Be Ever Vigitant….


Remember this lovely euphorbia from Wednesday? It’s relatively new to me. I acquired it when I was getting the plants for my container lecture.

I have never been particularly attracted to this type of plant but the coloring was so pretty on this one that I succumbed. This is euphorbia trigona rubra.

About a week ago I was getting dressed and I happened to glance over to the window where this is. The sun was coming in just right. And I thought that I saw something odd on the “thorns.” So I resolved to check it out when I watered later that day.

I am a huge believer in trying to water and tend to your house plants in as much natural light as you can. Here in the northern hemisphere, that’s getting harder to do as we approach the winter solstice. I try to pick a weekend day, mid-afternoon, when the light is good. I discover a lot of things that way.


In this case, I discovered these: whitefly eggs and larvae. So the plant is now isolated and I will have to treat it with something organic to remove the eggs.

And the quote at the top of this post? It’s one of my favorites from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Dogberry, the ineffective sheriff, is the one who speaks it, about trying to catch miscreants.

The whole thing is “be ever vigitant, I beseech you.” Of course he means vigilant. And if we are to outsmart house plant pests, that’s what we will need to be!

Solidago Acres

I have always wondered about folks who named their houses. How on earth did they come up with their names? When you look at the names–because inevitably, if you name your house, you put it up on a plaque over the door or out on a post by the road–most of them seem very appropriate.

There is one that befuddles me. There’s a large stately house with “Margate” out front. The only thing I can think is that it’s a family name. I can’t imagine what “Margate” has to do with an giant white colonial style home otherwise.

But other than that, names seem to fit homes. I’ve never been into that much until this year when my garden finally got away from me and I am completely over-run with goldenrod. It’s just everywhere. Mind you, I am delighted about it–I could be over-run with some noxious weed!

So as I was walking back to the house with the dog the other day, I said to her (and yes, I chatter to her a blue streak the entire time we’re walking), “Amie, we have to call this house Goldenrod Acres. No, let’s make it Solidago Acres.”

And thus, I have become one of those people who names a house. But no, you will not see me putting a plaque up on it–or around it–anytime soon.


How did all this goldenrod–the solidago–get here? I have no idea. I suspect this first patch was brought in–as all my plants, wanted and unwanted are–by birds. I have a very robust bird population.

Why it suddenly exploded this year beyond this patch to almost every other garden I have–including some that are literally almost an acre away (yes, I garden on almost an acre of property–but not acres!) I have no idea. Did birds, bees or butterflies spread it? Something must have. Or did other birds drop in new populations? That could be the more plausible scenario for the “rogue” clump that is literally almost as far from this original patch as you can get.

So far as I am concerned, like my “hibiscus hedge,” it can take over a lot of this property. it’s good for wildlife and it’s pretty. And it doesn’t spark allergies. So, as I always say, what’s not to like?

Autumn Crocus?


These bulbs, my photo from Wednesday, are a literal stopper every year. Runners stop, walkers stop, and this year, because of the weediness of the garden, I find that dogs are stopping and making use of the bulbs too. It doesn’t seem to be harming them.

The bulbs are commonly known as “autumn crocus” but there are actual crocus that come up in autumn so this is a case where common names can get very confusing.

These bulbs are colchicums. And unlike most other bulbs that I have planted in my heavy wet clay, these have thrived. They are not bothered by deer (or dogs, apparently), they are not bothered by town snowplows that pile snow on this garden all winter (along with whatever chemicals our town currently uses to treat the roads–I think it’s currently magnesium chloride) and they are not bothered by weeds that attempt to choke them out as this photo shows.

The only one that has not done well for me is a lovely double variety called ‘Waterlily.’ I planted it and it didn’t even survive the first year. Other than that, all the species I have planted have survived and come back.

One thing to note: as with all bulbs, you will have to deal with bulb foliage. This foliage comes up in the spring and lingers into June. I don’t particularly care because I have the roses here.

If this is something you care about, plant these bulbs were the foliage won’t bother you–in other words, where spring plants will distract from the foliage.

