Winter Blues-Blue Poppy Envy

  Blue poppy

Only on display at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for two to three weeks, the Himalayan Blue Poppies are stunners and considered a rare garden treasure. Almost extinct in their native habitat of Bhutan, photographers flock to Longwood to capture some photos of these amazingly true blue spectacles.  Sporting deep sky blue crepey petals with mauve highlights and a ring of golden stamens and anthers, the plant is much sought after to add to gardens.

blue poppy

Unfortunately, in North America it can only be grown in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and parts of New England successfully. Meconopsis grandis is the national flower of Bhutan, a country high up in the Himalayas, above 10,000 feet, and wants cool, cool temperatures, like 45 to 50 degrees F. The conservatory at Longwood Gardens is certainly warmer than this so the flower is fleeting in its beauty.

Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens
The Winter Blues Festival is all about blue flowers at Longwood until March 25
Blue hydrangeas and white orchid balls decorate the conservatory at Longwood Gardens
Pride-of -Madeira, Echium candicans is part of the display
One last petal hanging on
One last petal hanging on

Once considered a myth and brought back to the west by plant hunters, the Blue Poppy is a challenge to grow for the most experienced gardeners and a mark of distinction for any gardener succeeding in its cultivation.

On the cusp of opening
On the cusp of opening

Requiring moist and cool conditions, Longwood Gardens, one of the few places to see them, forces the variety Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ into bloom every March and increases their number each year because of their popularity.

Thousands of pots of Blue Poppies at Longwood Gardens in the production greenhouse, photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens

blue poppy
Photo courtesy of Pam Corckran

Drawing large numbers of people, especially photographers getting that perfect shot, the colors are unbelievable-saturated blues with streaks of mauve plum tones- on a large 4-5 inch flower.

Showing mauve highlights is a sign of stress
Showing mauve highlights is a sign of stress

A shade of blue rarely seen in other flowers,  the foliage is also stunning with grass-green hairy stems and leaves. Longwood Gardens gets their Blue Poppy plants shipped to them from an Alaska grower in the fall and they grow them in perfectly controlled greenhouse conditions to force them into bloom for display in the spring. Longwood has two different batches that it refreshes the flowers with so they can extend the brief bloom time for visitors.

Blue poppy

Growing in the warm clime of the conservatory, the mauve highlights were evidence as a sign of stress. The ephemeral quality of their blooms is part of their attraction and charm and visitors flock to see them.

blue poppy

Demanding a rich loamy well draining soil in partial sun in cool conditions is the primary ingredient to successfully growing this garden gem. Way too hot in my mid-Atlantic climate, I get to photograph them and enjoy them at Longwood Gardens in the spring. For more information on how to grow them if you are in a better suited climate than mine, go to Himalayan Blue Poppy Care.

Every year at Longwood ,the Blue Poppies are used in different areas of the Conservatory

blue poppy
Photo courtesy of Pam Corckran

For my post on growing cool season poppies, go to Cool Season Plants  or Poppy Love. To see the famed Blue Poppies, go to Longwood Gardens by the end of March.

 

It is a double treat at Longwood with the Orchid Extravaganza
Blue and white at Longwood Gardens

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.

 

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

 

Trio of Cauliflower Recipes- A Super Veggie

Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad
Cauliflower at the supermarket
Cauliflower at the supermarket

Cauliflower is in. Kale is out.

Come on….admit it, you are eating way more cauliflower than kale. Searches for cauliflower rice recipes are up 135 percent on pinterest in the last couple of years. I wrote about Cauliflower being an up and coming veggie in 2016 at Gardening Trends for 2016.

Cauliflower, Purple of Sicily
Cauliflower, Purple of Sicily from National Garden Bureau

Flower Power-Cauliflower is the next Kale

Traveling to lots of nurseryman’s and flower shows, cutting edge gardens, and keeping up with my blog, gives me a good handle on what is up and coming in the gardening world. Some of these are trends have been around and are still going strong, like Cauliflower!

