Wordless Wednesday

orchids outside

When I lecture on house plants (as I often do) folks will often ask me about orchids. I say that they are very easy, and, like the rest of my house plants, I give them no special treatment. I put them outside around Memorial Day and I bring them inside around Labor Day. That’s it–no miracles involved.

You can even see a white cyclamen that I stuck in there with the orchids. It too is blooming its fool head off.

In case anyone doubts this, none of these orchids or the cyclamen were blooming when they went outside.

""hardy" gardenia

This is one of those tender perennials I talked about a few weeks back. I got it as a sample at one of the Garden Writer trade shows, probably in the mid 2000s. It supposedly is hardy to 25 degrees. It’s actually hardy to much colder than that because the unheated sun porch where I over-winter it got down to 18 this past winter–and as you can see, it’s doing just fine.

Every so often I lose things on the porch–or more often, as in this “polar vortex winter” in the garage. But if you haven’t tried over-wintering plants that are not hardy for you and you have an un-heated space where you can do it, I highly recommend it!

Daddy Long Legs

Daddy long Legs

It’s funny what you find where. For over a week now I’ve been sharing my bathroom with this creature. Despite the urban legend that it has the “deadliest bite of all the spiders” (wrong on more than one account because this isn’t even a spider–a spider has a two segmented body This has one. We’ll stop there), this is a harmless insect (to humans).

In the winter I often wonder how things get into my house and why. I figure lots of things hitch rides in on the house plants and then will “hatch out” at appropriate times for the insects (but inappropriate times for me!)

In the summer, I wonder the same thing. This is a really large bug. It’s so big, one of its legs didn’t completely fit in the photo. What is it doing on the second floor of my house? Doubtful it chose to climb up the side and sneak in a window–they haven’t been open much lately in the heat.

It’s possible it “rode in” on something–me, the Spoiler or one of the dogs and then just found its way to the bathroom. I find insects love bathrooms and the kitchen for the readily available source of moisture.

Normally I’d try to take misplaced creatures back outside but these guys are delicate and this one is so big I don’t know what I’d use to relocate it–a small box? Besides, I did have that kitchen spider that lived for 6 months.

From what I’ve read, these guys are fairly omnivorous and will eat almost anything that comes by, including bird poop. There shouldn’t be any of that in the bathroom but there should be enough other stuff to sustain it.

The biggest problem is that it moves around quite a lot. Unlike the kitchen spider, every time I come into the bathroom, it’s in another place. And until I locate it, I’m always a little wary. I don’t want to accidentally grab it–or find it’s on my hairbrush–or soap, as it was one morning. It was quite accommodating when I told it I needed to use that that and it needed to move. It’s actually more accommodating than the dogs sometimes.

And it has great markings. Perhaps I’m growing a little too fond of it!

Bring On The Bees (and Others)

I have been noticing a decided lack of bees in my yard this year. And this is bees of all kinds. I usually have hundreds of native bumblebees–this year, not so much.

This year I can count the honeybees I’ve seen on two hands, probably. Very sad.

And while most folks wouldn’t bemoan a loss of wasps and their kin, they too are pollinators and I’m not seeing a whole lot of those either. Usually this time of year, as my large natives like filipendula and veronicastrum begin to bloom, I can just stand there and photograph away at the interesting array of flying things. This year there are a couple of bumblebees–for which I am truly grateful–but I’m also worried.

I’m not sure what to “blame:” the polar vortex, which we are so quick to blame for everything? It’s been nearly that cold in these parts before, and really minus 9 is not statistically colder than minus 4 (what I mean by that is it’s still in the same zone–technically Zone 6.)

I know one more of my neighbors has begun using a lawn service. Is that the “chemical” tipping point that drove away these good bugs? Is there now just too little habitat for them? That would break my heart.

I know I have not yet seen any of my favorite cicada killers–even though the dog day cicadas are here. And I’m even seeing far fewer butterflies this year. Very discouraging.

A recent weeding adventure in the garden did get me up close and personal with some bees–who were very unwilling to be photographed, although I think it was the nature of the plant. They were on and around Invincibelle Spirit hydrangeas, and those conceal the flowers inside the pink panicles. So the bees would land and almost immediately move underneath or inside the lovely “flower” heads.

Here’s the best I could do.


Here’s the most abundant creature in my yard, the bumble bee.

hover fly

This is a hover fly. I have a decent number of these, in a couple of species as well.

bumble bee

Finally, at the lower right, about to disappear into the “flower” head, is a bumble bee. As I’ve said, I have very few of these this year. I suppose I should be grateful I have any, given the toxic cloud my neighbors seem intent on creating.

Wordless Wednesday–Hot Colors

Last year, at the end of the year, I realized the my color scheme had been decidedly autumnal. Even though I’d chose bright colors, I had still chosen a color palette of oranges, reds and yellows. It was nice, but scarcely something I wanted to live with all summer and into the fall.

So this year I went back to one of my tried and true favorites: red and purple.

Annual pots

This is a mixed collection of annual pots with a few perennials or shrubs I’m growing.

clematis and petunias

The typical purple clematis on the lamp post. This year I hung some petunias with it as well.

mixed calibrachoa and geraniums

Some hanging calibrachoa and red geraniums below.

Petunia Pot

And of course my mixed petunia pot.

Want Real Confusion? Try Biennials!

Last week I made a reference to biennials followed by the phrase–”don’t even get me started!”

This is a confusing group of plants–weeds included–that sends up foliage in the first year, then flowers in the second year and then usually, but not always, dies. Confused yet?

The reason I say usually but not always is that a true biennial will do exactly as I’ve just described. But some biennials have been crossed with perennials to make them into short-lived perennials so that we can grow them as garden flowers. It doesn’t mean they’re going to be old reliables like peonies or perennial poppies or things that folks find growing long after evidence of homes, gardens and farms have long crumbled into dust. But at least they’ll survive a few years in the garden–and they might set seed and self sow if we gardeners weren’t so meticulous about deadheading and mulching our beds into death every spring!

Let’s take some examples. Something everyone should know is parsley. Parsley makes its great crop of leaves in the first year–that’s what we harvest all season long. If you leave it in the garden, it should over-winter in all but the harshest climates and the next season it will send up flowers that look much like dill or carrot flowers, because that’s the family to which it belongs.

Because I grow so much parsley for my pollinators, occasionally I’ll leave some in the garden and let it flower in the second year. The tiny bees like the flowers. But don’t try eating the leaves. At that point they’re tough and bitter.

I talked about weeds. I’m a weed geek and love identifying them. One of my favorites has always been mullein. It grows in the garden as verbascum and has been crossed with other species from different parts of the world (like the digiplexus I talked about last week to make it a perennial.

Out in the “wild,” so to speak, this thing is a great weed. Different varieties of it can grow up to 8′ tall. Even our relatively ordinary variety, verbascum thaspus, is no shorty, topping out between 4-6.’ Here’s a post I did a few summers ago when I was doing a weed series. In the photos you can see both forms of it, the first year basal rosette, and the second year flower cluster.

Now that it’s been “civilized,” it comes in all sorts of lovely colors: purples, corals, pinks, peaches, white–you get the idea. It makes a lovely garden plant.

Other plants that were once true biennials and have been bred to be garden perennials are foxgloves and hollyhocks. But if you are having problems with these, particularly with foxgloves, it pays to let them go to seed–and not to be too religious about weeding around them early the next year.

I hope that helps clear up some confusion. Always remember–gardeners aren’t born with this knowledge! We have to learn from each other.

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!