October 29, 2006

Green Thumb Sunday

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Palace Purple heuchera still in bloom in October.

Heuchera micrantha 'Palaca Purple' flowers

Previous post on the topic of Heuchera

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October 28, 2006

I succumbed to temptation

Hippeastrum 'Apple Blossom'In theory, I'm not buying any more plants now, right? I don't have much room, and besides, if I'm going to be moving there just isn't any point, right? Right.

Wrong. How could I say no yet again to an Apple Blossom amaryllis at supermarket prices? Especially when it was freshly arrived and hadn't had time to deteriorate under their tender care? My last amaryllis was a supermarket buy too, and it has been happily blooming for me for years now.

Which puts me in a dilemma. I have three sleeping amaryllises. When am I going to wake them up? One thing for sure, I'll do it one at a time, to stretch out the pleasure over the winter.

Did you know that there is no botanical necessity to push your amaryllises (say that three times quickly...) into dormancy? I put mine out every summer to charge up on solar energy, keeping them well fertilized with a high phosphorus fertilizer (the middle number represents phosphorus) so the bulbs will bulk up as much as possible. But I often let them keep growing when I bring them in. They happily keep chugging along and bloom on their own schedule somewhere around early spring. This year though, I left them outside quite late, and they reacted to the declining sunlight and temperatures by going dormant all on their own. I'll just leave them in their pots and store them in a cool, dark place until it's time to prod them into growth again. Say, one for Christmas, one for mid-February, and one for the end of March? That sounds about right, but I'm willing to bet I won't be able to hold out quite that long. Still, with both my Christmas cactuses (cacti, if you like Latin plurals) and my cyclamens sporting flower buds, I might be able to tough it out a bit longer, grey gloomy weather or no.

Previous post on the subject of Amaryllis

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October 27, 2006

Sitting pretty

I wish I could take credit for the little pumpkin, but I can't. Everything else was gathered from the back yard: heuchera and dogwood leaves, pine twigs and cones, and one tiny maple leaf that had not yet started curling. A nice centrepiece for my son's birthday!

Pumpkin and friends

I know it doesn't look like a professional arrangement, but I'll let you in on a little secret - I like it better this way. Somehow, if it's too perfect I almost don't see it anymore. Like all those models in make-up ads, they start to look the same and, as beautiful as they are, anonymously bland. I like to see a little quirky personality.

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October 26, 2006

Warm me up, Wilma!

It's starting to get chilly around here! See how red my cheeks are getting? You've got a nice warm fuzzy sweater, give me a big hug!

Oenothera fruticosa and Stachys lanata

As you can see, the sundrops turn red at the first light touch of frost. It was a very light touch too; the ones in the more sheltered back yard are still green and the roses near the house are still blooming.

Strangely enough, the tuberous begonias have been zapped and the hanging begonia hasn't. I don't know whether the hanging begonia is naturally tougher, or that the fact it's about four feet off the ground made the difference.

The lamb's ear, Stachys lanata, (alternative botanical names:, S. byzantina, S. olympica) is the common invasive variety. A neighbour gave me a couple of babies this spring in a supreme act of selflessness. I dug up the ones she would have weeded out and took them home... (It's always a bit of a warning when neighbours will happily part with a plant, you know.)

It was quite a shock to me earlier this year to discover that earwigs and sowbugs like munching on the leaves. You'd think the hairy texture would deter them, but no. I will have to remove the outside of the clump in spring to keep it under control, but I really do love the effect of the fuzzy grey leaves against the glossy green rose leaves behind them.

To my mind, lamb's ear is a great companion plant, providing a nice contrast in texture and colour to just about everything. On its own, it's not too exciting, but it does great backup. Doesn't have the voice for solo, but she can sure lay down a mean harmony. If I get fed up with its rambunctiousness, I'll probably go out and get one of the tamer cultivars. I just like the effect too much to give it up.

(Sorry I've been AWOL again. After being overly busy, I got overly tired and needed a couple of days just to rest.)

Previous post on the topic of Sundrops

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October 22, 2006

Green Thumb Sunday

Sunset and cat (photo credit to my daughter)

Sunset and cat

First snow (but still no frost!)

