Plant Lust – Cerinthe,Pride of Gibralter

Cerinthe

Cerinthe major atropurpurea , featured at Sissinghurst Castle in England, is actually a native of the Greek Islands. This hard to find annual is definitely a much sought after easy to grow annual from seed. Not available as transplants, you can get the seed from Renee’s Garden Seeds.

Cerinthe available at Renees Seeds
Cerinthe available at Renee’s Garden Seeds

An unusually colored flower with indigo-violet drooping flowers that dangle gracefully above gray-green leaves. A great plant for containers or for the border, it is easy to start from seed.

Cerinthe
Cerinthe

Pop in the seeds and a few days later, juicy succulent-like shoots appear above the soil and quickly grow into robust plants for transplanting. Wonderful as cuts for fresh flower arrangements, you can always spot them at Sissinghurst in the UK as their signature plant.

Seen at Sissinghurst
Seen at Sissinghurst

Also known as honeywort, the flowers attract bees and hummingbirds. The one inch long flowers produce honey-flavored nectar, probably leading to its common name. As the plant matures, the bracts change from green to purple to blue. Deadhead to encourage continued bloom. If you wish to use honeywort as a cut flower, the ends of the stem need to be either flamed or dipped in hot water.

Used here as a great edger at Sissinghurst
Used here as a great edger/spiller at Sissinghurst

Cerinthe is a good filler plant, with its blue-green foliage and succulent texture contrasting nicely with other greens in the garden. To bring out the other colors in the bracts, such as golds, yellows, bronzes, interplant cerinthe with plants that have purple or bronze leaves, such as Caramel Heuchera or Euphoriba ‘Chameleon’. Reseeding in my garden happens frequently which I encourage.

Cerinthe changes color as it ages
Cerinthe changes color as it ages

TSTART OUTDOORS

In spring, once all danger of frost is past, sow seed directly where plants are to grow in ordinary well-drained soil in full sun. In mild climates, Cerinthe can also be sown in fall for spring blooms. Poke the large seeds into the soil about 3⁄4 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart and firm soil gently over them.

About a week old, Cerinthe makes a robust seedling
About a week old, Cerinthe makes a robust seedling

TSTART EARLY INDOORS

Start seeds indoors in 4 inch pots about 4 to 6 weeks before last frost date. Keep moist, but not soggy and provide a strong light source. Once seedlings are 4 to 6 inches tall, acclimate to outdoor conditions and transplant into a sunny spot, in well-drained garden soil. Thin or transplant seedlings 8 to 12 inches apart. Avoid disturbing seedling roots.

GROWING NOTES (from Renee’s Garden Seeds)

Cerinthe prefers full sun, but can take dappled shade, although plants will be more rangy in habit. Be patient; plants are undistinguished until they come into bloom. By late spring, the dramatic blue bracts will turn more purple at the tips, then the clusters of purple bells trimmed with a white edge unfurl. Grow near pastel cleome or cosmos for an exciting color contrast.

Next to a purple flower, Cerinthe shows up best
Next to a purple flower, Cerinthe shows up best

Today, it is not commonly offered commercially in the U.S. The plants are not particularly stunning from a distance unless plant in mass; the enchanting flowers are best appreciated up close as the coloring is subtle. The variety ‘Purpurascens’ is the most commonly available type and was selected for its stronger coloration than the species.

 

 

Know and Grow: Deer Resistant Vitex

Bees flock to the beautiful spiky flowers

Looking like a butterfly bush on sterioids, Vitex agnus-castus, or Chaste Tree, is enjoying a comeback in gardens with some compact varieties that fit into smaller gardens. It’s easy to grow in well-drained soil and drought-tolerant and disease resistant.

Not the tidiest plant in the garden, the newer varieties, like ‘Shoal Creek’ will top off at 10-12′ tall and wide. But with cutback pruning in the early spring, you can keep it much smaller. I treat it like my butterfly bushes and cut it back to about 2 feet tall in the early spring/late winter. Winter hardy to zone 6, this beautiful large shrub or small tree blooms profusely and for a long period in July and August.  Foliage is very aromatic- compound, palmate, grayish-green leaves with 5-7 lance-shaped leaflets-similar to marijuana!

