A Tropical Update

While we look to the tropics and wait to see what the latest hurricane brings I think a trip to the milder side is in order.  The Pennsylvania tropics are much calmer and even-keeled and if you ignore the heavy hand of winter’s approach I think it’s a nice enough retreat from everything else going on.

tropical garden

The tropical border this summer.  The steady rains were a plus but the cooler temperatures held many a hot-blooded plant back.

Even though things were in the ground earlier than ever this year the cool weather made for a slow start.  I even lost nearly all the dahlias when my “big patch of ’em” idea didn’t go well with the “all the water drains here” reality.  Losing plants to an excess of water is not something I’ve ever experienced here on this thin-soiled hilltop.  Fortunately there’s always a backup plan.

tropical garden

The striped leaves of ‘Bengal Tiger’ canna rank as one of my all time favorite plants.  To me they seem to go well with everything, especially the purple verbena bonariensis and surviving dahlias.

Verbena.  Verbena bonariensis is my backup plan for nearly every plant fiasco/disaster.  Any unmulched sunny spot quickly sprouts a few seedlings and all this gardener has to do is stand back.  If anything they need thinning since they  come up thick and look much better when each has some space of their own.

alcazar kniphofia

This might be my most promising red hot poker.  Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ has nice big spikes with just the right glow factor.  Last year there were only two flower stalks which faded in a week or two, but this year three flushes of flowerings kept the plant interesting for almost two months.  I hope it wasn’t a fluke!

I do tend to let things just happen.  Laziness and distraction can do that to a garden, and the far end of the tropical border is mostly foliage.

tropical garden

Leaves aren’t all that bad.  Having a spot where color is not entirely in your face is probably a good idea.

The mulch which I smothered this end of the bed with must have contained some leftover autumn decorations so the coleus I planted ended up being smothered by the climbing vines of Yugoslavian finger squash.  They seemed to love all the rain and vines slinked and slithered all through the back of the border.

yugoslavian finger squash

There’s something about the name ‘Yugoslavian finger squash’ which I think is funny.  Yugoslavian?  The finger?  Finger squash?  It’s like a teenage boy came up with the name and I guess it speaks volumes for my maturity level.   

So while we await our Finger squash decorating bonanza the rest of the border is busy with the bees and butterflies who take advantage of the color.

monarch on verbena

With any luck this year’s Monarch migration will be a big one, and I hope I left enough verbena to keep them around for a few days. 

I’m hoping things work out well for a big Monarch migration this autumn.  A few years ago there was a trifecta of beautiful weather, plenty of butterflies, and loads of verbena blossoms and walking through the fluttering garden was almost surreal.  Thinking back on it I really feel bad for those people who hire landscape companies, spray for any wildlife which gets too close, and then stare at lawn all summer.  Holy boring.

katydid

At three or four inches long Katydids are an insect you can have a conversation with.  People go on about bees and butterflies but these guys are my favorites… even if they do eat decent sized chunks out of the purple canna leaves.

The tropical garden is not boring.

tropical garden

Too much?  Stripes on stripes was not the plan but somehow ‘Tropicana’ ended up in front of ‘Cosmopolitan’ fountain grass.  It should look even more tasteful in another few weeks when the grass puts out its pink flower heads.

Hope a good weekend is had by all and a little boring can extend down to the areas in the path of hurricane Irma.  The tropics look much better when not ravaged by obscene winds.

1 Free seed + 6 years = 7 Attaboys

Some people say that seed starting is complicated or that it requires way too much patience but I’m going to disagree.  Patience is waiting for a 5 year old to tie their own shoes when you’re already late.  If you can make it through that without any permanent blood pressure spikes, you can start a seed.  It’s as simple as kindergarten math… assuming you’re not dealing with Common Core of course…

Six years ago I received some Eucomis seed from author Nancy Ondra.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, Nancy is the author of several excellent gardening books and also the force behind an amazing Pennsylvania garden showcased on her Hayefield blog, and the seed was part of an annual giveaway of curious and exotic seeds she had collected throughout the growing season.  Her act of generosity resulted in one tiny Eucomis seedling sprouting and then surviving years of on and off neglect to finally reach a size large enough to bloom.  I think it’s pretty cool.

eucomis Oakhurst seedling

A Eucomis seedling grown from a seed off Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’.  I believe that gives it the fancy name of Eucomis comosa ex Oakhurst…. I think.

Sure I could have just bought one along the way and saved a bunch of time but it’s not like I spent every day wishing it would grow just a little bit faster, you just enjoy it for what it is.  It’s not patience at all, it’s you looking forward to every spring when it sprouts up even bigger than the year before and then you every fall digging the bulb to see just how much more plump it’s become.  It sure doesn’t hurt that the dark leaves make for a very nice foliage accent in my summer planters.

eucomis Oakhurst seedling

Eucomis are also referred to as pineapple lilies.  They’ve got the same leafy bottom  plus the pineapple shaped flower which sprouts up is topped by a tuft of leaves, just like a real pineapple.

