Sunday, December 29, 2013


It's time for Hippeastrum papilio, the butterfly amarylllis, to bloom. 'La Paz' has already faded, in typical amaryllis fashion lasting about a week, short enough that I wonder why I make the effort at all. But then the next one blooms and all is forgiven. H. papilio will not last any longer, but it produces more than one stalk which will bloom later. It would make a bigger splash if they both bloomed at the same time, but I appreciate the longer bloom time. It has a lot of offsets, but I haven't get gotten them to bloom. I'm certain that they are slow to grow because of the tough windy weather that we had that tore off leaves, and also because of my stinginess with fertilizer. I intentionally held back on nitrogen so that the leaves wouldn't be as long and as prone to damage (not that it did any good). H. papilio is green, with red brush strokes, and if photos on the web are reliable, usually has 2 flowers per stem. Mine usually has 3 blooms on its first stalk so the web may be inaccurate. The flowers are laterally compressed, like a butterfly opening its wings, not like the trumpet shape that most hybrid amaryllis have. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

santa down - warning images may be disturbing

All around the neighborhood, were found these disturbing scenes: Santa collapsed, limp and unresponsive on the rooftop. Santa found face down in the snow. Santa frozen in his bathtub. Was Santa enjoying too much Christmas cheer?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"christmas" flowers

 Some plants are so well known for their bloom season that they are named for it. Although amaryllis and pointsettias are used to celebrate the Christmas season, they do not contain the "Christmas" epithet. Christmas Cactus is well known and sold everywhere. Since my indoor plant collection is intended to ease my winter garden deprivation, I had to have one. Last summer,  I bought this off-season (and without bloom) plant from the closing High Country Gardens. I thought it would be pink, but instead a streaky red that is rather unusual.

Part of the popularity of Christmas Cactus is its ease of growth. Stick a cutting in a pot and soon you have a plant. Blooming is another story. At least for me. It must have a long night in order to bloom. That I can handle, putting the plant in my laundry room. But it needs long nights not just to bloom, it must have long nights to keep its flowers. That's where I have trouble. A week ago, I accidentally left the light on in the room for an hour or two - just one night, and since then, all the buds have fallen off. A couple of well-matured buds still opened, but the dozens of remaining buds are gone. So be forewarned.

Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) is an outdoor plant that I can easily see becoming a favorite. It has been slowly developing buds since Thanksgiving, and today, right on time, it opened.

This clone is called Jacob and he is fantastic. He even bloomed again in the middle of summer. This will become the featured plants of my winter garden, my courtyard, where the fiercest of winter temperatures and winds are moderated. It will soon be shaded by redbud trees, protecting the hellebores from the intense summer sun. These plants like shade, something I'm grateful for.

I also obtained clones of his sibling, Joseph Lemper, from Pine Knot Farms. Although these small plants survived the heat of summer, they are not yet blooming. The clone Nell Lewis, also Helleborus niger, is supposed to tolerate heat better than others, but this has not proven so in my garden, at least with my limited sample of two. One died outright in the summer heat while Joseph next to it survived. The other Nell Lewis,  was well shaded and survived, but did not increase in size. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for next year, since I love these so much.

I think I need to get a plant of Cattleya percivilliana. It's known as "The Christmas Orchid."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

amaryllis time begins

My amaryllis (Hippeastrum) suffered this year. The winds blew the leaves off, twice. One plant said "forget it" and refused to grow anymore after it was left with only 2 leaves. But I did give them spacious pots, new potting mix, and they did get a few months of sun, undisturbed in the sheltered courtyard. 'La Paz' is the first to bloom of my six plants. This year, the flowers are smaller than normal. It perches its flowers on a very tall stalk, five inch flowers on a 24 inch stem. The leaves tend to be at their most unattractive when the blooms appear, but I don't remove them. For me, the joy is in the growing. If you grow 'La Paz', don't expect the flowers to be this red. I had left my camera setting on "vivid" which made the flowers red. In real life, the flowers are red/orange. Sort of a burnt orange color. My H. papilio is up next, the stems elongating, and 'Ruby Star' is just beginning to show a bud. I've been bringing one pot in from the cool garage every week or two, to lengthen my bloom season. It is rare that I have time to take better photos than snapshots now. In my dream life I would spend my days gardening, and taking photos of the flowers.

apple tree update

My baby apple trees are finally losing their leaves...after the fourth snowstorm of the year. The world is back to normal. Sort of.

jacob getting ready for christmas

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Snowy morning in the courtyard

The courtyard I inherited is an odd collection of shrubs. In one corner (off photo in lower left) is a spreading yew (Taxus baccata 'Repandens'?). In the opposite corner is a boxwood. One corner is empty, being surrounded by glass. The other corner has Euonymus japonicus 'Green Spire' (top left).  There is a round firepit in the center, and a square fountain off on one wall. Something definitely needs to be done to make this mishmash of a courtyard more balanced. The square fountain will have to go, replaced by a planting,  although another option is to replace it with a series of single jets around the periphery of the courtyard, that will arise directly from the ground and be unobtrusive when not active.

But what to do about the plantings? I thought about taking out one or two of the varieties and planting more of the rest, or removing some and planting a few of another plant to provide balance. I hope to remove the boxwood, even though it is doing well, because I hate the dog pee smell which is intensified by the warm enclosed space. But it is doing a good job of covering up the gas line to the firepit. Perhaps balancing the Euonymus by a cross-axis planting would do the trick for the design. It would tolerate both the sun and shade which the yew couldn't if I tried the same with it. It is evergreen and sturdy. Unfortunately, it seems that no one sells this form of Euonymus around here anymore, and it is even hard to find on-line.

So this spring I took cuttings. My book on plant propagation says this plant can be a challenge to propagate for the home gardener, and my track record has not been very good this year, so I took a number of cuttings, about 24, and struck them in potting mix in an old salad mix container (those clear plastic things you get salad mix in). After about 3 months a few of them turned yellow and were removed. The others stayed green. A couple of months later, and suddenly, there were roots and growth! Last week, I repotted, giving me 15 new tiny plants. Success! But if I only need a few, what to do with the rest?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

progress on jacob

It's a month since the flowers first appeared on Jacob (alas, it looks like no flowers from my young Joseph Lemper or Nell Lewis this year). The flowers are now looking like gigantic snowdrops. They emerged from the snow looking fresh, as they are reported to do. They haven't opened yet, but I'm expecting that they will, in a couple of weeks. Just in time for Christmas.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

i don't get it


I just don't get it. Here it is, December 15. We have had temperatures below 10F and a week where the highs did not go above the 40's. Most nights are in the 20's-30's. We have had two snow storms, and there is still snow on the ground. Why do my apple trees still have their leaves? Granted, they aren't looking as perky as they did in the summer, and some of the leaves have crispy edges or are entirely crispy.

Tydeman's Late Orange

Two of the trees have lost about 1/3 of the leaves. But the remaining leaves are pretty green.

Ashmead's Kernal
see? Snow!

I thought that perhaps the leaves were freeze dried, given that we had incredibly gusty winds during the below10F temperatures, and that I was fooled into thinking the leaves were still alive. But no, with the sun shining on them, they are soft and flexible.

Calville Blanc d'Hiver
I kind of got annoyed with this tree retaining its leaves at this time of year, and I started hand stripping the leaves. Then I gave up because they weren't giving up without a fight. It is extra strange, because all the other apple trees around town and in my neighborhood are leafless. For at least a month. I don't think anyone hand stripped all those trees. Granted, my trees are on the south side of the house, but you'd think that the ice coating the leaves for days and the short days would have given these trees a hint that winter's here.