Bumblebees adore this plant and cover the blossoms and will even spend the night on the flower. Deer resistance adds another attribute to this valuable late season sun-loving plant. Native to China and India, Vitex has been in the U.S. since the 1600’s and has a long history as a medicinal plant.

Available locally in Maryland at Valley View Farms
Available locally in Maryland at Valley View Farms

The common name of ‘chaste tree’ refer to the beliefs that parts of the plant reduce libido. Known as a spectacular, butterfly-attracting plant, the 12″ fragrant flower spikes are a beautiful deep lavender blue and very showy. ‘Shoal Creek’, the cultivar that I am growing, is a deeper more vibrant lavender color than the species and I would advise seeking out this variety.

 

Plant Lust-Love in a Mist

There is a white and pink variety

Love-in-a-Mist, aka Ragged Lady, or Persian Jewels, is a hardy annual with fine, thread like leaves and intricate 1½ in. flowers at the end of each branch. An excellent cut flower, Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena, forms interesting horned seed capsules  surrounded by ferny mist-like foliage and are beautiful in dried arrangements. Plants grow to 1½ ft. tall and prefer cool weather. If you let the flowers go to seed, they will often self slow and come up the next year without any work on your part.

Seedlings emerge in early spring
Seedlings emerge in early spring
Love in a Mist
Love in a Mist

Aptly named, Love in a Mist, is only available by seeds, and has become one of my favorite cool weather flowers. For more on growing early spring cold loving flowers, go to my post on Cool Flowers.  Direct sow the seeds and press into moist soil in early spring, and you are sure to have a nice clump of Love in a Mist.

The seed pods are as attractive as the flowers
The seed pods are as attractive as the flowers

Blue, mauve, pink, purple, and white blooms clothed in a lacy netting of greenery, this is an old-fashioned heirloom favorite for fresh or dried flowers.

Nigella
Nigella or Love in a Mist

Scattering the seed in a cleared area that has been raked to loosen the soil, is the easiest way to sow the seeds. I walk over the area to press the seeds firmly into the ground so there is good soil contact.

Attractive seed pods form after flowers are done
Attractive seed pods form after flowers are done
There is a white and pink variety
There is a white and pink variety

Where winters are mild, like USDA zones 8 or 9, seed can be sown in the late winter or fall, and by making successive sowings, you can ensure a continuous supply of cut flowers. Flowers are excellent for cutting, with the horned seed capsules highly decorative in dried arrangements. Deer tend to leave this little beauty alone.

Love in a Mist available at the Monticello Shop

 

The black chunky seeds contained in the seed capsule have a strong aroma and taste, and have notes of onion, oregano, and black pepper, thus are used in cooking. The seeds have many health benefits. They carry antioxidant properties helping with several inflammation issues, especially on the skin.

Use as a cut flower
Use as a cut flower

Love in a Mist seeds also have an antihistamine element and can aid in assisting with sore throats. Used in the traditional Naan bread of Indian cooking, they are also called black cumin. If you aren’t interested in using them in your culinary adventures, save some for sprinkling in the garden in the spring.

Intricate flower of Love in a Mist
Intricate flower of Love in a Mist

12 Steps for a Spring Jump-Start

Splitting up a hosta plant

The grass is starting to green up and bulbs are peeking through the soil and spring is around the corner. Gardening chores come fast and furious once warm weather hits and sometimes you don’t have time to fit all the tasks in. To jump-start your gardening year, you can hit the ground running early to get a head start. Late winter is my favorite time to get many of the spring jobs done or at least started, to lessen the springtime stress of overload.

