Gardening Resolutions #4


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.


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.”

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!

Wordless Wednesday–Real Plants Instead of Plastic


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


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?


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.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?


Lovely leaf, not so lovely result, right?

When I first saw this, I thought I knew immediately what was happening.  Several years ago, when I was in North Carolina, I heard about a beetle that was ravaging canna lilies there. I thought that this beetle had somehow made its way north (as all noxious things somehow eventually do) and gotten to Connecticut.


It turns out that there is a simpler explanation for all of this.

Yes, it still has to do with a noxious invader. But this time the “invader” is quite well known to us here in Connecticut and has been for some time.

What’s turning these Canna leaves into lace (and it really is pretty, unless these are your plants, in which case, you probably want to scream! I think I might do a little judicious trimming if they were mine) is the all too common Japanese beetle.

As a doctor once told me, sometimes even if you have an unusual presentation, we still look for a common explanation, and not for something rare.  That’s probably good advice in gardening too.

“Holiday” Cactus

"holiday" "cactus"

Another holiday plant some have trouble with is the poorly named Christmas Cactus.  For one thing, the genus schlumbergera is neither a cactus nor does it naturally bloom at Christmas.  It is a succulent, which means it needs a little more water than a cactus.

Originally, these are native to Brazil, and there, they grow in humid, shady regions in the trees. They are epiphytic, like many orchids.

Plants should never dry out completely (they are not cacti); and they should be kept in a fairly shady window. Bright indirect light–just like the poinsettia likes–is great for them.

They set their buds in relation to day length and temperature so again, a darker, cooler window is better if you want them to bloom earlier, or a brighter, (but not sunny) warmer one is better if you want them to bloom later. I find that as soon as we turn the clocks back in November, mine form buds.

Holiday cacti in bloom

And, of course, because we keep our house very cool, they bloom shortly thereafter. Here is my west window  this Thanksgiving weekend. If it has been a particularly cool and dreary October, I may have one or two in bloom by Halloween. But it is rare that I still have a plant in bloom at Christmas, unless I buy it that current season as I did with the one in the cream colored pot.* It’s no matter. There are enough other lovely things decorating the house at Christmas.  The house plants are often over looked at that time anyway.

*Cute story about the Spoiler. I walked into his den carrying that plant just after I had put it into the cachepot. He asked what it was. I think I replied “Christmas cactus.

“Oh, no water?” he asked. You see how pervasive the myth of these things are–or perhaps it’s just the problem of its common name “cactus.”

The Queen of the December Plants–the Poinsettia


This is one plant that I cannot grow in my house. I can only have it in my office because my house is far too cool for this tropical beauty.

You may wonder why I don’t grow it in one of my south windows–that would be too much sun for it–at least at my house.  It also wouldn’t really be warm enough, even there because the big bay windows get very cool in the evening when the glass gets cold.

But oddly enough the plant is very happy in my bright office at work, behind my computer which throws off a good amount of heat. So it’s a perfect office plant–for my office situation.

But what about poinsettias in general? What conditions do they need?

Keep them warm–these plants are native to Mexico. That means if you are buying them in a cold weather region, make sure the store wraps them for you or bag them yourself. And don’t, for any reason, run a bunch of errands with these plants in the car. You’ll wonder why they “mysteriously” die on you a few days later.

These are plants in the euphorbia family so they want to be kept “evenly moist”–think begonia care. Don’t let them dry out completely and do not, under any circumstances, over-water!

After the holidays, if you don’t want to simply compost, follow these instructions:

(i). Cut them back.  You can do this as soon as you are sick of looking at those brightly colored bracts.

(ii) In March, begin feeding.  I only use organics.  You can use whatever fertilizer you prefer.

(iii) By September, get them to an unused room where you do not turn lights on in the evening. I have a guest room that I use.  I don’t obsess about this. If I need to go in once in a while I will put on the light.

(iv) By early December, you should see the bracts beginning to turn color again.  They will not be as full and lush as the “store-bought” ones, but you will have the joy of knowing you made your own poinsettia bloom!

