Wordless Wednesday

20180218_083216Surprise! After days of unseasonable (or as I sometimes like to think of it, unreasonable) weather with temperatures in the upper 40s and even mid 50s, this happened!

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But, no worries. We’re soon going back to “unreasonable.” It’s supposed to be even warmer by the time you read this–maybe mid-60s, or even 70!–so all this will be just a memory.

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But this strange weather is never a good thing–not for plants, which start breaking dormancy early, not for animals, which get confused about breaking torpor, and not for people, who don’t know what to wear on a given day. Very unsettling.

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Don’t Kill A Plant With Kindness

I’ve been doing a bit of lecturing lately and I will be doing a lot more as spring begins. Some years, I am so busy lecturing, I can barely find time to get into the garden (isn’t that a happy problem to have?)

One topic that almost always comes up–regardless of what I might be speaking about–is sustainability. That’s a word that gets thrown a round an awful lot but the title of this post pretty much sums it up for me. Another way to put it, particularly for outdoor plants (because remember, I speak a lot on house plants too!) would be “right plant, right place.” How often have we heard that one in our gardening years?

But really, it works. What am I telling you? Am I saying only grow native plants? Oh dear, no! I’d be a terrible hypocrite if I did that! Natives are wonderful, but so are many other types of plants.

What you need to do is to learn what works for you, in your soil and on your site. I have horrible, wet clay that remains wet long into the spring–way too long into the spring. I can rarely work in it before May unless we have an unusually warm spring (and that too is problematic for other reasons). I have learned this over many years of gardening in the same place.

This presents challenges–no early spring pruning or weeding–and opportunities–the beneficial insects and native bees always get their chance to over-winter and emerge from my gardens without being disturbed.

But one thing I don’t do–and never do–is give my plants any “extras” after they get established. Yes, when a plant is first planted, it needs water to help it get settled in. That’s all it needs–water (and that is a post for another day–how to water–and why you don’t want to over-amend your soil.)

But once that plant is established, you’re all set. Some of my plants have been in my gardens for 10, 15 or 25 years or more. Some are original to when the house was built, so that’s almost 60 years. Do you think I run out and water those? Or feed them? Why on earth would I?

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It’s the same thing with roses. Look at this plant. Can you tell where it’s growing? I’ll bet you can. It’s literally a foot away from the road. We’ve had a lot of heavy snow and ice this winter. You can see what the plows have done to it. What am I going to do about it? Nothing, except prune off anything that’s broken in the spring.

Can you see why I am calling this post “don’t kill a plant with kindness?” This rose garden has been here for 22 years. It once got plowed into oblivion when my snow plow guy didn’t realize there was anything around the mailbox. These are own-root roses so it’s all good (but you can imagine my anguish when I came home from work and saw my rose canes dragged down the street by the plow-that’s a little too much tough love, even for me!)

Over-feeding and over-watering encourages insects and disease. As we inch ever closer to spring in the northern hemisphere, why not try a little “tough love” (otherwise known as “sustainable gardening”) this year? See if your plants can do with a little less fertilizer and supplemental watering. You might be pleasantly surprised!

A Tale of Two Lavenders

Herbs are notoriously finicky in the house in the winter. It’s not their fault. There’s not enough light for them, and it’s either too dry (for some) or too wet (since many of us tend to over-water and therefore love our plants to death!)

Lavenders can take the dryness, being bred for exactly that sort of condition. Both their silvery leaves and the places they might normally grow “in the wild:” the Mediterranean with its sandy soils and salty air show that it is a tough plant that can take a lot of abuse.

So why then, does it struggle in conditions that gardeners usually give it? Good soil and abundant water? Well, that’s perhaps why–we are loving it to death–we are spoiling it too much, drowning it and probably over-feeding it too. Not good.

So what is that gardener to do? Well, short of neglecting the plant completely, because that isn’t necessarily a recipe for success either, the trick to succeeding with any plant is always the old saying “right plant, right place.” Most of us don’t live in climates anything like what lavender is used to–but we can help it along quite a bit with some easy tricks.

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First of all, to get it through winter as a house plant, choose the right variety. I don’t know the names of either of these for sure, but I am guessing the one on the right is french  lavender (lavendula dentata). It’s not a hardy one for me.  I am guessing this based on the “leaf” shape.

It tends to say nice and compact in the pot indoors because it is a tropical lavender in my zone. But don’t attempt to plant it outdoors unless you are in a zone 8 climate.

The one on the left? No guesses. It was originally bought as a nice little “Christmas tree” shaped plant in December. You can see it’s very happy because it’s no longer shaped like anything but a mop. The instructions say to prune it hard to keep its shape but I do no pruning on plants in the winter. Once it gets a little more temperate–maybe mid-March–I may take the shears to it. Right now I call it “Cousin It.”

But what’s keeping both these lavenders healthy and mildew free in my house in the winter is just the bare minimum of watering and a south window. They’ll go outside for their “summer vacation,” of course, perhaps as early as April depending on what temperatures do here. After that, we’ll see how they fare–particularly “Cousin It.”

Wordless Wednesday

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It might be a little hard to see what this photo is. It’s a cylindrical snake plant with what I think is a flower stalk (the white thing) coming up in it.

This has never bloomed for me. And I am amazed that it might be doing so in February?!

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Here’s the whole plant (obviously with other snake plants near it). You can just barely see the little white stalk in this photo.

It’s going to be interesting.

The Easiest Fern to Grow

Ferns are notorious for being finicky,  troublesome plants.  Look at them cross-eyed and they wither. They are forever full of brown tips, brown fronds, or just plain dead. Why do we bother?

For one thing, they are lovely. And they provide a lot of leaf textures and varieties.  If you can keep the humidity and temperature correct, they are wonderful plants.

I have too many plants to fuss over ferns but I do grow one with regularity because it’s easy, it’s cool looking, and it’s unusual in its own way: it’s the bird’s nest fern.

That was the plant you saw in my last Wordless Wednesday post–the upright green one on the left that sort of looked like wild romaine lettuce. Here it is again.

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But there are other varieties as well.

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And this is the reason they call it the Bird’s Nest Fern. The center almost looks as if it has a bird’s nest in it.

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These are easy plants that are not overly fussy about watering and don’t need extra humidity.  They will grow just fine in ordinary heated homes.

Filtered bright light–never direct sun–is what you want for these. Try one. You won’t be disappointed.

Succulent Crazy!

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This is the main window where I have my cactus and succulent collection.  It faces south and is unobstructed,  winter and summer.

You can see, that like most of my windows, I try to get a lot of use out of the space. I haven’t,  as in some of the more creative posts I have seen online, put shelves on the walls of this little alcove yet. That may come next.

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Another way to get creative with space is to put smaller pots in between large ones. The longer I have house plants,  the bigger they get ( naturally). But that leaves opportunities to place smaller pots in between the tallest ones. Where there’s a will….

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Finally,  this is another little cactus and succulent spot, again in a south bay window this time. These plants are larger, or in mixed containers and are too big for my little alcove but still need the sunny south window. They share it with my large tropicals, with some smaller succulent plants tucked in between.

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Wordless Wednesday

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Haul from Saturday’s plant symposium put on by the Connecticut Horticulture Society at the Mark Twain House in Hartford.

It’s always a great time with great speakers–& a reminder about the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show,  coming up in a little more than  3 weeks now.

Seeds are in the box under the Flower Show postcard.

Spring is on the way!