It’s Container Garden Time!

It’s finally warm enough to bring my plants off the porch, outside and to get them into containers. You saw one of them last Wednesday for “Wordless Wednesday.”

Here are some of the others.20180520_162346

This is an herb container. You may remember the Spanish Lavender from an earlier post. I have surrounded it with rosemary, thyme, chives (already starting to flower) and parsley.


You can see that I am already starting my “edibles” wall. It has to be this way since my vegetable garden soil is still “poisoned” from last year’s unfortunate incident with the erring landscape company. I may find that I like everything so close to the kitchen that I never go back to the raised beds–who knows?

As for the Spoiler, he’s already said that he likes the flowers in the raised bed.


I had a container garden lecture on Tuesday so I planted up some containers that I might not ordinarily do. This one is a “riff” on the geranium, vinca, dracena spike combo, but done with houseplants so the whole thing can be brought in for the winter if you choose.


And since not everyone loves the look of all succulents (and we don’t live in Arizona or the desert southwest, so really, why do we insist on planting them everywhere?) this is my take on a dry container that will go a long time without water. (Actually I do love the look of succulents–but I keep them as house plants instead!)


Finally, for those of you that were with me last year, you may remember that I did this combo last summer. The two colors of million bells fill in nicely under the croton and blend together to form an orange-y yellow carper over the top of the whole pot. It’s very nice. It the end of the season, I compost the million bells, fill in those spots with fresh soil and return the croton to a sunny window indoors.

So that’s some fun with containers at my house!

Why Won’t My Hydrangea Bloom?


Okay, we’re going a little off topic of pollinators, edibles and pesticides, but as soon as I saw this cart full of plants,  I knew immediately that there would be numerous disappointed gardeners next year.

As you can see, the blue ones are almost all sold. Everyone here attempts to get that “Cape Cod” look.

I checked the tag on the plant. It said “Early Blue”. It didn’t appear to have a zone indicated, a sure sign that these are florist hydrangeas for Mother’s Day.

When I was working retail,  I learned pretty darn quickly to ask the question about whether the plant was a gift plant as soon as I heard “Why won’t my hydrangea bloom?”

In our climate,  that’s usually the first reason. Late frost or snow is the second.  But that’s a whole other post.

These plants are beautiful,  though,  aren’t  they?

Annuals Versus Tender Perennials

tender perennials

On Monday I talked about deadheading petunias. Petunias are definitely an annual. No matter your climate or zone, they do not live forever. If you live in a zone with four seasons (why they call these the “temperate” zones, I’m not sure because the winters we’ve been having lately are anything but temperate–but I digress. That’s the terminology they–and we–will use) and tried to bring petunias into the house to winter them over, you would not have much success.

Perhaps you’ve tried this with herbs. Again it’s somewhat easier to explain (at least to anyone who has grown or tried this with herbs). Basil, a true annual, cannot be over-wintered. It just gets long, leggy, and keeps trying to set flowers and go to seed. It does not make the nice leaves one needs for cooking.

Other herbs like rosemary or bay which are perennial (but cannot be over-wintered outside where temperatures drop below 20 degrees farenheit, with certain exceptions) do just fine in a cool place over-winter. These herbs, as well as other plants which we may bring in, are known as “tender perennials.”

I find a lot of gardeners winter things over but are not necessarily familiar with this term. It really doesn’t matter, but it does get confusing. I’ve had seasoned professionals say to me that they winter their annuals over every year.

Well, no. Clearly, annuals, because of their life cycle, as discussed, can’t be wintered over. What they technically mean to say is that they are wintering over their tender perennials. And while it may sound as if I’m splitting hairs here, I’m just trying to help all of us not born with this knowledge understand a little better the life cycles of plants. Because, after all, if annuals only live one year, (more or less), while perennials are perpetual (more or less) (an easy way to remember which is which when confronted with all those rows of plants at the garden center) you want to choose those which suit your needs.

Tender perennials are a huge group of plants. They can be house plants, they can be sold as annuals, they can be sold as biennials (don’t even get me started on those) and they can be sold as something else entirely. The herb ocimum basilicum Pesto Perpetuo–or Basil Pesto Perpetuo is a tender perennial here in Connecticut. It is a “perennial” basil in the sense that it does not set seed and die in one year–so it may be over-wintered. But our climate doesn’t permit that to happen so we would have to over-winter it indoors. Still, it’s quite a blessing to have a basil that will grow indoors over the winter!

