Plants – Looking Down At Things

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Nothing is growing tall, or looming large, in my gardens now, except maybe, the dried out stems of last year’s blooms. To find patches of green I must look down, a perfect pose to find an answer to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge of “Looking Down At Things.”  Wild Cress, even in the middle of February is thriving. This small weed, in shades of shamrock green, grows all over my yard and garden beds through the winter. It is a favorite of mine for pressed flower crafts. The foliage is lush, probably due to the insulating Styrofoam pot and rocks it is growing between and near. At this time of year I’m not picky, I take delight in green plants wherever I can find them.

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I was thrilled to discover this small volunteer sprout of Larkspur, growing in winter against the odds. Larkspur need a period of cold for germination success. I will soon plant a milk carton for winter-sowing. Plants that need cold for growth do well when winter sown.

I’m sure the next few weeks will find me in my garden, looking down…and dreaming.

Plant & Product – Mistletoe Cactus

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On a recent trip to Longwood Gardens I spied this amazing hanging basket filled with Pseudorhipsalis ramulosa, or as it is also known, Red Mistletoe Cactus. I love the combination of soft pink with apple green. (Granny Smith Apple – Color Your World – 120 Days of Crayola) I would love to grow this beautiful plant in a hanging basket, but have no idea where it is sold other than mail-order. Perhaps I can find a source for seeds.

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This year, for the first time, I have found a large variety of hard to find seeds on Etsy. I’ve ordered from three sellers and have been very pleased with the packaging and speed of delivery. Upon searching the site, I found seeds for the Mistletoe Cactus, but they were rather pricey at 11.95. A little high for something without a guarantee to grow. Check out Etsy for rare and unusual garden and houseplant seeds.

Plants – Graceful Orchids

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Orchid Days have begun at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I know I mention the conservatories and gardens at Longwood quite often, but truly, it is one of my favorite places to visit in my area. If you have a chance to travel to the Delaware Valley, please try to visit Longwood.

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The orchids bloom in so many colors and shapes; I wish I could capture the fragrance that greets you when you enter the orchid room. I think orchids resemble dancers with their long stems stretched high and curved in a graceful ballerina’s pose.

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Plant & Pharmacy – Tea Tree Oil – Benefits and Dangers

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In our last excursion to Longwood Gardens we noticed this shrubby bush growing in the conservatory. The marker beneath it identified the plant as Leptospermum laevigatumas, or as it is better known, Australian Tea Tree.

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Essential oil from the Melaleuca alternifoliae species of tea tree, is a well-known remedy for many kinds of skin conditions, ( Always diluted with a carrier oil or products such as Witch Hazel) and also a good addition to organic cleaning recipes. Care must be taken when using tea tree oil, as with any essential oil. Mayo Clinic Tea Tree Oil Warnings

Caution:  If you have cats, many essential oils can build up in their system and become toxic. Tea tree oil is one of these oils. More information on essential oils that are dangerous if you have pets can be found here:
30 Essential Oils Toxic to Pets

As with all essential oils care must be taken when using tea tree oil.

“Pure tea tree oil should not be ingested, and should be kept out of the reach of children; several cases of tea tree oil poisoning have been recorded. The oil can also cause contact dermatitis.” ~ Kew Royal Botanic Gardens

Reader’s Digest has a good article and list of some of the uses of tea tree oil: Tea Tree Oil Uses

Plants – Atomic Tangerines

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Winter doldrums were certainly sent scurrying as we walked through the Longwood Gardens Conservatory on Saturday. Today’s Color Your World – 120 Days of Crayola/Atomic Tangerine perfectly matches what we found within the glass walls. These Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia Uvaria) were stunning from a distance, and up close. I immediately knew I had to try to grow this brilliant variety of the plant in my 2017 gardens.

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My goal this year is to grow most of my plants from seed. It will be a challenge to bring this plant into flower its first year. To get a jump-start on possible bloom this year I am going to try growing the seeds in two ways, Winter-sowing involves placing sown seeds outdoors in a milk carton. More info can be found on winter-sowing here: Winter-Sowing Seeds.

I will also try growing some of the seeds by following the directions on a website called Outside Pride. Their directions call for giving the seeds a period of cold before sowing.

Dampen a paper towel, wring out excess moisture and carefully place the flower seeds on the damp towel. Roll up the towel, place it in a Ziploc bag and place in refrigerator for 4 weeks. ~Outside Pride/Red Hot Poker

Red Hot Poker plants come in a variety of ‘hot’ colors. An added bonus: Red Hot Poker flowers draw hummingbirds to your yard.

Here are a few additional examples of ‘Atomic Tangerines’ growing in the Conservatory.

Flame Vine
Flame Vine
Lily with Atomic Orange Stamens
Lily with Atomic Orange Stamens
Bird of Paradise
Bird of Paradise

Plant & Quote – Poinsettia

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“Who can add to Christmas?