Winter aconites pushing up through the snow
Winter aconites pushing up through the snow
  • Weeding-My top priority in late winter/early spring is keeping weeds under control. Cold weather weeds such as chickweed and mustard are much easier to hand weed when small. Plus, the weeds haven’t gone to seed yet to spread around. Adopt a policy of a little weeding often to reduce your weeding burden.
Weed early before they go to seed
Weed early before they go to seed
  • Soil Test-Everything starts with good soil. Many nurseries or extension offices offer soil testing services. Take advantage of these by finding out what nutrients your soil needs by submitting a soil sample.
  • Fertilize-Fertilize trees and ornamentals with a balanced granular fertilizer when the soil is dry. I use an old coffee can with a plastic lid with perforated holes to sprinkle the recommended amount around the plant and water in. If you are an organic gardener, apply a layer of compost around the plant.
  • Rake-Rake out loose leaves and debris from your gardening beds so that mulch can be applied evenly. Be sure to remove pockets of old leaves that get caught up in twiggy shrubs.
Pockets of leaves stick in twiggy shrubs
Pockets of leaves stick in twiggy shrubs
  • Mulch-Apply an organic mulch about 2 inches thick avoiding the base of trees and shrubs. This will help retain moisture during dry spells, reduce weeds, and improve soil structure. Don’t create mulch volcanoes around your trees as this can invite insect damage and disease.
Don't over mulch!
Don’t over mulch!
  • Lawn-Rake out old thatch and remove weedy patches, seeding bare areas. Scratch the grass seed into the top layer so that seed has good contact with the soil. Spread a pre-emergent to stop weeds from germinating and a “Weed and Feed” to promote strong roots.
  • Prune-With leaves absent, you can easily see damaged and broken limbs that need to be removed. Renewal pruning to renovate older overgrown shrubs should be done now before they put on new growth. Cut back to the ground shrubs such as butterfly bush, spirea, hypericum, and hardy hibiscus. Knock Out Roses should be cut to about 10 inches high to keep these manageable.
Cut back Knock Out Rose
Cut back Knock Out Rose
Cut back your perennials and shrubs and mulch in early spring
Cut back your perennials and shrubs and mulch in early spring
By mid-summer, they will have grown back!
By mid-summer, they will have grown back!
Prune shrubs before leafing out
Prune shrubs before leafing out
  • Container Refresh-Remove the top 3-4 inches of old potting medium from your containers and replace with fresh compost and potting soil. Make sure the drainage holes aren’t clogged with old roots. I use a metal rod to punch through the fibrous roots.
Punch through the drainage hole to ensure good drainage
Punch through the drainage hole to ensure good drainage
Add some fresh soil to your containers
Add some fresh soil to your containers
  • Seed Starting-Start seeds of tomatoes/peppers/eggplants indoors for transplanting in the spring. Outdoors plant seeds of cold tolerant annuals such as snapdragons, larkspur, poppies, and nigella. See my post on Seed Starting for pointers.
I start my seeds in February
I start my seeds in February
Seedlings ready to be transplanted into the garden
Seedlings ready to be transplanted into the garden

 

  • Perennial Dividing-Now is the perfect time to split up and divide overgrown perennials such as iris and hosta and move them around. Waiting later in the season to divide a fully-grown plant can be cumbersome and hard work. Plus, the perennials have a longer time to root in to produce more prolific flowers. I like to divide when the first stems with leaves are emerging.
Splitting up a hosta plant
Splitting up a hosta plant
  • Tools-Clean rust and mud off your tools and oil and sharpen them. Organize your potting or tool shed so that you can find things in a hurry.
Easy to see and great for airing out your gloves
Easy to see and great for airing out your gloves
Organize your tool shed
Organize your tool shed
  • Compost-I always clean out my compost pile by spreading the rich loamy material around my ornamentals and in my vegetable garden. If you don’t have a compost pile, now is the time to start one. Using a length of snow fencing attached to metal stakes is the easiest way to start either a large or small one. A gate can even be created with a hinged portion of the snow fence.
My snow fence compost pile with gate
My snow fence compost pile with gate

Winter Aconite-The Bulb That Keeps Giving

Winter aconites pushing up through the snow

 

Sunny yellow blooms fringed with a green ruff green poking through snow is my first sign that spring has sprung. Eranthis hyamalis, in the buttercup family, is a spring ephemeral, which means that it is a short-lived plant above ground with a burst of blooms, then disappears, remaining under ground until next winter.

From a few corms, I have many
From a few corms, I have many

Beaming a golden light in the cloudy winter days, I welcome the appearance of this charming little bulbs that appear in the slightest bit of warmth in winter. Popping up when it is warm(above 40 degrees) with a little bit of sunshine, they retract back in the ground, if cold wintry weather returns, and wait. When everything else surrounding the bulbs looks dead and lifeless, these cheerful little splashes of sunshine appear.