The photo above consists solely of “tender” perennials. These are things that if I lived in another climate, I might be happily growing outdoors year round: a lemon tree, amaryllis, lots of pelargoniums (geraniums). I have lots more as well. Perhaps the classic example of this in my climate is the edible fig. Here we have to bring them in, or bury them to protect them. They are not hardy.


Here’s another classic case of what I mean. This unusual plant is being sold as the annual “digiplexus.” There’s an unlovely name for a great plant. What it technically is is a biennial foxglove crossed with a South African foxglove. So if you live in Zone 8 or south, it’s hardy for you. For the rest of us, not so much. And unlike the biennial foxgloves which might self-sow, this is a hybrid, so it most likely will not.

Anyway, the color is great and it went nicely with some perennial agastache I had just planted. And it should keep blooming because of the South African parentage. We’ll see.

As the Spoiler always says, I garden in the wrong climate.

I hope this clears up a bit of the mystery for you about tender perennials. You don’t ever have to use the term. Just know what it is–and why some of your “annuals” will live over the winter in the house and others will not!

Wordless Wednesday–Croton for Winter Interest


Croton (codiaeum variegatum) are really tender perennials that grow outdoors in tropical climates.  Surprise–these plants are also part of the very large euphorbia family!

3 small croton



They are not botanically known as croton because there is already a species of plant that bears no resemblance but goes by that botanical name–sort of like the confusion between perennial geranium and the ornamental geraniums used for landscaping and in containers in the summer–those are actaully pelargoniums.  (What was that about a rose by any other name smelling as sweet?)

A larger croton


Lately, the craze has included including these colorful plants in outrageous container designs as well.

But crotons can liven up a winter windowsill just by itself or in small groupings.  Its colorful leaves are so vibrant, no flowers are needed!

Poinsettia Care


Every year I do a post about poinsettias.  This is the number one selling house plant/tender perennial in the country so it seems worthwhile to devote some time to it, particularly since my readers shouldn’t have to look back to 2011 or 2010 to see what I’ve said about these colorful plants.

When it comes to poinsettias, I almost alway buy a couple for the holidays.  They’re invariably red, since the Spoiler likes them in red.  I have experimented with the other colors, and even with the more “fanciful” ones like the rose poinsettias.  Ultimately, I’ve decided that I like the red or the white ones best as well–and since I try to keep harmony at the holidays, the red ones usually grace the house.

They don’t do particularly well for me because they are a tropical plant and my house is anything but tropical.  I try to give them a decent amount of light (no direct sun–they really would prefer not to have that) and I put them in one of the warmer rooms of the house.  But of course, warm to us hardy New England types is NOT warm to a poinsettia so I will often lose them after a few months (I can’t keep betta fish for the same reason, despite my love of them, so I’ve given up trying).

So just from that description, you know that poinsettias like warm, bright rooms with no real direct sunlight.  Where many folks fail is in the watering.  Again, this isn’t the easiest. The instructions say “evenly moist.”  That often leads to over-watering, and then perhaps to under-watering–not a good combination.  I wind up checking mine every few days when I first bring it home to see how quickly it’s drying and then water accordingly.

The other thing most folks want to know about is “after-care,” or how to bring the plant back into flower once next season comes.  This really isn’t as hard as all the experts have you believe.

The first line of attack is to cut them back.  That will get rid of the worst of any sad-looking foliage and give the plants a chance to rest a bit.  You can do this as early as January if you like–but don’t expect any new growth to begin until about mid-March or so.

Once March comes, I will begin feeding with an organic fertilizer that is higher in nitrogen so that the plants begin to branch and put on new growth.  (March is the magic month, at least here in the northern latitudes, because that’s when the sun begins to return and warm up and indoor plants naturally begin to grow.)

I have had great success in keeping the plants over in an un-used room in my house–just a spare guest room.  I don’t try to block ambient light from adjoining rooms, I’m not overly neurotic about not turning on the light in the room (but obviously I don’t leave the lights on for extended periods) and I don’t block out lights room the outside window.  By December, the bracts are coloring up again. They will never be as full or lush as a grower’s poinsettia, but they do come back–and the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done it yourself is a lot of fun!