According to the National Gardening Bureau who names the ‘plants of the year’, 2017 marked the year of the Brassica. Brassica vegetables, including bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, rutabagas, and turnips are popular around the world today and are enjoying a renaissance.

Growing Cauliflower (taken from the National Gardening Bureau)

Cauliflower

Cauliflower plants prefer to grow without heat stress and do best in fall or in areas with mild summers.   Popular types include the standard white varieties and more exotic colors and shapes also available to home gardeners. In recent years cooked cauliflower has become popular as a replacement for potatoes or flour in many recipes (like mashed potatoes or pizza crust).White types are most often self-blanching- meaning inner leaves cover the curds and protect them from the sun. Varieties include Flamenco F1 (summer production), Toledo F1 (fall production), Snowball, Snowbowl F1, Symphony F1.

Romanesco types are a special type of green cauliflower.  The head is a collection of spiraled florets and will be a great way to teach your kids about the Fibonacci numbers (math during dinner!).  Romanesco is great for roasting – it is a bit drier than regular cauliflower. Varieties include Veronica F1, Romanesco. Another plant that is modeled on the Fibonacci number is the Sunflower.

Romanesco Veronica
Romanesco Veronica from NGB

Novelty Types are also a lot of fun for the garden. Try a purple or orange variety! They have a similar flavor but add an unexpected pop of color to a veggie tray. Varieties include Graffiti F1 (purple head), Cheddar F1 (orange head), and Vitaverde F1 (green head).

Cauliflower Cheddar Seminis  from NGB

 

The rise of cauliflower, a cruciferous vitamin packed veggie, that has a unique ability to absorb flavors from other ingredients, rather like a chameleon, has been a long time coming. From cauliflower grilled steaks to peanut butter brownies, cauliflower has landed on top of the heap for a lot of people. California Pizza Kitchen is even offering a cauliflower crust option on their pizzas. And for people who are on Keto diets or who just want to cut down on carbs, this is a great alternative.

I have grown cauliflower called Purple of Sicily
I have grown cauliflower called Purple of Sicily
Cauliflower peanut butter brownies
Cauliflower peanut butter brownies

Cauliflower Peanut Butter Brownies

I tested making these brownies and they were some of the most flavorful moist brownies that I have ever had! Forget these have cauliflower, they are really good.

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Steamed Cauliflower Florets I steamed these and smashed them into a 2 Cup measuring cup, and place them in the food processor
  • 1 1/4 Cup Dark Chocolate Morsels Melt these in a microwave and stir until creamy
  • 1/2 Cup Cream Cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp Peanut Butter, smooth or chunky I only had on hand chunky, but the food processor makes it smooth
  • 1/2 Cup Almond Flour You can use regular flour also
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Cup White Chocolate Morsels
  • 1/2 Cup Peanuts (optional) I used unsalted
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Peanut Butter Morsels

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 container

  2. In a food processor, process the 2 cups of  cauliflower until completely smooth – this is important as if it is not smooth; it will result in a grainy textured brownie

  3. Add the cream cheese, peanut butter, eggs and sugar then blend again until smooth
  4. Add the almond flour, baking powder, vanilla, and melted chocolate morsels, and blend well

  5. Spoon ½ the mixture into the container, then scatter the Peanut butter morsels, white chocolate morsels, and peanuts over the layer

  6. Spoon the remaining mixture into the pan spreading to cover all the morsels,  then bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until an inserted fork is clean

Basically, it’s the vegetable for the perfect time. I grow it every year with varying success and I had good luck with the Purple Sicily variety last year.

Cauliflower comes in several colors
Cauliflower comes in several colors

Full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, this is a power vegetable. The sulfur compounds it contains, which give off that sharp smell when steamed, may prevent some types of cancers and fight other kinds.

A tower of cauliflower
A tower of cauliflower

My next top recipe for Cauliflower is Cauliflower Gnocchi, which is one of Trader Joe’s most popular frozen foods. I wanted to make my own and searched on-line and used a recipe that I found with some revisions. My inspiration was finding riced cauliflower at Sam’s Club. And to simplify, I don’t boil the gnocchi I broil it. With so many people on paleo or keto diets, this one should satisfy that carb craving with very little carbs at all.

