Hellebores for an Early Spring Garden

March 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

I made a spontaneous weekend trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show last weekend. What you usually see at early spring flower shows are flowers and shrubs and even trees that have been heated and pampered to produce blooms long before they’d do so with Mother Nature’s guidance alone. That’s what people come for—to be inspired by what the warmer weather promises.

Flower Show visitors don’t have to wait for long to see a few of the plants that were in full bloom indoors. The hellebore (Helleborus) is a good example of that.

Hellebores bloom in late winter and early spring—some varieties as early as January. There’s been a resurgence in interest in this perennial plant over the last decade or so, and plant breeders have introduced all sorts of cool flower colors and foliage colors. The hellebore’s leaves, by the way, are evergreen – they won’t die back in winter, which is another cool thing about this plant.

Helleborus 'HGC Mahogany Snow' planted en masse at the Philadelphia Flower Show

Helleborus ‘HGC Mahogany Snow’ planted en masse at the Philadelphia Flower Show

Take Helleborus ‘HGC Mahongany Snow’, for instance. This variety can begin blooming as early as January in some areas. And the blooms are beautiful—dusty rose buds open into creamy white flowers. The leaves are chocolatey in color and the flower stems reddish. The whole package—leaves, stems and blooms—gives the garden some low-key color at a low-key time of the year. And they’re astounding planted en masse like this.

There’s been a push in recent years to sell hellebores as potted plants in the late fall through winter. Give them as Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts, that sort of thing. Think of them as temporary blooming houseplants biding their time until you can plant them outdoors in spring. It’s a good idea. In fact, I have had a potted hellebore ‘Jacob’ in my office window since late December. It’s looking a little weak right now, but that’s ok—it’ll be heading outside in a few short weeks.

Why you might enjoy hellebores:

  • Blooms way early in the year, just when your garden needs it!
  • Come in some great colors—both flower and leaf color
  • Perennials, so you’ll have them year after year, and they’ll get bigger each year
  • Evergreen foliage for year-round color
  • A good choice for your partial shade garden, under bushes, and so forth
  • Deer resistant—bonus!
  • Nice as winter houseplants—another bonus!

 

Have you tried hellebores? How have they held up in your garden? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Poinsettias: Perks of the Job

December 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

With the nature of what I do for a living, I get free stuff. I write about plants and gardening, and companies send me free plants and gardening equipment. It’s nice. Really nice. And if any of those folks are reading this, I could really use a new pair of Felco hand pruners.

The “free stuff” slacks off in the off-season. Except each December I receive a nice gift from the folks at Ecke Ranch. Paul Ecke Sr. and Jr. “invented” the poinsettia as a holiday plant by giving away hundreds of plants for the sets of talk shows back in the 50s or 60s. And, well, now poinsettias are everywhere.

Being “everywhere” can backfire. Being everywhere can give any product the image of it being commonplace and worthless. And what’s happened is that you can now find poinsettias in your local Walmart or other big box store for 99 cents. And they are in pretty bad shape, too.

This gift I received from Ecke Ranch contained 8 samples of the antithesis of the throw-away poinsettia. They’re well-grown and beautiful—even shipped clear across the country via two-day FedEx. There’s something comforting in this plant that represents such such a hallowed season. The big, bushy, well-grown poinsettia really is not to be missed—and it’s well-worth the money, too.

poinsettias

And don’t they look so holiday-cheery grouped together?

holiday cheer

holiday cheer

As you can see, not all poinsettias are red. This one is called Sparkling Punch. Pinks and off-whites—why not?

Poinsettia Sparkling PunchP

Poinsettia Sparkling Punch

And this one looks like it’s covered in tiny glittery dots. Kinda like Pointillism. Get it? Pointillism? Poinsettias? And it’s aptly named Monet. (This one plant has kinda slacky leaves—they aren’t all like this.)

This variety is called Monet.

This variety is called Monet.

I do like the large, bushy poinsettias, but something I like even more are the tiny tiny ones that are about 4 in. tall. Very cute, and you can set them around the house wherever you want. If you see one, grab one—or a half dozen—you’re gonna find them adorably fun to decorate with.