They have lovely frilled foliage surrounding the golden flower
They have lovely frilled foliage surrounding the golden flower; here the flower is finished and the foliage remains for several weeks, before disappearing

Easily Grown in Shade or Sun

The plant takes advantage of the deciduous woodland canopy, flowering at the time of maximum sunlight reaching the forest floor, then completely dying back to its underground tuber after flowering. So, for about eight weeks starting in late February, I see the plant above ground, celebrate its arrival and the bees devour it! Flowering when little else is in bloom, the blossom is a very important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees. On a nice sunny day above 45 degrees in late winter, the bees are darting in and out of the blossoms, quickly taking advantage of the brief show of color.

Winter Aconites have a pretty green ruff surrounding the flower
Winter Aconites have a pretty green ruff surrounding the flower

 

Bees flock to the early offerings of nectar and pollen
Bees flock to the early offerings of nectar and pollen

Starting/Transplanting 

I started my Winter Aconites with tubers which resemble a dried pea by planting them one to two inches deep and waiting to see how many emerged. Only about 25% of the corms sprouted but that was enough to start my stock going for years to come as they will seed in. I have read that the little flowers can become invasive by reseeding in odd places, but I welcome all comers! I also transplant the clumps when in flower or “in green” and separate them and scatter them in my planting beds to make future blankets of yellow.

Easily transplanted while green is done in early March to increase my stock
Easily transplanted while green is done in early March to increase my stock
Bees bathe in the pollen
Bees bathe in the pollen

Pollinator Friendly

Such a cheerful little flower that is attractive to all pollinators is welcome in my garden anytime. A good companion to Snowdrops, Winter Aconites will live for years without any disturbance. The flowers push up through a stand of Germander and other thick ground covers and stick around for weeks, opening when the sun comes out, and closing when nightfall comes. Even successful under large shade trees, like Sycamores, these little bulbs are tough and resilient once they get going.

Aconites are good companions to snowdrops, photo by Patricia Reynolds

 

Crescent Garden Planters-Best Self Watering Containers on the Market

White and black container in Crescent planter

What planters are light weight, 100% recyclable, will not fade or crack, withstand harsh weather and UV rays, and offer a 10 year warranty?  Drum roll please……… Crescent Garden Planters.  Oh, did I mention they are self watering? Containing a very large reservoir, I never had to water my Crescent Planter last summer,  not once! We did have a lot of rainfall in the summer, but I had to water all my other containers periodically. I have embedded the video explaining how the Trudrop system works below:

Trudrop

Starting the planter in the spring using a white and black color scheme-I called it my tuxedo pot-I enjoyed it on my patio all season long. Adding some granular long-lasting fertilizer like Osmocote to the soil, ensured that I didn’t have to add any additional fertilizer. Or if you prefer, you can add a liquid fertilizer and pour over the plants once a month. It really was my most successful experiment in low maintenance gardening! Having tried many self-watering containers, I had to see and experience it to believe it.

Cross section of a planter
Cross section of a planter
White and black container in Crescent planter
White and black container in Crescent planter

 

These turquoise shapes tell you if the reservoir is full on the container;one of the shapes isn't fully exposed to let you know that it is almost full
These turquoise crescents tell you if the reservoir is full on the container;one of the crescents isn’t fully expressed to let you know that it is almost full

The Crescent Garden Planters have a patented tru-drop self-watering system that is ideal both for indoor and outdoor use. Unlike traditional systems this will autoregulate even with rain water to make sure you have enough water when you need it and not too much when you do not need it. You just pop off the clear cover and insert your hose to fill the reservoir up, which will then be gradually used to water the container as needed.

Water alert system
Water alert system

Perfect if you travel a lot when you have containers outdoors or indoors. The enclosed water supply or reservoir holds enough water to last 6 weeks or more, depending on weather conditions. If used outdoors, there is an overfill drain designed to drain excess rain water.

Double wall construction
Double wall construction

Watering from the bottom up lets your plants take only the amount of water they need and lowers the risk of fungus and disease.