Cauliflower Gnocchi

Not boiled, like other gnocchis which can take a lot of time and mess, these are broiled to make a succulent cheesy bite; they are quite delicious and makes 4 dozen

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 3 -12 Ounce Bags Riced Cauliflower Steamed
  • 2 Cups Shredded Cheese, mixed varieties You can use any type you want, I had on hand cheddar and swiss, the recipe called for mozarella
  • 1 Cup Parmesan Cheese, Shredded
  • 1/3 Cup Almond Flour, extra for rolling
  • Kosher Salt, to taste
  • 2 Eggs Lightly beaten

Instructions

  1. Steam riced cauliflower until tender, I used an instant pot on 3 minutes

    After steaming, dump out onto a clean dish towel and squeeze the moisture out
  2. Cool slightly, and dump on a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. This is important to do, so the gnocchi sticks together. Transfer squeezed cauliflower to a large bowl

  3. While the cauliflower is still hot, add 2 Cups of shredded cheese, eggs, almond flour, and  1 Cup of parmesan cheese. Season with salt and mix together with your hands.

  4. Form into four balls and refrigerate until firm on a cookie sheet, about 30 minutes

  5. Roll out each ball into a log abour 9" long and 1" wide on cutting board dusted with more almond flour 

  6. Slice with a sharp knife into 1" pieces and place on greased cookie sheets
  7. Brush with butter and bake for about 10 minutes. Finish up under the broiler for a minute until brown 

  8. Garnish with microgreens or other greens like spinach

Cauliflower gnocchi served with microgreens, avacado and a slab of tilapia makes a complete meal
Cauliflower gnocchi served with fresh spinach, avocado and a slab of tilapia makes a complete meal
Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad
Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad

Broccoli & Cauliflower Salad

A great potluck dish that is beautiful and simple to make. People will be licking the bowl!

Ingredients

  • 6-8 Cups Mixed colors, broccoli and cauliflower, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1/3 Cup Red onion, minced
  • 1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries
  • 1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds
  • 2 Cups Shredded Cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 Cup Mayonnaise Try Wasabi mayo for an added kick!
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cut up all your broccoli and cauliflower in bite sized pieces

  2. In large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar and let sit for 15 minutes

  3. Add rest of ingredients and stir to coat.

Next thing I am going to try, is Cauliflower Fried Rice. Instead of using rice, you use riced cauliflower.

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

 

‘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

 

The Year of the Pepper

In the veggie garden this year, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash all bombed. Rotting zucchini plants were everywhere and tomatoes that peaked early and then languished was the norm.  The mid-Atlantic had record rainfall and it seemed every day there was a chance of showers. And shower it did! Non-stop for five solid months, it was mud season all summer.

Raised beds would have helped with my veggies garden as they help with drainage

From May through July 2018, much of the East Coast, especially the Mid-Atlantic, experienced rainfall up to 300% of normal according to NOOA. The soggy summer was described this way by NOOA, “in June and July, the epicenter for heaviest rains became focused over the Mid-Atlantic, as monthly rains near Washington, D.C. through central Pennsylvania easily eclipsed 200% of normal”. The rains here in Maryland have been so heavy that May to July was the wettest in the state’s 124 history. This pattern continued into October. Also, the heat was turned up so I call this summer our “tropical rain forest year”. It felt heavy and humid every day which translates to Heat + Humidity = More Disease. 

Mad Hatter is one of my favorite varieties; If you keep them on the plant, they turn red

The wet weather affected my vegetable garden yields greatly, and any vining veggies, like cucumbers, squash, and melons, totally succumbed to disease from wet conditions.  But to my total surprise, my pepper crop reveled in the rain and heat and broke all records for producing quantities of peppers. We have been eating peppers at every meal- sweet, hot, and slightly hot are all producing prodigiously even into the end of October.