Oh, and about that “Watch out! They are poisonous to cats!” thing. It’s a myth. Well, it’s not a myth. They are poisonous. BUT, your cat or puppy or baby or you would have to eat several whole plants before anyone starts getting ill. And how likely is that going to happen? So, don’t fret about it.

boos and poinsettia

An easy DIY green wall

February 3, 2012 § 6 Comments

As soon as I whispered under my breath that I would post EVERY day in February, I promptly skipped a day.

But I have a great excuse. Really, I do. I was working.

Now, I don’t normally share my work stuff here. I’m making an exception, however, because a) I feel I need to make up for yesterday and b) I spotted a pretty cool product that is applicable to both food and garden topics. Trust me on this, it’s something you’ll think is neat. And you may even be inspired to buy one.

First, the details. Where was I? I was at a trade and educational show here in Boston called New England Grows. Lots of inspiring seminars with landscape designers, plant breeders, horticulturists, arborists, etc etc. And it has a pretty big trade show attached to it, too, with aisle upon aisle of vendors exhibiting everything from plants and pavers to forklifts and whimsical garden art. The trade show is the reason I go—to find new stuff.

Green Walls Made Simple
Green walls—whether outside along the side of a building or installed on an indoor wall—are a big thing nowadays, very trendy. I’ve seen them in stores, in and outside restaurants, in botanical gardens, in museums and all sorts of places. And they’re usually large and decorative and have intricate irrigation systems. But really, can these things be everyday items for everyday people?I had serious doubts.

But a product I saw yesterday has made me reconsider. It’s called GroVert. And it’s simple, really. It consists of a plastic tray with a number of cells. Think of it as a big ice cube tray with the cells angled a bit. When the tray is filled with potting soil and hung with just two screws on the wall, the cells, because they are angled downward, don’t lose any of the soil.

GroVert vertical garden

GroVert vertical garden

Within each cell you can plant small plants—whatever plants you want, but ones that stay kinda small are best. If the GroVert will be installed outside, then any type of colorful bedding plant will do, or fill with small evergreen groundcovers. If the GroVert will hang indoors, then the typical houseplants will work best.

Here’s a culinary twist: Plant herbs in the cells and hang near your outdoor grill or on the wall in your kitchen. Brilliant!

How do you water it? Another simple concept. Above this tray is a water reservoir. I’m not positive how it works, but I think the water slowly drips from there, trickling downward from cell to cell. And there’s a basin at the base to catch anything that leaches through.

Another cool thing about GroVert is that you can buy a wood frame that fits over and around the tray and reservoir, basically covering the black plastic and turning it into a living piece of art.

Why stop at one? Place two or more together to expand the footprint of your GroVert green wall.

The things I like about GroVert are: 1) it seems easy to install, 2) maintenance is basic enough, 3) there’s options to expand and 4) if the plants don’t do well, removing individual plants and replacing with new ones seems simple.

Where do you find GroVert? Good question! This is a new product and should be appearing in local garden retail stores soon. If I hear of where you can find it, I’ll try to let you know.

Think this will inspire you to create your own green wall? Flowers, foliage or herbs? Leave me a comment and weigh in on the subject!

Paperwhites: Fresh Color For the New Year

January 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

“I don’t do well with houseplants.”

Really? Is that really your excuse for not adding some living color – literally, living color – to your home? Come on, having houseplants isn’t like doing brain surgery. And, if you do mess up with a houseplant, you can always get another one. Another brain? Not so sure about that.

But specifically, let’s talk paperwhites, aka Narcissus tazetta (I had to google that, don’t be too impressed). Houseplants? Not really. They’re actually bulbs, and the bright, papery-white mini daffodil-shaped flowers will eventually die, the green leaves will fade. Rather than label them houseplants, let’s call them temporary residents, instead.

You see paperwhite bulbs for sale beginning any time after Thanksgiving and into January or so. Why? It’s just the right time of year to force these bulbs into bloom. Forced early in December, the bright white flowers go well with the Christmas holiday decor. Set against the red of a poinsettia, and the white makes the red look even more Christmassy. They make a good pair.

Paperwhites really do make the color of poinsettias pop.