I’ll talk a bit about myths and lore on Friday since this is already way too long!

Wordless Wednesday–Bringing In The Houseplants

Late September was the coolest in 4 years–so I took time to move some 80 or more plants back indoors for the season.  This is the before photo.

Same view with the indoor and tender plants gone.

My “mixed container border”

My shade loving containers (The orchids aren’t pictured–they’re around back)

All gone!  But there’s always next year!

Preserve Your Herbs With A Basil for Indoors

Fresh herbs are wonderful things–there’s nothing like their flavor.  And after a summer of growing and flavoring with them, it can be tough to say goodbye to those that are true annuals (remember, an annual is defined as a plant whose growing season is completed in a single year–or, as I prefer to think of it, a plant whose job is to set seed and die.  That’s why basil is constantly flowering–because flowers lead to seed!)

While some perennial herbs like chives can be potted up and brought in, and others like thyme will usually do fine on an indoor windowsill, many of the rest can be very tricky.  Rosemary is notoriously finicky about water–too little and it dies, too much and it dies and in between it gets covered with powdery mildew so that you don’t want to use it in cooking anyway.

Basil, on the other hand, is usually thought of as a true annual–the reason it’s always such a struggle to keep it from flowering. There is, however, a perennial basil that can be grown indoors on a windowsill (and when I say perennial, I mean tender perennial–don’t try to winter this basil outdoors in the garden!)

But the advantage of this basil is that, as a perennial, (known botanically as ocimum x ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’) it will continue to grow, albeit slowly and anemically throughout winter without supplemental light.  But there will be fresh leaves to use for any dishes that might require it.  There won’t be enough for pesto, (don’t let the name fool you!) and surely with the quality of winter tomatoes no one would even think of making caprese salads anyway, but for flavoring sauces this plant is just the thing.

It also helps that its leaves are slightly stronger flavored than traditional large leafed basil–so you don’t need as many.

And best of all, it seems to shake off a lot of the fungal problems that other basils have when they are grown in cooler temperatures or in lower light conditions.  It may get a wonky leaf or shoot, but it can easily be pruned out without the whole plant becoming affected.

Overall, this basil is perfect for transitioning to fall–and beyond.  And it makes a pretty addition to the garden as well.  Next year, try it as a landscape plant!

Hurricane Preparedness

This may be the last post you read from me in a while.  I posted this Saturday as I was preparing for Irene to make landfall somewhere around Connecticut.  I scheduled it to post on Monday–I presume that if we’re without power it will still post but who knows?

I noticed quite a few garden bloggers posting pictures of their gardens on Friday and saying “I hope there will still be something left post-Irene.”  I can certainly sympathize with that!  I had a bit of a rude awakening on my Friday walk, however.  I went out at 6:30 to discover that my green beans, which had finally climbed to the tops of their respective poles and were fleshing out nicely, were gone!  Nothing left but a few stringy stems thanks to those pesky deer.  So  some of my gardening  came to a crashing halt a little early anyway.  Oh well.

Friday evening, I did a “quick” gathering up of all the plants and stored them in the garage.  It’s far too early to say goodbye to the summer containers–and besides, I surely don’t want them to become projectiles in tropical storm or higher force winds.

This is what I was gathering though and you’ll see that it wasn’t such an easy task.  It took 3 of us over an hour.

These are the herb containers I keep just outside my door for easy harvest.  I’m not ready to let those go.

These are mixed annuals and house plants with a few tender tropicals thrown in for good measure.

Mostly tender perennials that I over-winter (not the Alberta Spruce, of course!)

And finally more tender perennials and house plants.  What you don’t see are the big containers of mixed annuals that I already moved, or the orchids from the back of the house–but you get the idea!

But it’s also far too early to bring them inside.  I’m not quite resigned to the task of watering with a watering can instead of a hose.

And this year I decided that they were not all coming in either.  I mean I love my houseplants but it’s getting a little too crazy.  We’ll se if I can actually winnow down the collection to a manageable number.

But doing so while trying to prepare for a once in a 50 year storm is not probably wise. I can winnow after the storm–or even later in the season.

And I can hope this is all unnecessary and this storm, fickle as these storms can be, takes a last-minute turn out to sea and everyone is spared.  That’s what everyone is truly hoping and praying for!