Succulents Care versus Cacti Care


For those of you lucky enough to live where you can grow these outdoors in the ground, just skip this post altogether. This is for those of us who resort to growing these little plants (which quite naturally would grow in arid and semi arid parts of the world) in little dishes, pots and trays.

What took me aback the other day was when a frequent commenter on my blog remarked on the fact that my “house plants” actually do live in the house for 9 months of the year.

I have remarked here before that the Spoiler has told me that I live in the wrong climate. He usually says this after we have taken a trip to somewhere much more temperate than our own “frozen north” climate (as I uncharitably refer to Connecticut, which is actually quite mild by comparison to say, Buffalo, New York, or any part of Minnesota). While on that trip I will have undoubtedly pointed to any number of plants and remarked “oh we have this” and “we have that,” and when he asks where, I will tell him which particular window of our house it’s residing in–in other words, all those plants are not in our garden, but are house plants! So I really need to live in a climate where I can grow more of what I love outside!

But I digress. You see my little bowl of succulents, above. All of the plants in that bowl are succulents. What, exactly is a succulent? It is a plant with fleshy leaves  for  water storage.

Therefore, because these leaves store water, you don’t need to water the plants as often as you might a plant with “regular” leaves that just lose moisture through transpiration. You’ll also want to ensure that these plants are planted in a potting mix that is drains quickly–often cacti and succulent mix is specifically sold for this type of plant.

So that’s what a succulent is. What is a cactus?

At first, you might be confused because the definition sounds remarkably similar to a succulent. A cactus is usually defined as a plant with succulent stems or branches with sharp spines or points and single flowers. Basically the difference between succulents and cacti are the absence (or presence) or spines and the type of flowering.

I’ve included photos of some of my cacti, above, so you can see the “spines versus just just fleshy leaves” difference. Sometimes photos make all the difference in explaining these ideas.

It can be more complicated than that, of course. Succulents and cacti grow in different regions of the world, often; they do belong to different genuses; and some succulents will have single flowers as well (but not the sharp spines of the cactus so that you won’t be confused).

But the most important difference is in care. Because cacti are from an arid region, they will generally want water less often than a succulent (although be careful about this–I have been known to kill cacti from too little water! Most people over-water their cacti. I am probably one of the few that starve them for water!)

While cacti love full sun, they can sunburn next to a window if they get too dry.

And they too want very fast draining potting mix.

So with these basic (and they are basic!) definitions in mind, perhaps you’ll be able to better care for your succulents and cacti.



Fall Containers


In the past, I haven’t done much with containers in the fall. There’s no point, really. “Fall” is a very short season for us. Our first frost comes early in October and much of what goes into a container would be killed by that.

But this year, I have two lectures in October that needed containers. One was a lecture on container gardening itself and the other was a lecture on house plants.

In both my house plants and container lectures, I always like to talk about–and feature–both house plants and succulents. Why? First, because you can’t go anywhere without seeing them. Next, because I like them and I think that, despite the fact that they’re so popular, they are very versatile and great plants for a lot of gardeners in many situations (provided you have sun). So showing them–and talking about how to care for them–is important. Lots of beginning gardeners think that succulents and cactus are the same–because they are sold together. So a little education there is necessary too.


This is my “house plant” container, where I play off the colors in the croton with the color of the flowers in the kalanchoe and the color of the sedum foliage. This type of planting is called “complementary.” It’s the same design principle as using throw pillows to pick up the color from a painting or a rug, say.


And this is a late season herb planter with primarily tender perennials. The golden oregano at the front (my “spiller”) is hardy, even in my climate. The tallest plant, the variegated basil is ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’ a tender perennial basil, although I have never successfully over-wintered it without it succumbing to scale. The rosemary (the “filler plant”) will generally winter in my unheated sun porch unless we get a very cold winter–in which case I bring it into the house.

All of these, along with Wednesday’s show stopper ornamental container, will be traveling with me to my lectures in the next few weeks to illustrate some container design principles (as well as some fun fall containers).

I hate the see this year’s gardening season end!