Snow on sedum

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October 19, 2006

Confessions of a cranky gardener

The weather's fair! The air is warm, the sun is shining! All's right with the world! Seize the day and the trowel and get your procrastinating butt out into the glories of nature and plant all those abused bulbs that have been sitting in their delivery box, lo these many days. Weeks.

Well, that's what I did.

But my back is not a happy camper and I quickly realized that planting those bulbs among the rosebushes was not going to be easy, even if I had a good back. The front beds needed a complete reorganization. Not going to happen.

I persevered and managed to get all the bulbs for the front squeezed into absurd little corners, discovering in the meanwhile that there are still spots in my garden that feel more like concrete than loam, despite all my attempts to amend the soil so far. These will get special attention with compost and leaves, but in the meanwhile...

Before heading back inside - and leaving the backyard bulbs for another day - I decided on the spur of the moment to pop the cannas out of the large pots at the end of the sidewalk. How hard could it be?

Stop laughing. It's not nice.

Those modest little tubers had exploded, giving no aboveground signs of it either, other than one puny little sprout. Not only had they anchored themselves with a ferocious determination to stay put, they had tangled their roots in with the ivy, geraniums and sedums as if to say, "I dare you!"

I was not to be outdone by mere tubers, and in the end I prevailed, growling and muttering, but I have never in my life had such difficulty prying plants out of pots. (Yes, that was growling and muttering, not cursing. I don't swear, but there are times when the temptation to do so is severe. This was one of those times. I'm glad you didn't choose that moment to walk by.)

Cana tubers

I've set them on newspaper to dry for a few days, and then I'll find the coolest spot I can to store them. Of course, after all of this I looked up cannas and found that most people recommend leaving them in the ground till frost has taken the foliage. Like, NOW they tell me. *grumble, grumble* Still, I have found many times that plants can be very forgiving, as well as illiterate, and as long as I don't let these babies either rot or dessicate, they should be quite impressive next year. Wish me luck.

Now I'll go nurse the scratches on my hands and rest my poor aching back. Why on earth do I do these things to myself? And there's still the back yard to do... *snarl* At least there's no roses back there.

Previous post on the topic of Cannas

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October 18, 2006

October bouquet

The refugees I am harbouring right now are not only in pots. When frost was threatening (an empty threat as it turned out), I ventured forth, clippers in hand, to bring in some of the nicer offerings of the October garden. In my case, that means roses, as the other inhabitants still sporting blooms are not the kind that prosper in a vase.

Refugee bouquet

Another tiny vase is filled with mini-roses exclusively. And seeing as the frost is holding off, I think I'll go out again in a few days and bring in another selection of just-opening roses.

This is a treat I don't indulge in during the summer. For one thing, it is easy to step outside and enjoy them whenever I want, and for another, my garden is just too small to be able to fill a lot of vases and still look good outside, especially because most of the perennials are just in their first or second year and blooms are still rather sparse. So I'm particularly enjoying this little display. Park a couple of candles around it and set it where the lace curtains form a backdrop, and it's almost as good as sitting in the garden.

Previous post on the topic of Roses

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October 17, 2006


They huddled by the back door, begging for mercy. So I let them in and they are now undergoing the fate of refugees everywhere, jammed together in temporary and inadequate accomodations while the government - me, in this case - decides what to do with them. Coleus and caladium, amaryllis and crown of thorns, ivy and oleander, cyclamens and ah yes, the cyclamens. These are not miserable, starving refugees at all. Their summer outside has agreed with them, and they are plump-cheeked and bright-eyed and much bigger than when they went out this spring.

Florist cyclamen

These are my seed-grown cyclamens, now about a year and a half old. I would be thrilled if they flowered for me, but the leaves are so beautiful, flowers are not necessary to attract admiring glances. I'll put them in a northeast window. I've tried southwest in the past, and they scorched. Although, come to think of it, having come in directly from outside, these ones might be able to handle it... Hmmm. I think I've talked myself into trying.

This tiny crown of thorns will definitely join its mother in the southwest window. These were cuttings I took as anti-theft insurance, (the big one was out front not far from a busy sidewalk) and it spent most of its summer tucked among garden plants as a cat deterrent. It stayed healthy, but didn't grow much in its not-so-sunny location. Crown of thorns often drop their leaves in response to an abrupt change in light and temperature, but after finishing their snit fit they grow a lovely new set, so it's not a major problem. So far the larger mother plant, much to my surprise, has accepted her new surroundings calmly, and other than cranking her flowers around to face the window, has maintained her poise admirably.