Crescent planters come in a variety of shapes and sizes
Crescent planters come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes

Food safe for edibles is another attribute, and I will try growing some edible plants this summer in my planter. For the winter care, just make sure the container is drained if exposed to freezing temps. Available on Amazon and various local garden centers, I am going to add to my collection every year.

 

Plant Lust-Dove Tree

Dove tree in full bloom
Davidia involucrata, commonly called dove tree, is a tree that I have known about for twenty years, but rarely have seen in the U.S. On my travels through the UK,  I have seen many beautiful specimens and am inspired to plant my own. Now I am ready to get one, if I can find one.
Creamy white flowers flutter in the breeze
Creamy white flowers flutter in the breeze
Native to woodlands in central China, Dove tree is a deciduous tree that typically grows 20-40’ tall with a broad pyramidal habit. Flowering in May, the white fluttery flowers look like handkerchiefs (it is also known as the handkerchief tree or ghost tree), this treasure is sure to draw a lot of attention when it blooms.  Here are the facts from the Missouri Botanical Garden:
Common Name: Dove tree
Type: Tree
Family: Nyssaceae Native Range: Southwestern China
Zone: 6 to 8
Height: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Spread: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Red (flowers) and white (bracts)
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Flowering Tree
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Good Fall
Fruit: Showy
Dove tree in full bloom
Dove tree in full bloom at Hidcote

Culture

Grown in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade, Davidia can take 10 years to flower from seed, and it may not flower regularly after that. I am sure that is a factor that stops it being more widely used, but there are newer cultivars, namely at Broken Arrow Nursery, that bloom much sooner. Some have variegated foliage, so I am tempted to try one of these.

Flowers litter the ground when finished blooming
Flowers litter the ground when finished blooming

Red-anthered flowers in rounded clusters bloom in April-May. They really show off in a good wind and look exactly like fluttering handkerchiefs!  Look at this video I took at Miserden Gardens in the UK in May.

The creamy white  bracts flutter in the slightest breeze, and, from a distance, look like white doves sitting in the tree, hence the common name. Flowers are followed by round, golf ball-sized fruits on 2-3” hanging stems.

Golf ball sized fruits form on the tree
Golf ball sized fruits form on the tree

Fall color is variable ranging from dull to bright oranges and reds, depending on location. I wouldn’t depend on it for good fall color, as it is worth it alone for the spring flowering.

Dove tree in the landscape at Miserden Gardens in the UK
Dove tree in the landscape at Miserden Gardens in the UK

To complete this perfect little specimen tree, there are no serious insect or disease problems. I will keep you posted on whether I find a transplant of this tree in my travels.

Dove tree flower
Dove tree flower

 

The Year in Review-Top Garden Posts For 2018

 

It’s that time of year again, where I review my most viewed posts from all over the world and I was surprised at some of the posts that were at the top of the heap. The top ten countries that view my blog in descending order are the U.S. Canada, UK, Australia, India, Germany, France, South Africa, Brazil, and New Zealand. I am always amazed at this! India is near the top and reading my blog in great numbers? And Australia and New Zealand are reading too! That just goes to show you that gardening topics are a universal theme.

Gardening is a universal theme
Gardening is a universal theme

I have about 5,000 followers that receive regular emails when I post and my average viewings per day is around 250 to 300 readers. And for the year, I ran around 100,000 visits or page views.

For 2018, I gathered the most popular posts for the year, some of which are old and are continuously viewed from years ago, but others that are new. I work on some posts a year in advance. For instance, I am working on Christmas ones for next year. And I am working on a book with all new projects.

So, here are my top ten posts from 2018.

Top 10 

Planted container in an old bundt pan
Planted container in an old bundt pan

1-Containers With Pizzazz

This is a golden oldie. Container plantings are one of my favorite things to put together, not just in spring, but all year long. Most people do their containers in the spring and are done! But I am coming up with ideas all year long. And with the recent addition of a greenhouse in my backyard, I am going coming up with lots of new ideas. Seasonal, and non-traditional containers are my specialty.