Hibiscus Heaven

Tropical hibiscus

This year I have an abundance of hibiscus at my house. In addition to the perennial shrub type hibiscus which I’ll show in a minute, I got this tropical variety (hibiscus rosa-sinensis) (which is also perennial somewhere–in Florida and Hawaii for example, but certainly not in my climate unless I bring it in and put it in a very sunny window!).

My plan was to put it near the “pollinator pots.” You see the zinnia right behind it–and to use its color to draw the insects in than for any real value to pollinators. But just last night the Spoiler was raving about how much he liked what I have done with the containers this year so he is at least pleased. The jury is still out about whether I’ve helped the pollinators.


This hibiscus ( a type of hibiscus syriacus) is my powerhouse for pollinators. You can see the pollen dripping from the center of this flower. Unfortunately, it’s a messy plant and it seeds itself everywhere. But heck, I guess I can put up with that for its wildlife value. It is, after all, in the wildlife garden.

wildlife garden

This is a segment of that garden where the hibiscus is growing. You can see a few remaining black-eyed susans that I didn’t pull out when I did the renovation and added all the echinacea. Their foliage is pretty much untouched by that insect–so far–and completely disease free, despite the over-crowding.

double variegated hibiscus

This is Sugar Tip hibiscus, the other type of hibiscus is have. It’s spectacular in every way–leaves, flowers and maybe best of all, it’s sterile so I am not forever pulling up literally hundreds of seedlings every spring from underneath it.

But of course, there’s a trade-off. Although I see lots and lots of bumble bees inside these flowers, there’s no pollen. I feel terrible. I feel as if I am “tricking” them with this plant. They could and should be other places in my yard. It makes me want to take the plant out just for that reason.

Sugar Tip flower

Here’s a close up of the flower. Notice the pretty variegated leaf as well. It’s heart-breaking.



My Newest House Plant Obsession–Air Plants!

Air plants

Any time I wind up killing more than one of anything, I become obsessed. So when my tillandsia ball and another ball of mixed species of tillandsias suddenly up and died on me this winter, that was it–I was hooked. Clearly, I had to know what I was doing wrong and how to fix it.

air plant

Now in my defense, these two events happened months apart and I’m fairly sure I know exactly what happened in each case.  I have since confirmed it by reading Zenaida Sengo’s excellent book, Tillandsias: The Curious World of Air Plants.  Sorry there’s no photo, but I read it, as I read most things these days, on a device and not in paper.

I also talked to an air plant vendor at the Flower and Garden Show at the Convention Center a few weeks ago, specifically about my mixed ball of tillandsias, which I’d had less than a year.  The first one I’d had over five years and it literally bloomed itself to death, I think. So I’m not too concerned about that one.

air plant

His analysis was that the plants had dried out (and indeed, that pretty much seemed to be the case for at least one of the plants) because of my watering practices. So I’ve changed those up a bit–longer soakings–and I’m giving the plants a bit more light, although light in my house isn’t usually too much of an issue, particularly now that winter is over! The container of air plants shown above is one I purchased from him recently.

What I also learned from the book is that theses plants are epiphytes (like orchids, they like to hang on trees and absorb nutrition from the air–hence the name “air” plants) and they belong to the larger bromeliad family. Interesting.

The book also gives many fabulous suggestions for containers, for placements with other plants, and even for mounting (which I don’t think I’ll try, even after I’m sure I’m not going to kill them again, thanks so much!)

There are actually 3 different types of tillandsias, but this is a bit complicated. Some, which come from the desert regions, tend to be silvery in color and may be covered in a particular coating that helps them retain water more readily.

Bulbous air plant


Others are from more temperate regions. And then there are the bulbous types which look different from most of the others.

According to Sengo’s book, so long as the plants are receiving sufficient light, it’s really hard to over-water (within reason, of course) but they should never be left to sit in water.

And that’s the short course in air plant survival!