Practicing What I Preach–Sort Of

One of the things I always talk about when I lecture is the importance of foliage in garden design. Even when I am talking about house plants, foliage is the star–I will often bring 20 or 30 plants to display–and after everyone is done “oohing and aahing,” I will remark that it’s important to notice a couple of things about my display: first, how colorful it is and second, that there are maybe only one or perhaps two at most flowering plants int he whole thing (and if there are, I guarantee you one is a phalaenopsis orchid so that I can talk about proper watering technique–not the “ice cube” method.)

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For example, here’s a grouping of plants from my living room. There’s not a flowering plant among them but the grouping is vibrant and colorful. This photo is from last year so it’s changed up a little bit, but it’s still substantially similar–and still no flowers in this low-light area beneath a window.

The same results can be achieved outdoors as well. In fact, when I have the time and energy, I find that it’s almost more fun to create all foliage containers. I have not created anything at all this year–as I type, I am nursing a 3″ scar across the my arm–and I am right handed–that is preventing me from doing anything outside at all, including watering. That’s where the Spoiler comes in handy. But I knew this was coming so I didn’t make this an intensive gardening year. There’s always next year.

For inspiration, however, check out these lovely, mostly foliage containers at Avant Gardens. And then plan for your foliage containers in the future!

Gardening Resolutions #5

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This resolution is sort of an offshoot of Monday’s resolution to stop falling in love with shrubs. This is not the plant I wanted. I wanted a Norfolk Island Pine. In retrospect, it’s better that I didn’t find one in a size that I wanted to buy (I won’t even go into the reasons for that!)

But I did this same thing last year. I bought a little evergreen–which, by the way, is not intended to live indoors, even in my chilly house. I nursed it all the way through the winter. And then we got into March and the thing promptly succumbed to something. I think it was shortly after I had re-potted it because it was woefully pot-bound but I never re-pot in the dead of winter.

In any event, I have done the same thing–I have bought a completely inappropriate plant for the house. The tag says it will grow to 8-15 feet! So that indicates it’s definitely it’s an outdoor plant–but not in my climate. However, I suspect that just like last year it will succumb to something–perhaps the mites that seem to be affecting some other things in my collection this year–well before I can re-pot it and get it outdoors for the summer.

Perhaps next year, I will just content myself with my bulbs!

Gardening Resolutions #4

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The large plant in the center of the photo is what’s prompted this “resolution.” I seem to be full of them this year, most of them which I am sure that I will never be able to keep, of course!

This is a variegated pittosporum. It’s not a house plant. It’s a shrub that grows in warm climates. I saw it on my trip to Italy in 1999 and fell in love with it. I’ve also seen it, as well as its non-variegated cousin, on my trips to Texas.

My “resolution,” if you will, is to try not to fall in love with these huge plants that were never intended to be house plants. As I just mentioned, this is a shrub. The only reason it’s in my house in a pot is that I can’t grow it outside in my cold climate.

So why am I growing it at all? Well, because, as I mentioned, I saw a lovely hedge of it in Italy, outside of Rome, at a restaurant where I enjoyed a lovely open-air dinner on a warm, late summer night. My chair backed up tot this hedge and the foliage is slightly fragrant. That was all it took. When I saw a small plant offered for sale, it brought back that wonderful memory of that open air dinner and the rest is history.

I didn’t realize that this plant flowered and had lovely fragrant flowers int he spring. It won’t do it for me every spring–but that’s part of its charm too. But still–if I keep falling in love with shrubs, I’ll have to move out of my house!

More About Those Illiterate Plants

You probably wonder why on earth I keep saying “plants can’t read.” It was one of my favorite sayings when I worked in retail gardening–so far as I know, I made it up.

I would say it whenever a customer would ask me about plant height or width. I would give them the general range, followed by my favorite saying, and then say something like, so if the plant is very happy–or unhappy–at your house, what this tag says could be different.

Back then I didn’t realize how little new plants were actually “trialled” for the traits they were supposed to have.

And this summer, I came across another plant that just didn’t read its own press.

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This is a “new” white mandevilla. Supposedly its claim to fame is that it is not supposed to vine. Oopsie! I guess mine didn’t read the press.

I don’t particularly care. I love the plant. It’s done exceptionally well for me all summer, despite our monsoon conditions.

I bought it in a hanging basket specifically so that I would not be tempted to try to over-winter it. Every fall, as frost nears, my mandevilla or dipladenia is still blooming so gloriously that on occasion, I have brought them in.

The next thing I know, in the low light of our Connecticut winters, they’re dropping all their leaves and sending out tendrils that are trying to climb everything in my house. No! Not ever again. Some plants are just meant to be seasonal joys for me.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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!

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!

A Bunch of Sticks?

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The Spoiler and I were out to dinner before Christmas and somehow the topic of these plants came up. Except as usual,  when the Spoiler and I are discussing plants, the conversation sounded sort of like a “who’s on first” routine.

First, he asked me if we could get rid of the bunch of dead sticks.  Having no idea that he was referring to my over-wintering figs,  I said, “yes, of course; where are they?”

Once I explained that his “dead sticks” were really just dormant plants,  he was unmoved.  They are at the entrance to his “man cave” and apparently “manly men,” as well as the occasional clients he sees there when he is working smarter not harder, are offended by over-wintering plants.

So we compromised.  Now that the decorations are down and away,  I can winter them in a back room where no one will have to see them and be offended.

The Spoiler strikes again.  Sigh.