Piles of peppers

I used all AAS Winners (All American Selections National and Regional Winners) for seed which have been tested for garden performance all over North America from a panel of expert judges. Reliable new varieties that have proved their superior garden performance in trial gardens is the way to go for me. Like a stamp of approval from experienced gardeners, my AAS peppers included: Cayenne Red Ember, Hungarian Mexican, Escamillo, Mexican Sunset, Habanero Roulette, Mad Hatter, Pretty N Sweet, and Mama Mia Giallo.

I grew some bell peppers for stuffing also

Growing all my plants from seed, I planted about 20 different transplants out in May and forgot about them for the next two months. Peppers thrive on neglect and yes, I neglected them while I constantly tried planting new cucumbers and squash to no avail. I didn’t harvest one. But when I totally despaired of my vegetable garden, the peppers started to come in and are still producing.

Growing some of my peppers in containers was the best choice I made this year. The ones in containers excelled and when frost started to hit in late October, I whisked them into my greenhouse, where they are still producing.

I placed my containers of peppers in my greenhouse

Peppers 3 Ways

What to do with all this bounty? I have tried these three ways this season.

Drying peppers
Piles of dried peppers; I store in the freezer as I found that they got moldy otherwise

Freeze Drying

Wash peppers and let dry. Cut in half and lay on a dehydrator tray and dry for about 24 hours. Store the dried peppers in plastic freezer baggies, and store in freezer. Pull them out as needed.

Freezing

Wash peppers and let dry. Chop peppers up into pieces and place in freezer bags. I like to mix red and green pepper together. I freeze them in small quantities that are recipe-ready.

Place chopped peppers into freezer bags squeezing any excess air out

Blackened

My favorite treatment by far: Wash your peppers and dry. Heat up some canola oil in a fry pan until hot and sizzling. Dump your peppers in one layer and stir to flip them to all sides until blackened. Squeeze juice of one lime into the pan and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Eat by biting the pepper right off the stem that will include the seeds. Delicious! Watch out for the hot ones!

Saute and blacken
Ready to eat

 

Toad Lilies-Orchids of the Fall

Toad Lilies, watercolor by Laura Jones

An under-used and under-appreciated perennial in the U.S, Tricyrtus or Toad Lily, is gaining in popularity. Called toad lilies because of the spotting like a toad, these beautiful flowers thrive in moist deep shade to partial shade and come back year after year. In addition, the flowers have warty, sack-like bumps at the base of the flowers that appear “toadish” to some. The bumps are actually nectaries where the nectar is stored.

The bumps at the base of the flower are the nectaries

Toad Lilies, Tricyrtus hirta, are in their fall glory right now in mid-October. Growing all year-long, with layer upon layer of foliage sprays, in October the flowers surprise me and emerge from the axels of the leaves with diminutive spotted flowers. Deer tend to leave them alone for the most part, but there are exceptions where I have seen them nibbled.

Hairy spotted flowers look like tiny orchids
Arching stems display the flowers

Growing on upright arching stems the entire plant is attractive. An easy to grow perennial, more people should consider growing these gems in the shady areas of their garden, along with hostas and astilbe.

 

Lasting for weeks, the flowers look like jewels on the stems

Filling an important blooming gap in the garden, these plants bloom in October into November when few other plants are flowering. In the lily family, Tricyrtus is a Japanese species of hardy perennials found growing on shaded rocky cliffs in Japan.

Bees love the flowers

Because there isn’t much blooming in the garden in October, bees flock to them and they are an important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees when there isn’t much for them to forage from. And since we have had a record amount of rainfall this summer, the toad lilies are lush and beautiful.

Toad Lilies drape over a wall

For a complete evaluation of this interesting species, check out the notes published by the Chicago Botanical Garden .

 

“Hairy Balls”- A Different Kind of Milkweed

I love arranging with “Hairy Balls” for a unique centerpiece
Hairy Balls starting to form tennis ball size  pods

Visitors looking over my garden in the fall, always ask what the strange-looking plant is that is forming large hairy 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 keep 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

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.

The ripe balls turn tan and burst open with seeds

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.

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 Milkweed 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