia Poinsettias

Decorating With Poinsettias

Rather than scattering Poinsettias around the house, try grouping them together for bigger impact. I also like to place Poinsettias in baskets along with other plants, pods, and cones, to add interest.

Decorating with Poinsettias
Decorating with Poinsettias
Use your poinsettias in groups
Group your Poinsettias for bigger impact

As cut flowers, Poinsettias are great, but you rarely see them used this way. The plants are so inexpensive, that I don’t feel guilty buying one, and cutting the flowers off for arrangements. You can get an entirely different look by using them as cut flowers and they last a long time in a vase, over a week!

Poinsettias used as a cut flower
Poinsettias used as a cut flower

 

Winterthur’s Dried Flower Christmas Tree

Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur

A tour of Henry Francis du Pont’s former extraordinary home was my destination this year to enjoy holiday style decorations. An eighteen room dollhouse, fully decorated with Christmas treasures and other handmade pieces was one of the draws for me. Another was the large fir in the Conservatory decorated with hundreds of multi hued dried flowers that looked as fresh as if just picked. The iconic ‘Dried Flower Tree” is a tradition for Winterthur and people are amazed when they see it.

Dried rose and statice on the tree looked fresh
Dried rose, Chinese Lantern, and Statice on the tree looked fresh

Arrangements are placed throughout the house all year-long with fresh flowers, and after they have done their duty in the floral designs, the flowers are taken to the basement of a cottage on the property and dried in the room dubbed “The drying room”. Serving double duty, these flowers once arranged on the tree creates a multi hued rainbow effect that is stunning.

A single rose hangs from the tree
A single rose hangs from the tree, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For the actual process of decorating this tree, which started in 1986, look at the video.

Most of the flowers are picked on Winterthur’s property throughout the year and either air-dried or dried with silica gel, a  crystalline dessicant. Starting in March/April with the daffodil, any flower that can be dried is used for that purpose.

Some of the dried flowers used
Some of the dried flowers used

Everything is then packed into a fumigant tent for three weeks, starting in early October, to kill any pests. In late October, the flowers are brought out and organized by color into long boxes. Starting with the topper, the staff works all around the tree, bunching many of the flowers for a bigger impact. Special flowers like peonies and roses are placed singly on the branches, wired for stability.

Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Dried peony
Dried peony

Queen Anne’s Lace, peonies, daffodils, and zinnias are dried for ten days with silica gel as these don’t dry well with air drying. Others like larkspur, yarrow, billy balls, safflower, cockscomb, money plant, hydrangea, and Chinese lantern are air-dried in a dark place for about a week and then are packed away until ready to be used.

Grasses are also used
Grasses are also used
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For hours and more information about Winterthur, go to Yuletide at Winterthur. Next post will be on the miniature Christmas decorations in the dollhouse at Winterthur.

Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center
Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center
Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center
Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur. picture by Amy Sparwasser

A Colonial Christmas Tryon Palace

Tryon Palace

Located in New Bern, North Carolina, near the intercoastal waterway, you can experience North Carolina’s colonial past in a beautiful historic building that dates back to 1770. John Hawks, a London architect,  was brought here by Royal Governor William Tryon to build an impressive brick Georgian style structure to house his family and to become the first permanent state capitol of North Carolina.

Doing a demo on outdoor Christmas arrangements at North Carolina History Center at Tryon Palace

An invitation to speak at Tryon Palace in North Carolina, gave me an opportunity to see how this colonial palace decorated for the Yuletide season. Similar to Williamsburg style with “della robbia” type of decorations – lots of fruits, pods, and other natural decorations are used. See my post on a Illuminating Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg for more colonial style decorations. Tryon Palace has never been on my radar before but now I can’t believe that I have never heard of it!

Beautiful entry into the Palace; I love the Palm leaf fans that are spray painted

The use of fabric really was stunning and unusual- a treatment that I would love to duplicate. Beautiful fabric swags are  gathered in at the top of the ceiling in the Council Chamber (top photo); The room is used for dancing on Candlelight evenings. The first sessions of the assembly for the State of North Carolina were held here after the revolution and housed the state governors until 1784. After fire destroyed the building in 1789, the building and grounds were rebuilt and restored to its present glory.

Double iron -work gates are decorated with matching wreaths

Classic Williamsburg fruit motifs are used above doorways
Fresh green garlands were used as well as faux and a mix of the two

“Seasons of Giving: A Candlelight Christmas Celebration” was the theme this year with the Candlelight tradition at Tryon Palace in its 38th year. Decorations were inspired by the 12 Days of Christmas, historic characters in period clothing were present, and holiday vignettes spanning across three centuries were shown. For a schedule, go to Tryon Palace’s website.

Definitely Tryon Palace warrants a visit just to see the fabulous gardens, that look good even in December.  For another reason to visit, when I stopped by on a hot, hot, day this summer, the docents were conducting ‘Outlander Tours’. The site where Governor Martin held Claire hostage, the Palace is a destination for ‘Outlander’ fans.