So thanks for the seeds Nan and now I’m off to the next pineapple lily adventure.  I hear they’re one of those odd plants which grow easily from leaf cuttings.  Just cut off a leaf, stick it in some soil, and new plant!  I’ll have to wait until next summer for the best chances but it sounds like I’ve got something to keep me entertained until 2022 😉

Because I Can

I admire blogs which are helpful, inspiring or just plain a joy to look at, but I think mine has a different ‘mission statement’ or raison d’être.  It’s all about me, and trust me sometimes I feel like I’m all over the place so it’s not always a pretty picture.  With the gardening season well on its way to the halfway point  I sometimes step back and ask myself what the heck got into my head when I started this or that “project”.  Thankfully the thought usually flickers away almost as quickly as it came, but someone (Chloris actually, though I doubt she remembers) said the reason I do it is because I can.  It all came together with that and although I still can’t make sense out of half of it, at least I now have a legitimate answer… and of course I’m going to run with it.

All these deep thoughts came out a little more during the recent garden tour which took place here.  Don’t get me wrong, it all went well and everyone was wonderful about it and I loved that someone other than myself was excited to see the garden, but I did find myself explaining (or even making excuses) a lot.   What I probably could have done was just answer with “because I can”.  The reason I’m a compulsive plant multiplier and divider is…. well… because I can 😉

propagating perennials

A bit of root came off my newest treasure, the variegated comfrey ‘Axminster Gold’, and within a few weeks I have a new plant.  Come to think of it I must have stuck a twig of my ‘Golden Sunshine’ willow into the ground here as well since I also see a bit of it now growing to the right of the comfrey.

I’m always pinching cuttings, scattering seed, or spading out little divisions of the plants which you can never have too many of.  Just last week I realized the coleus pots on the deck were getting a little too big for early August and gave them all a trim.  Suddenly there’s a bucket full of cuttings…

coleus cuttings

I’ve got dozens of coleus planted throughout the garden this year but almost all came from just four bushy plants I picked up this spring.  I looked for well branched plants, took as many cuttings as I could, and voila!  A couple flats of free coleus to plant around the garden.

I didn’t even bother to root the latest batch of coleus cuttings, they were just stuck right into the soil wherever things looked a little sparse.  No special prep, just maybe remove a leaf or two at the base and stick them in.  Watering would be helpful, but you’d be surprised how long these can survive rootless, even in the hot sun for days.

Multiplying your annuals is easy enough but how about something like a hardy cyclamen?  I often get self sown seedlings but this year there seemed to be even more of the curiously coiled seed pods than usual.  I’ll have to collect them of course and plant them out, even though I already have a good number.  And the reason for this?  #becauseIcan

cyclamen seeds

Cyclamen hederifolium seed pods bursting as they ripen.  Looks like I’ll need to prep a new seed bed for a couple thousand more cyclamen seedlings.  Oh well, it’s #becauseIcan

Maybe I can convince myself to give a few of the seeds away but lets talk about snowdrops (once again) for just one minute.

galanthus bulbs

The bulbs I ordered online through Cornovium arrived, plus (quite a few) traded bulbs.  How many different snowdrops does one person need, surely not dozens, so why do it? #becauseIcan

I have seedling magnolias and seedling camellias.  Neither of them are likely to be hardy over the years, so why grow them? #becauseIcan

limelight hydrangea cutting

I have a beautiful ‘Limelight’ hydrangea growing out front, but now three cuttings have appeared in the vegetable garden.  They’ve done very well this year with huge panicles of flowers over a foot across, but I don’t need them and have no clue as to where they’ll go.  Why start them in the first place? #becauseIcan 

To further prove that I just don’t learn I took a few more hydrangea cuttings this weekend.  Looks like I just want to be prepared in case everything else gets ripped up and I decide to plant masses of hydrangeas all over.  For the record it’s very easy to do, now’s an excellent time to do it, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to a few cold beverages on a Sunday afternoon.  As a brief effort to keep this blog somewhat useful and mildly educational here’s how I do it.

shrub cuttings

About a six inch ‘Goldilocks’ shoot (i.e. not too young not too mature), scrape a little bark off the bottom inch, dip in rooting powder, make a hole in a pot of sand, place cutting into hole, water.  

