My Idea of Succulents

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You’ve heard me talk, in the past, about a “regional sense of place.” In fact, some of my most controversial posts have been about not making all our gardens look like everybody else’s gardens.

After all, isn’t this what we complain about when we travel? When we fly–or drive–all our “places” look the same. We can drive from one city to the next–or even one suburb–and eat in the same chains and shop in the same stores we have back home and never really leave our comfort zones.

If those of us in the temperate zones (and I am using that term loosely–I mean roughly zones 4-7 or perhaps zones 5-7 or 5-8) all start planting the same plants and using the same sorts of garden decorations, every place will look like every other place.

Certain things are very regional: I am referring to bottle trees in the south for example, lobster pots in coastal New England–those two examples immediately come to mind. If we start plunking them down anywhere and everywhere, they lose their “regional” association.

I feel the same way about plants. While I am not such a plant “snob” to suggest that I can’t grow imported plants because I am not in Japan, the Himalayas or China, or, with respect to natives, not living on the prairies, say, there is a bit of a limit.

Certain things like cone flowers and black eyed susans might look at home in my garden because they pretty much look at home anywhere. Breeders have pretty much assured that. They’re not prairie plants now so much as cottage garden plants, or wildflowers.

But succulents? As I said once on this blog, I don’t live in Arizona. There’s nothing “desert-like” about my property, even in a drought. Not with my heavy clay. So for me, I think they look terribly out of place. That’s why you’ll find them in pots, on my porch, as in the photo, above.

In fact, those gold-sword yuccas that everyone seems to plant here in Connecticut look out of place to me. Their foliage does NOT particularly hold up well in the winter. Yes, it holds up better than perhaps an ornamental grass might–but just barely. It still looks ratty. Just plant an evergreen. There are hundreds to choose from–and no, while they’re not native, they do look more natural to our landscape than some desert plant.

But that’s just me, and as I have said lots of time here, if we all liked the same thing, we’d have a very boring world. Still, you’re not going to find any yuccas on my property any time soon!

Wordless Wednesday–Real Plants Instead of Plastic

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Less than a week ago I had photos from our local mall of the most dreadful plastic plants.

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These are from an atrium of a building in West Hartford center. They never see a hint of natural light–and barely get any artificial light either. I had to touch them to believe they were real.

And most of these are plants that clean the air as well. Beautiful job!

My Own Long-Lived House Plant

All winter long, readers of the Duluth News Tribune have been sharing stories, with photos , of their house plants and how long they had been in their families.  Some had been passed down from great-great grand parents and were almost 100 years old! Now that’s impressive!

In most cases, the longest lived house plants were exactly those that you would expect–the so-called Christmas cactuses. But some of the plants surprised me. One person had a smaller flowering amaryllis.

Several people had oxalis bulbs–what we often see being sold everywhere around St. Patrick’s Day as “shamrock” plants.

One person had a sedum One had a fern. And then there were miscellaneous others . There were a series of articles written.  You can Google it to see the articles with photos .

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This is my longest lived plant. A neighbor gave it to my parents in the late 1970s and I took it shortly thereafter. It’s a rhizamatous begonia, x giganticum.

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These are the flowers. It only flowers once a year for me, right about now, but it does have a long bloom time.

I have given away lots of divisions of this plant and even made myself a “spare” in case something should happen to one of them. I think they’re great–and of course they have a lot of history with them.

I Need to Take My Own Advice

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Remember on Friday I talked about watching plants for signs of insect infestation? Apparently I wasn’t taking my own advice.

Of course these little evergreens are never happy indoors and I know that. But I was shocked to see this plant go from healthy to basically dead over the course of a week.

Only the bright green parts are still alive –& there are very few of those.  Everything else is dead and crumbles under my fingers when I touch it.

What can cause such rapid deterioration? Only one thing: spider mites.

Now here is more evidence that Stephen King isn’t a gardener.  Spider mites are tiny little spiders–almost invisible to the eye. Just like regular spiders , some make webs and some don’t . The ones that make webs are easier to find, but usually by the time you find your plants covered in the webs, it’s too late. They’re too far gone to save.

They breed quite quickly as well,  reproducing themselves every 3 days. So a small infestation can get out of control quickly.

And they are so light that they can easily travel between or among plants on any current of air–or your watering can spout,  for example .

Once you know that you have these in your house, you want to remove infested plants (this one is dead anyway) and watch everything else anywhere nearby very closely .

Do as I say, not as I do to avoid a lot of heartbreak.

To Every Plant, There is a Season

With apologies to Ecclesiastes (or, if you’re old enough,  the band, the Byrds), indoor house plants experience “seasons” just as outdoor plants do.

I talk about this regularly when I lecture. I talk about this with respect to bringing plants indoors in the fall, and more important,  I talk about it just about now.

What’s going on now that’s triggering a “seasonal” response in house plants?  Two things  actually.  First,  we have just had the vernal equinox–in other words, here in the northern hemisphere,  it’s spring (for anyone reading in the southern hemisphere,  take note of what I say about fall.)

With the return of spring, we also get the return of light.  Plants grow more quickly in response in to the extra light so you need to check them for increased watering needs.

You also need to check them for insects. All that lush new growth is more likely to attract anything that might have slumbered happily through the winter. Catching insects early gives you a chance to treat organically–or just ditch the plant–before it infests your collection.

Finally if you are in a warmer climate zone than mine and are thinking of transitioning your plants outside, please remember that just as you would never dream of going outside naked all day without sunscreen on the first glorious spring day, you can’t do that to your plants either.  You will burn their leaves. Transition them outside into shady places for at least a few days before you set them in sun.

Similarly when it comes time to bring them back inside,  don’t wait until frost is imminent.  My frost date is October 5. I usually bring my plants in around Labor Day (so about a month earlier). Why? Not because I love indoor watering.  But when those plants come in later, they drop a lot of leaves adjusting to the lower light levels . I don’t want to need a leaf blower in the house!

So with those “seasonal” tips in mind, go start searching for little critters, and enjoy growing!