Tryon Palace conducted Outlander tours of the Palace
Encompassing more than 16 acres of gardens and landscapes, the Palace gardens were designed by noted landscape architect Morley Jeffers Williams in the 1950s and represent the formal garden style of 18th-century Britain.

For Christmas decorating, 29 volunteers, among the other staff of Tryon Palace, help out. Moving objects, creating faux food displays, coordinating holiday tours, and assisting with adhering to “period correctness” are all part and parcel of the many details of creating a special Christmas experience. Hadley Cheris, Gardens and Greenhouse Manager, is the point person for all this activity, and is energetic and knowledgeable about the creation of the historic decorations.

Volunteers at work at Tryon Palace

For more posts on decorating period houses, go to Hampton Mansion.  The importance of using age appropriate materials – like fruits, pods, and fresh greens – that were available during the historic period is important to keep the antique context of the house.

Dried pods and flowers appropriate for period decorating
Dried flowers for sale in Williamsburg

The 29 volunteers contributed over 250 hours of work over a week and a half period. Decorating begins November 13 and is completed on November 22  at Tryon Palace. Included in the decorating are three historic homes, the exteriors of 13 buildings, and seven large entryways/gates.

Fruit fan with pineapples
Entry steps to Tryon Palace
Closeup of the rosettes on swag
Closeup of an arrangement
I love the fabric draping of the staircase

Candlelight tours are popular as well as circus acts, history vignettes, Jonkonnu troupe (African-American holiday celebration), music performances, and candlelit grounds are all part of the Tryon Palace experience. For more information, go to Tryon Palace.

Christmas at Longwood Gardens

Photo by Laura Jones
Fountains against background of lights is magical
Fountains against background of lights is magical, photo by Longwood staff

Christmas at Longwood Gardens

A family tradition for many years, visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is a feast for the senses. Colorful lights, pine scented greens and paper white floral fragrance, and pipe organ music escaping from the organ room, surround you as you enter the conservatories under glass.  

Shimmering with icicles
Shimmering with icicles


Conservatories

The Conservatories are decked out with traditional Christmas flowers, like Poinsettias and Paper Whites, but non-traditional ones, like tropicals, succulents, and air plants are used throughout. There was even a Tumble Weed Tree! Suspended Christmas trees were a conversation piece (how do they water them? answer-with long poles!) and a quick look in at the original pipe organ which was being played on beautifully, was all part of our Conservatory experience.

A master was playing on the Pipe Organ
Installing the air plant Christmas tree, photo by Longwood staff
Installing the air plant Christmas tree, photo by Longwood staff
Air Plant trees
Air Plant Christmas Trees 
Hop tree
Hop tree
Tumbleweed Tree
Tumbleweed tree
Dripping light chandeliers
Dripping light chandeliers
Ginger Tropical Tree
Ginger tree
Tropical tree with Beehive Ginger, Protea, and Birds of Paradise
Suspended Christmas Trees
Suspended Christmas Trees

Winterberries were everywhere in the Conservatories
Winterberries were everywhere in the Conservatories

 

 

 

 

Music Room

By far my favorite rendering of the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ was the Music Room at Longwood, completed by artist Danielle and Lee Vincent. Their Etsy shop is PreMadeReMade.

Danielle Vincent making her creations
Danielle Vincent making her creations

An ingenious depiction of the Christmas theme using creative book and paper embellishments with old books from library and flea market sales was captivating! Folded book art, cut paper ornaments, paper sculptures, using creased (no glue!) paper were everywhere. Trees. wreaths, garland, and ornaments were folded, cut, and embellished to carry out the theme.  Taking up to 5 days to complete just one book, this imaginative display caught my interest for a long time as I examined how they masterfully re imagined a library concept for the holidays.  

Book tree
Book tree, photo from Longwood staff
Music room folded books
Music room folded books

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lights, Camera, Action!

Photo by Laura Jones

The expansion of lighted areas in tree houses, meadow, and fountains, gets you outdoors to explore the grounds.  

Bird House tree, photo by Laura Jones
 
Tree House lit up, photo from Longwood Gardens staff
Outdoor tree, photo by Longwood staff

The meadow especially was other worldly with lighted orbs that changed colors. Walking on a raised boardwalk made this one of the best experiences outdoors.

Boardwalk through lighted orbs
Boardwalk through lighted orbs

 

Outdoor orbs lit up and changed colors, photo by Laura Jones
Outdoor orbs lit up and changed colors, photo by Laura Jones

 

 

Trunks of tree were lit up
Trunks of tree were lit up
Refllections of water added to the light show
Reflections of water added to the light show

A few facts about the displays:

-More than 150 cut trees throughout the indoor display

– 32 miles of lights

– More than 100 outdoor trees lit

– 100 % LED lighting

– Three firepits outdoors

– Fountain shows daily in the Open Air Theater set to holiday music

-Over 3000 Poinsettias used in the displays

To get your timed tickets, go to Longwood Gardens up until January 6, 2019. And for tips on visiting, go to Ten Tips for a Day at Longwood Gardens.