I don’t think anyone came here today to make softwood shrub and tree cuttings, but if you do try it,  make sure the sand is what you’d call a ‘sharp’ sand.  It feels coarse, is freely draining, and usually easy to find as bagged playground sand (NOT masonry sand which is too fine).

softwood cuttings

Butterfly bushes, hydrangeas, arborvitae… all of them are easy to root shrubs and all of them unnecessary.  I don’t bother covering them, but you could.  I don’t water them everyday but you could (mine will be lucky to get rained on).  They do need to be in a fully shaded spot though, no avoiding that.

So while I ponder the locations for another fifty or eighty new shrubs (#becauseIcan), have a look at some other equally cute little babies.

monarch eggs

Ok, Monarch butterfly eggs are not cute, but they will be!  I saw the mother lingering around the milkweed and lo and behold I was able to lift a few eggs and bring them in onto the windowsill.

I’d love to bring my little babies into the house, but the boss said I can’t, and when I asked why not she said becauseIcan’t, and we will wisely drop the argument, take the eggs, and return to the garage.

caterpillar enclosure

A few old screens, some wood cut up for ends, random leftover screws to hold it together and just like that, a butterfly (well actually caterpillar) enclosure.  Someone made a comment to the effect of ‘did you seriously stain and varnish the wood for your bugs?’ and I responded with ‘yes, yes I did.’ (while I whispered #becauseIcan)

In the meantime the eggs have hatched, the caterpillars grown, and I’ve now placed them outside to find their own spot to hang their chrysalis.  With any luck there will be fresh new monarchs floating around the garden in another few days.

monarch caterpillar

Gardeners are always complaining about one thing or another eating their plants, and here I am encouraging it.  You of course guessed it… #becauseIcan

I’m afraid it may already be too late for me to quit while I’m ahead but here’s one last adventure.  Somehow I’ve accumulated quite a few caladiums, and somehow I’ve been able to overwinter them, and somehow I’ve grown attached to them.  I didn’t see this coming at all, but that doesn’t seem to matter.  This spring (well actually early summer since apparently I was too busy doing other equally pointless things), I potted up all the roots individually because I didn’t want them mixed up anymore.

caladium

A couple years worth of clearance rack purchases and random odds and ends picked up here and there.  I think they’re awesome even if they might not be the most tasteful plants.  

This weekend I sorted them out and potted them all up again into bigger containers with each container holding just one leaf type.  The OCD amongst us will also see that rather than searching out all orange pots like last time, this time I went with all the leftover black nursery pots which litter the back of my garage… mostly because that’s all I have left.  It seems so much more controlled and I was so pleased with myself that I went immediately to my favorite local nursery to look for more.  Perennial Point came through and I decided I was worth not one but two new leaf types.  It even got better when at checkout I was told that annuals were on sale, buy one get one, and suddenly I was paying $7.50 for the pair instead of the $15 full price… or not.  I of course was already set on buying two, so did the most reasonable thing and went back to select the other two I wanted as my ‘get ones’.

caladium

Why buy even more caladiums after saying I ”have too many’ in April? #becauseIcan!

And that brings me to where we’re at.  I should really take up some less compulsive hobby like marathon running or fantasy football, but I’m stuck with this.  Fortunately the kids are still young and don’t think anything’s wrong and my wife has a remarkably high tolerance for me.  She was even out in the yard this weekend and asked what something was.  I think it’s so cute when she pretends to be interested 😉

So have a great week and if anyone out there understands hashtags let me know.  A friend uses them all the time and I just thought it might be time to step up my game. #youknowit #becauseIcan

Happy Memorial Day 2017

Here in the US Monday marks Memorial Day, a day when we honor those who’ve lost their lives serving in the armed forces.  It’s also the unofficial start to summer, and although I haven’t gotten around to filling the front porch containers these amaryllis were just too nice to leave hidden away next to the garage.  Hopefully their blooms will distract visitors from the as-yet-leafless overwintered begonia pots.

summer amaryllis

A day earlier and this would have been a suitably patriotic red, white, and blue combo, but last night the blustery winds pulled most of the last petals off the columbine clumps.     

The year before last I was all gung-ho about growing amaryllis (hippeastrum) again.  There was a beautiful show indoors as one after another opened but lo and behold as quickly as it came on it’s passed again.  This winter there were a few which came up and flowered indoors (and were appreciated), but the rest were tossed out of the garage as soon as temperatures allowed and have had to fend for themselves with whatever warmth and rain the weather has brought.

shade foliage

A few more amaryllis at the other end of the porch.  I really should cut the double and put it in a vase… 

A better gardener would repot and fertilize their amaryllis at this time of year.  Heavy feeding and plenty of moisture are the perfect recipe for building blooming size bulbs for next year and getting a jump on the next season’s flowers, but I’m far too distracted with swingsets, deck planters, iris flowers and barbeques.  Three days off from work will pass far too quickly.

mixed border bearded iris

I’m still completely distracted with iris season.  The chances that more clumps will go in and be spread around this June is nearly 100%.  Who needs marigolds.