Crown of thorns cactus
I might even let the Christmas cacti in soon too. I noticed this morning that the big one is putting out flower buds already. Pregnancy is always helpful when trying to sway immigration officials.

Previous post on the topic of Cyclamens, Crown of thorns cactus

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October 16, 2006


You know what a foundling is, don't you? The whole "abandoned baby on the doorstep" thing? I bet you thought that only happened in 19th-century novels. Well, I'm here to tell you that it still happens today.

A couple of days ago, I opened my door on a chilly - though not freezing - day and I found this little darling shivering on my doorstep! I hustled in right inside into the warmth and took this picture to prove it.


I still haven't figured out if it's a boy or a girl. Or one of each.

What I do know is that I now have a potful of two varieties of pothos, which has got to be the closest thing to a foolproof houseplant in existence. It is very hard to make a pothos unhappy, although a severe spider mite infestation will do it. But pothos will survive low light, indifferent care, no fertilizer and even no soil. I've known people who have grown it for years in vases full of water.

I'm not too sure where this baby came from, although I have my suspicions. I am pleased to say that it is in perfect health. I've grown pothos before, golden pothos to be precise, which has a deep green leaf with bits of golden variegation to brighten it up. No golden pothos in this pot, but I will confess to having eyed the pale-leafed type with real envy at my local bank, so I am truly pleased to have my own. It's even better with the plain-leafed variety in the same pot for contrast.

I've also used pothos as a great filler in outdoor pots, although it does have to be handled with a little care in these circumstances. Full shade is best, or at least in a spot that gets afternoon shade. And it will have to be hardened off carefully, more to the light than anything else, or the leaves will scald. Start by setting it out in deep shade and expose it gradually to weak sunlight. Once it's acclimatized, morning sunlight should not cause any problems, unless you're in a hot climate with intense sun.

Now if I'm really lucky, one of my knowledgeable readers will come along and tell my precisely which varieties I have, which will save me doing the research. ;o) And in the meanwhile, I'll have to decide in what room to give this baby a permanent home.

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October 15, 2006

Garden portraits for October 15

Green Thumb Sunday

Unlike other parts of the province, we haven't had a proper frost yet, let alone snow, but we've gotten close enough to inspire different plants to pull on their autumn coats.

English ivy:

Autumn ivy

Cinnamon fern (the spinulose shield fern is still bright green and will stay that way all winter):

Cinnamon ferns in October

Who knew? Morden Sunrise produces beautiful orange rosehips:

Morden Sunrise rosehips

JoinGreen Thumb Sunday: Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Previous post on the topic of Cinnamon ferns, Morden Sunrise rose

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October 13, 2006

Chemical fertilizers

I have never been a fan of chemical fertilizers, at least not since I stopped to think about it for more than a second or two. Here is part of the reason why.

Dead zones can encompass areas of ocean 100,000 square kms in size where little can live because there is no oxygen left in the water. Nitrogen pollution, mainly from farm fertilisers and sewage, produces blooms of algae that absorb all of the oxygen in the water.
Thanks to Stolen Moments of Island Time for pointing me in the direction of this article.

Now I recognize that home gardeners individually don't have much of an effect; it's more agribusinesses that need to address the issue. But still, I am also a believer in the value of doing my own small bit to make the world a better place, and that includes not pumping my tiny little corner of it full of toxins and artificial chemical stimulants. Just like taking drugs, they provide an immediate rush, but you pay for it later in one way or another.

Yes, it was too cold to go out and garden today. ;o)

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October 12, 2006

Venturing out into un-English waters

Anybody up for a challenge? How about a Danish gardening blog? At least I think it's Danish. That's my best guess. Or Swedish. Even if you can't read a word of Hagedagbok fra parsellen i Bergen, the pictures are great. Like this one of brugmansia, affectionately known as brugs by those who grow them (I wish):


The blog includes videos, and fortunately uses Latin names often enough that you can know what you're looking at.

