The Joy of Tiny Plants

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One thing that I don’t see talked about a lot are tiny plants. I see a lot of folks growing them–you just have to scroll through some house plant feeds on Instagram and there are lots of tiny plants (although the giant plants seem to be all the rage at the moment).

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And of course, as I mentioned last week, I like my plants to be interesting. So even most of my tiny plants have variegated leaves.

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This African violet is an exception. No interesting leaves. But I put the small pruner next to it so you could get a sense of size. This plant is probably 10 years old and may be 3-4″ wide. The leaves may be dime sized–if they’re that big.

Another fun thing to do is to find truly small cachepots for these plants.

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This is the pot that the tiny orchid is in–and yes, I brought it home from Aruba.

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This is a pretty hand-painted Italian pot. I am not sure where I got it but I love it. It holds the Asian violet.

So if you have the opportunity to grow some truly tiny plants, take it. They are a joy!

Yes, There Will Be Lemons

I talked last Friday about lecturing on house plants and how I always talk about the importance of interesting leaves in a house plant collection.

Another thing I mention–although it’s not as important as colorful leaves–and it’s much more elusive–is fragrance.

Fragrance can be tricky. The classic example of this is paperwhite narcissus. I’ve mentioned that I like the smell of those, but many people don’t. In fact, many people find the scent downright objectionable.

Jasmine is another one (Jasminum officinale). In small doses, it’s a heavenly scent. But once the whole plant starts blooming, it can be so overwhelming, it can actually give me a headache.

There’s a whole science to what goes on behind scent–I won’t get into it because I am not qualified and would make a muddle of it. I’ll simply repeat what I said at the beginning–scent is probably our most visceral sense. We know immediately what we like and what we don’t.

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One of these small flowers–a lemon blossom, but it’s true for other blossoms in the citrus family as well–perfumes a whole room in my home. I need only to walk into a room and I can tell when this plant–or my other citrus–is in bloom.

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This plant has bloomed quite a bit this winter–winter is the normal bloom time for many citrus–and already you can see small lemons beginning to form at the end of the branches. So long as I transition this plant gently outside in the spring–and gently back inside this fall–by next winder I should have edible lemons.

All of this is accomplished with no additional pollination from me. I have heard of folks who hand-pollinate their citrus with paintbrushes and I have seen small mechanized devices sold for such purpose.

As I have repeated many a time, in my house, it’s every plant for itself–and clearly this lemon is doing just fine. Bring on the lemonade.

Managing a Woodland for Wildlife

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I’ve talked before about how a small portion of my property is wooded. It’s between 1/8-1/4 of an acre so very small–but in the heavily developed suburbs, that is the size of a building lot–and indeed, it is part of a second lot that we own.

Because it is wooded, we try to leave it in as natural state as possible. That means if a tree dies, and it’s not near enough to endanger our neighbor’s home, it stays.

What does this accomplish? Several nice things. Many birds nest in dead trees, which can be difficult to find, particularly in the suburbs. I have an abundance of woodpeckers on my property because I manage it in this way and woodpeckers are one of the birds that nest in dead trees.

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It also brings insects that digest such materials–and keeps them where they belong, in the woods and not in our home.

One drawback is that I am constantly scouting for invasives. I had just about gotten rid of garlic mustard out of here–after a decade of hand pulling–and I now see it’s in all my neighbors yards so it will be back here shortly.

Oriental Bittersweet is a constant issue. I try to find the seedlings when they are small. If all else fails, I cut the vines before they fruit–but of course, I will have twice as many vines the following year. At least, without the birds eating the berries, I won’t have multitudes more and I won’t have spread it to my neighbors.

But the fact that I do have a place for birds and wildlife is important to me. It makes the work worth it.

Trendy House Plants

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It’s garden lecture season for me. One of my topics is “Hot Garden Trends.” And while house plants have been a hot trend for awhile, that’s really not what this post is about.

In the lecture, I say that an up and coming trend is “patterned gardening.” I don’t limit it to just plants; I talk about paving materials and even those houses for insects that have now gone mainstream.

It started as mason bee houses, but folks have now expanded that into whole apartments for bees, butterflies, ladybugs, lacewings and other beneficial insects. I guess they work–I have no idea. I prefer to let all those things just live and nest in my yard. But I am spoiled. I have a lot of property and can set aside brush piles and other places for them to do that.

Suddenly, however, I am getting articles about how “trendy” patterned house plants are. I guess that I had better change up my lecture to add this as a genuine trend.

Plants with interesting leaves are no stranger to me. In fact, as part of my house plant lecture, I always talk about growing plants with interesting leaves so that when they’re not in flower (if they flower at all) there’s something interesting to look at the rest of the year.

It’s a principle shade gardeners know well. Many shade garden plants are grown primarily for foliage (hostas, ferns, coral bells, etc.) But the leaves of many of those same plants are so stunning that you don’t care if they flower.

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Here are a few rhizamatous begonia. These leaves are so pretty that I don’t care if they bloom.

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This is an interesting plant called ruellia. It happens to be in bloom. But even when it’s not, the leaves are lovely enough that you don’t care.

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Then of course there’s the croton. Does anyone care that this doesn’t bloom?

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And speaking of patterns, remember these from Monday? They do bloom, but it’s so insignificant that I scarcely notice.

Obviously I didn’t acquire all these plants overnight. I have been collecting “patterned” plants for quite some time. I actually have lots more–but there’s no point in overkill. You can clearly see what a difference patterns make in a plant collection.