I hope your weekend has gone well and you’ve had luck with both the weather and the to-do list.  Please wish me luck in still getting the lawn cut and vegetable garden planted on our final day off… neither has happened as of yet and that sounds like an awful lot of work for a holiday.  Maybe if I spent less time staring at the iris that would b a start, but this time of year goes so fast and I’d hate to miss a minute of it.

Tuesday View: The Tropics 11.22.16

Following the first hard frost, the tropical view has continued to spiral downwards into the reality of its temperate latitude.  Our first significant snowfall came on Saturday night and although snow at this time of year is not unheard of, the long warm autumn and the fact Saturday topped out at 65F (18C) left me in a bit of a shock when I woke up to the white.

Tuesday view snow

I guess it might finally be time to dig the dahlias and cannas. 

The frosted annuals and browned cannas are still standing just where they were three weeks ago, and although the mess may look like complete apathy has set in the reality is I’ve been quite busy.  There’s been a good amount of earth moving and bed building on top of the required leaf cleanup and bulb planting and I feel pretty good about spring, I just want warmth to return for a few more weeks so I can finish digging and planting.

But if the weather doesn’t change I’ll get over it.  No one’s life has ever crumbled over a few unraked leaves or frozen dahlias and as long as there are plenty of snowdrops in April I’ll be fine.  There’s always next year 🙂

Tuesday View: The Tropics 11.1.16

As you can see from this Tuesday’s view, the weather forecast was correct and Tuesday night we received our first strong frost.  One night and the tropical summer was over… but for this part of PA the last week of October is a late frost date, so there are no complaints from this end.  It was a great year!

tuesday view tropical plants

No denying fall is here now.  The cannas are browned, the dahlias are blackened, yet even at the end of the season there’s still some color left.

You wouldn’t guess it but I did spend a few minutes cleaning up.  The mildewed Verbena bonariensis had been bothering me so those were cut down, and a few large blackened salvias and coleus were taken out as well.  For the most part though the rest will come out this weekend (I hope) as I dig canna and dahlia roots and pack them away for the winter, but I have to say even with less color it’s still kind of interesting.  I’m discovering things here and there which have been overshadowed by the annuals for the past three months.

chrysanthemum carousel

A bit tousled by this weekend’s thunderstorm, chrysanthemum ‘Carousel’ is still holding up to the cooler nights.  The green nicotina is also doing well, but the surprise was the fat clump of Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima… recently renamed though) which was hiding under the verbena I pulled.

Today I did go ahead and plant a few leftover snowdrops in the tropical bed.  The idea of early spring snowdrops sounds nice enough, but I’m pretty sure it will prove to be a bad idea come July when I want to replant all the summer visitors in the same spot.  “Oh well” I say.  Summer is a long time off and spring flowers are more fun to think of.

So as the season winds down here I’d again like to thank Cathy at Words and Herbs for hosting the Tuesday view each week.  It’s been a nice run but I believe winter has most of us calling it quits for the season and our thoughts are turning inside and towards the holidays.  Not a bad idea at all, but I might still have another week or two in me, if only to prove that I really did dig up and store all those fantastic roots and bulbs for next year!

 

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.25.16

It’s a cold and breezy Tuesday this week, with a wind that makes you feel like change is a’comin to this end of Pennsylvania.  The forecast tonight is a dip below freezing and there’s a good chance this will be the last week a colorful and lush view shows up in Cathy’s weekly meme.  There are still a few weeks left to the season, but after frost hits the view will be decidedly less colorful.

tuesday view tropical plants

A gloomy, gray Tuesday afternoon.  The last of the autumn color has worked its way down the mountains and into the garden and things are entirely autumnal.  The wheelbarrow is covering the flowering thistle,  I’m hoping to get a few ripe seeds before it freezes.

Whether or not this turns out to be our killing frost remains to be seen, but with the cold wind blowing I’m completely indifferent.  Sunday was spent clearing the rest of the garden of everything I wanted to save, so now it’s just a matter of letting nature run its course.  Snow is predicted for Thursday so I guess I’m officially giving up 🙂

tropical annuals

One last view.  The tropics have been good to me this year.

So next week will likely show some serious changes.  Once frost hits I like to get things out of the way and cleaned up fast so that I can put down some mulch before winter hits.  Any unmulched areas will likely sprout a carpet of winter weeds such as hairy bittercress and I’d rather not start next season with that kind of a mess on my hands.  Wish me luck.

After you wish me luck please consider giving Cathy at Words and Herbs a visit to see how autumn is progressing through other gardens in other parts of the world.  It’s always a great visit and a fun way to keep up over the season.  Have a great week!