Shade container
Shade container
Succulents planted in truck
Succulents planted in truck
An easy but dramatic shade container
An easy but dramatic shade container

2-Christmas at Winterthur

Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur, picture by Amy Sparwasser

Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, has a tradition going back to 1986, of decorating a large tree with dried flowers. And the dried flowers aren’t your grandmother’s musty dusty dried arrangements that dotted the home. These are air dried and silica gel dried (think of those little packets that come with new purchases) to retain their jewel like tones that almost seem fresh. I made my own miniature dried flower tree that I will post about next season in time for the Christmas season.

Miniature dried flower tree
Miniature dried flower tree

3-DIY Birdseed Ornaments

This one was a surprise. There are a lot of bird watchers out there and there must be some super hungry birds that are getting a smorgasbord of home made treats. Easy to put together for anyone, these make great gifts for your bird loving friends.

Bird seed ornaments come in all shapes and sizes
Bird seed ornaments come in all shapes and sizes
Great gifts for the bird lover on your list
Great gifts for the bird lover on your list

4-Taking Root: Delaware Botanic Garden’s Progress Report

Meadow at Delaware Botanic Gardens
Meadow at Delaware Botanic Garden at Pepper Creek, photo by Ruth Rogers Clausen

Put this garden on your radar. It is a world class garden taking shape in Dagsboro, Delaware- on my doorstep! Designed by world renowned Dutch designer, Piet Oudolf (think High Line!), it has been in the making for some years and is scheduled to open in 2019. The development of this garden has been written about on my blog and I will keep you posted as it opens to the public.

 

Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski
Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski
Brand new Greenhouses have been erected
Brand new Greenhouses have been erected

5-Decorating the White House 2018

Though I didn’t participate in decorating the White House in 2018, I have done it three times in the past and have lots of friends who sent me updates and pictures of the current decorations. Take a look!

Closeup of the Blue Room tree, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Closeup of the Blue Room tree, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Gingerbread House in 2018, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Gingerbread House in 2018, Photo by Marci Lindsey
My volunteer aprons from past years
My volunteer aprons from past years

6-“Hairy Balls” -A Different Kind of Milkweed

Monarch caterpillars cover the Balloon Plant or Hairy Balls  Milkweed

A plant oddity that takes people by surprise when they see it growing in my garden. Having grown it for years, I am tickled when people exclaim over it.  Easy to grow and attractive to Monarch caterpillars, this is a fixture in my garden.

Hairy Balls are fun to arrange with
Hairy Balls are fun to arrange with

7-Pesticide Free Nurseries and Seed Companies

There is a real interest and need for sourcing of pesticide free nurseries and seed companies. Posting this information brought in a lot of comments and appreciation from gardeners who strive to garden organically as much as possible.

8-Miniature Gardens-Whimsical Creations 

My love of creating miniature little worlds has been with me as long as I can remember. The Philadelphia Flower Show has some of the best examples around and I visit every spring for my inspiration. I like to change my miniature gardens with the season and decorate my home with them.Miniature garden seen at Philadelphia Flower Show

Miniature garden seen at Philadelphia Flower Show

A seasonal holiday miniature garden
A seasonal holiday miniature garden
Halloween miniature garden
Halloween miniature garden

9-From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade

As a landscape designer, I am frequently asked;  “What can I plant in shade under a tree?” Besides Pachysandra, Vinca, and Ivy, in this post I give you lots of plants you might not have thought of that work much better than the “big three”. There are so many perennials suitable for this hard to work with area, and this post give you information on what works.

At the Bloedel Reserve near Seattle
Brunnera variegata, a great ground cover for shady locations that deer won’t eat

10-Floating Beauties

Bowl arrangements are easy and great for entertaining
Bowl arrangements are easy to make and great for entertaining-this picture is from Chanticleer, in Wayne, PA

Bowl arrangements are for those who are too intimidated to arrange flowers. I started making these with leftovers after making a floral arrangement and sometimes like them better than the arrangement that I spent more time on. No mechanics are needed other than a wide open bowl and a few flowers and /or some foliage. Staged inside or outdoors, I have made these in the dead of winter with some odds and ends from my garden.

A winter arrangement with nandina and dried alliums
A winter arrangement with nandina, red twigs, and dried alliums

Comments about my posts are very much appreciated and I always read them and learn from them.

Thanks to all my readers out there, where ever you are, and have a great New Year!

‘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

 

Plant Oddity – 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