If French is more your cup of tea, Martine Gingras in the Montreal area has a marvellous blog/website/forum, Banlieusardises.com that covers gardening, cooking and motherhood. She's become known as the Martha Stewart of Quebec and has even been written up in the newspapers. Click on the "Jardinage" tab for the gardening section.

Unlike Martha Stewart, she's not at all intimidating and has a wonderful warm style. Lots of recipes too, if you and your bilingual dictionary are up to the challenge. And she does all this with a full-time job and a toddler too. OK, so maybe she's a LITTLE intimidating.

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October 11, 2006

Everything's coming up roses

OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration. But every time I look out my kitchen window, I catch a glimpse of roses, and it provides that little jolt of joy that ensures I will not abandon gardening any time soon. On a cold, dreary, rainy October day like today, that's no small benefit.

The Morden Sunrise that I still have mixed feelings about is really at its best in cool weather. The flowers fade quickly in the heat of the summer, but now they can delight me for days on end.

Morden Sunrise roses

All my roses, in fact, are still blooming merrily away, seemingly oblivious to the waning of the season. The mini roses in particular are sending up thick sprays of new buds, bless their little hearts. I'm watching the weather forecasts carefully; when frost threatens, I'm going to go out and clip myself some bouquets.

Orange Kordana roses

In the back yard, the indefatigable Rozanne geranium is the star performer, rivalled by the grape-leafed anemone and the pink wax begonias, all of which are providing the colour I crave. The occasional bright red maple leaf drifts into the yard to provide an extra jolt. I don't think for even a second of raking them up; there aren't enough to smother the grass and the vivid splash of colour is welcome. I don't have enough autumn colour, but it's difficult to touch all the bases in so little space.

And those are the musings of a northern gardener who can only enjoy her yard through the windows today. But I've really got to get all those bulbs planted...

Previous post on the topic of Morden Sunrise roses, Orange Kordana roses

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October 10, 2006

Plants as natural air scrubbers

Larry at Growing Up, a neat little blog from another nurseryman (move over, Trey) has NASA's list of the best plants for scrubbing indoor air clean of toxic chemicals. I've read this information more than once over the years, but I'd forgotten where to find it. NASA has done extensive testing of plants as natural air filters in their quest to provide interior environments that are safe for extended periods of time. You sure don't want to have Sick Building Syndrome in outer space...

So tootle on over and find your plant shopping list for cleaner air, as well as a link to the original research. And if you live in Regina, Saskatchewan, you can tootle on over to the nursery, Sherwood Greenhouses, too and scold him if he doesn't carry all ten! ;o)

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Fennel seed harvest

My purple fennel plants didn't put on much of a show this year. I'm not complaining too much; a perennial has the right to settle in. Still, they did put out some nice flowers, even if the plants themselves were not impressive. Those flowers are all turning now to seed, so I went out and harvested those that were dry. They look a lot like caraway seeds at that point, for those who are not familiar with them. They're used in baking and sausage-making, among other things, and have a mild, licorice-like flavour. My mother-in-law is a great fan of fennel.

Here is a spray of seeds that are not quite ready.

Underripe fennel seeds

You can see that they are still green and plump. I'm afraid some of the ripe seeds did fall to the ground, so I'm going to have to mulch well with the leaves I'm already mooching off my neighbours to prevent having scores of eager seedlings in the spring.

Previous post on the topic of Fennel

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October 09, 2006

Guilt and remorse

I'm positively wallowing in it. And of course, you're dying to know why. You'll have a chance to appear understanding, while on the other side of the computer screen you're really thinking: "What kind of a gardener does she think SHE is?"

Well, a procrastinating, go-with-the-flow kind of gardener, that's what kind. Going with the flow isn't so bad, and I can usually get away with procrastinating somewhat, but I overdid it this time.

You see this?

Datura trimmings
That is the pile of the remains of my datura. The back-from-the-dead datura that I soft-heartedly allowed to stay in my garden. It filled an entire yard trimmings bag to the brim.

I kept saying I was going to remove it. It was growing too big and healthy, and despite the little fence I put in front of it, smothering my new hydrangea. But my neighbours - it must have been a plot - kept enabling my procrastination. "But it's so lovely," they protested and I foolishly listened.