Wait – I think I have to define a word here, “force,” just in case you don’t catch my meaning. You’re not actually using force (or anger or intimidation) to make these bulbs pop their buds. To “force” means to … encourage, yeah, that’s it … you’re encouraging these bulbs to produce leaves and flowers for you at a time when Mother Nature would dictate they sleep for the winter instead.

Okay, back to business.

Begin forcing paperwhites in mid December, and they’ll bring you a whole different experience. At least for me. As you’re dismantling your tree, taking down the decorations and removing all hints of the Christmas holiday round about New Year’s Day, the paperwhites are pushing out their petals. The house is not suddenly stale and cold. There’s life in full flower on the windowsill.

Plant up some paperwhites every weekend from mid December through mid January or whenever your bulb supply runs out, and the narcissus blooms should take you right up until Valentine’s Day, when a color of another sort may appear if you’re lucky.

Paperwhite How-Tos

You don’t have to plant your paperwhites as I do. This technique – potting up the bulbs in water – works for me. And is a lot easier to clean up than potting the bulbs in potting soil.

For one container of paperwhites:

  • three paperwhite bulbs – I found mine at Mahoney’s Garden Center in Brighton.
  • glass vase big enough to fit said bulbs
  • polished stones, glass or similar from a craft store

-I use any sort of clear-glass vessel I can find that has a) an opening big enough for me to squeeze my hand through and b) is at least 6 inches deep. An 11-in. tall vase – the standard kind you get with a nice bouquet delivery – is ideal and I’ll tell you why later. An 8-in. vase is a tad too short. Explanation to come below.

-Place stones/glass/whatever in the bottom of the vessel to create a layer at least 2 or 3 inches deep.

-Place each paperwhite bulb on top of the stones, nudging them in just a bit. Don’t bury the bulbs, just make sure they are securely on the stones. Bulbs can touch, don’t worry. Oh, and place the bulbs GREEN SIDE UP! Your bulbs should have a visible root side and emerging green stemmy-looking side. If you put the green side down, god help you son.

-Place on a windowsill or somewhere they can get some light – they are plants, after all.

-Add water to the vase to just about the bottom of the bulb. The bulbs can sit in a bit of water, but don’t flood them.

-Next, watch them grow.

 

Even the paperwhite roots are cool to see. Looks like I need to add some water to the vase!

Got a cat or dog? Adding water to their water bowl? Well, check if your pet paperwhites need water, too. It may take a week or so to see some activity. You’ll see it first in the water – brownish white roots will emerge from the bulb. That’s a good sign. Once that happens, the top will start elongating and long leaves will grow by leaps and bounds each day. And eventually a stalk will pop out of the bulb with a thin membrane-encased bunch of baby flowers. Ah, birth!

So, the explanation for why I prefer an 11-in. vase. Simple. These leaves and flowering stalks get pretty tall. The shorter the vase, the more easily the tall stuff slumps over. My paperwhites in the taller vase don’t even think of slumping. Looks much neater. However, if you like the paperwhites-gone-wild look, go for it.

A tall vase helps keep the stems and leaves stand straight.

What Can Go Wrong?

Good question.

-One BIG bummer I experienced last year was a batch of bad bulbs. Not sure what happened to them, but they didn’t emerge more than an inch or two, and they never did flower.

-You can add too much water and your bulbs will get icky. Icky as in moldy and soft.

-You can have too many bulbs in too shallow a container. And your top-heavy flowers will tip over. Is it apparent I’m speaking from experience?

-Not that this is too horrible of a problem but … check out this photo. The emerging leaves and stems couldn’t quite make it up and around the curve of the vase. They had nowhere to go but where they were. So, I ended up with flowers inside the vase. Actually, it looks pretty interesting to me.

These paperwhite flowers couldn't quite make it out of the vase.

Oh, one thing you may want to be aware of: Paperwhites have that same effect on people as cilantro – you know, where people either like the taste of cilantro or think it tastes like soap. The paperwhite fragrance is kinda/sorta the same way, except it’s not soap it will smell like. But don’t let this dissuade your trying paperwhites. It was my duty to tell you.

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