Today being shirt-sleeve and shorts weather, I finally stopped listening to my own excuses and went and cut the whole thing out. At this point in the season it's hardly flowering anyway. I am not going to show you a picture of the hydrangea and the Oriental poppy that had been trying to survive under its exuberant canopy. They did survive, but they look so woebegone, it's going to take me a long time to live down the shame. *sigh*

The moral of the story is, brazen hussies take advantage of soft hearts. Don't listen to them. And next year, if the darn thing defies the odds and comes up again... Off with its head!

(When they tell you how nice gardeners are, they're lying. The best gardeners are brutal.)

Previous post on the topic of Daturas

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October 06, 2006

Chill out, CC!

And I will make sure you do it!

Schlumbergera bridgesiiCC, in this case is Schlumbergera bridgesii, known to most mortals as a Christmas cactus. And I am indeed making sure that it "chills out" in the most literal sense of the term.

Even as I am bringing in my various houseplants - oleander, crown of thorns cactus, hibiscus, amaryllis - the poor oppressed Christmas cactus remains shivering in the cold. I do plan on bringing it in on frosty nights, but I won't leave it inside until the days are frosty too, or until I get tired of moving it back and forth. This is not gratuitous sadism on my part. I have my reasons.

Christmas cacti are called that because normal bloom time is around winter. Declining light and temperatures are its cue to flower. So by making sure that it gets a good case of the shivers, I should be getting beautiful blooms just at that time of year when I'm starved for light and colour. At least it's worked the last few years!

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October 05, 2006

Paradise in a bathtub

Grapefruit treeCitrus paradiso, to be precise. And here you thought I was talking about some home spa experience, right? Well, maybe for my grapefruit plant(s). For once, I'm coddling my houseplants as I haul them in from the great outdoors.

Now, coddling in my mind is basic care in the mind of any responsible houseplant owner, but I'm not very good at boring maintenance things. (Hence my enthusiasm for perennials, which more or less take care of themselves while I sit and admire them.) I'm vowing to reform though.

Unlike last year, when I just brought my plants in from the great outdoors and plunked them in front of a window - and ended up with a nasty infestation of spider mites - this year I'm giving them the "treatment". So the grapefruit was gently placed in the bathtub and sprayed all over with soapy water. I couldn't find my insecticidal soap (stop laughing, I never claimed to be organized), but a little clear dish soap in a litre of water should do the trick. Then I laid it carefully on its side and sprayed the undersides of the leaves. I feel so responsible.

I decided not to repot it, as it isn't severely rootbound and I don't want to stimulate new growth at this time of year. I'll do that in late winter when new growth is starting and all things gardening are irresistible. I did pick off some of the lower leaves, along with the battered ones, to start giving it a more tree-like appearance, but I didn't get too ambitious. Not too much stress for the poor thing all at once.

These little grapefruits were started from seeds a few years ago and grew very slowly for a couple of years. This year I potted it in a mix of plain vanilla potting soil and sheep manure, and got serious about keeping it fertilized (or what passes for serious in my world) and it responded by doubling in size. I might actually be getting the hang of this.

Citruses in general are happiest in fairly arid climates, so overwatering is a good way to be nasty to them. They don't seem to mind getting pretty dry now and again, although I somehow think that keeping them that way for too long would not be appreciated.

If anyone has any experiences with citrus plants in particular or good advice to pass on, please feel free!

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October 02, 2006

Water Roots

It does happen that I succumb to vanity. Very seldom, of course. *ahem* But in those moments of weakness, I'll occasionally run searches to find out if anybody outside of the Technorati world has noticed my website. What can I say? It feels good to know people are listening, I guess.

Dieffenbachia CamilleIn one of those searches, I came across this very interesting site, Water Roots. The lady who set this site up grows all her houseplants in water, a system known as hydroculture. She has simplified the standard procedures and had good results, so she shares them with the world. Her photo gallery is very impressive (and extensive) featuring page after page of plants brimming with good health. I am green with envy.

Fortunately she doesn't just show off. She has lots of practical information on setting up the system, shopping for supplies, dealing with pests and so on. Check out her site and settle in for an enjoyable session. Be forewarned: you will develop a severe case of envy.

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