The perfect motive is that God so loved the world.

The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son.

The only requirement is to believe in Him.

The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.”

                                                         ~ Corrie Ten Boom

Plants – The Holly and the Ivy

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The forecast is calling for frigid air. The cold will soon send everything into a wintry dormancy. I picked some ivy today to root in water as a last of 2016 cutting. The tiny holly tree beside the ivy is a volunteer. I will soon have to decide what to do with it; the space it is growing in is in front of the gas meter and it will need to be moved.

Holly and ivy have been a mainstay of British Christmas decoration for church use since at least the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when they were mentioned regularly in churchwardens’ accounts. ~ Wikipedia

Ivy is an often overlooked Christmas Green.

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The ‘Holly and the Ivy’ is an old Christmas Carol that tells the story of Jesus.

“The holly and the ivy,
Now both are full well grown.
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

Chorus
Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the quire.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Savior.

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good.

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn.

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

 

Plants – Dressing Up Christmas Plants

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Miniature Christmas evergreens are abundant at this time of year. The small trees are good buys, usually under $5.00. They are attractive in their cellophane paper, but they are even prettier dressed up a bit in ceramic and moss.

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I kept mine in the pot it came in, placed it in a ceramic pot, and added a bit potting soil to keep it steady. I topped it off with a bit of moss. I think the tree is lovely. The ornament it came with was the perfect finishing touch, or you could add a special ornament of your own.

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I had some moss left over. I didn’t want to waste it so I place it in a terracotta pot, added some toothpicks, and used it to display vintage ornaments.

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Plant – Thanksgiving Cactus

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I’ve been to the store yet again this week, gathering, gathering, gathering what I need in anticipation of the dinners I’ll be preparing tonight, Thanksgiving Day, and the day after. I’m excited at the prospect of having those I love at our dinner table.

I’ve brought my Thanksgiving cactus upstairs from its usual home in a bright basement window well. The plant will be the centerpiece for my dining-room table. Throughout the summer months the cactus thrives on the screened-in porch. I water this plant once every three weeks. Too much water will doom the succulent leaves to a soggy death. Better to underwater than overwater succulent plants. The cactus is rewarding me for my near-neglect with many buds. I will enjoy its blossom time over the next few weeks of the holiday season.

Plant – Displaying a Staghorn Fern

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I always admire the staghorn ferns in the fern passage at Longwood Gardens. I’ve grown one of these beautiful plants for about six months in an ordinary garden pot. After a recent visit to the gardens, I was inspired to mount and display it properly.

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Staghorn ferns do not need a lot of compost. I used soil amended with vermiculite and perlite to lighten the weight.

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I planned on displaying my fern on my living room wall, but didn’t want to use a natural basket or piece of wood due to possible water stains. I found a good alternative in a wire basket that I had on hand. My first step was to line the bottom with coffee filters to keep the soil in bounds.

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The root system is not large in comparison to the rest of the plant. It fit perfectly in the small narrow basket.

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I planted the fern at an angle, allowing the fronds to cascade over the sides.

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Chair leg pads were a good choice to keep the basket off of the wall. These are self-stick and only took a moment to apply.

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I was pleased with the display after it was hung on the wall. I will update the progress as the fern grows.

Plant – Black Pearl Pepper

On Halloween weekend, I found this slightly spooky variety of ornamental pepper. What a perfect name it’s been given: Black Pearl. The leaves of this plant are dark-purple in appearance. As the fruit matures it will change from black to red. The plant prefers full sun and well-drained soil. The peppers are not for comsumption, unless you want to instantly turn into a fire-breathing dragon.

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“This pepper boasts the most dramatically deep purple-black leaves and fruit imaginable. The vigorous, bushy plants grow to 18 inches tall and almost as wide. Flowers are lilac, and dark black peppers emerge in fall.” ~ Fine Gardening

Plant – Gryphon Begonia

Gryphon Begonias are an outstanding plant to grow indoors and out. A year or two ago I purchased this unique begonia and have never been sorry. By the way, I love the name—Gryphon—a gryphon is a mythical creäture with the body of a lion and the wings and head of an eagle.

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I have found the Gryphon begonia an easy plant to grow with one hitch. After spending summers outdoors on the screened-in porch, mine eventually loses all its foliage in the winter, leaving spiky stems standing alone in the pot. These stems are interesting by themselves. The first time this occurred, I took heart when I spied small leaflets at the base of the plant. By Spring, the small leaves were growing large, and new stalks were emerging. I have read that other gryphon owners have experienced a period of dormancy with their plants too. Give Gryphon-growing a try—you won’t be disappointed.

* Gryphons, as with all begonias, do not like to be overwatered. Let surface of potting soil feel dry to the touch before watering.

Project & Plants – Growing a Sweet Potato

It’s time to begin a few indoor gardening projects. At the top of my list is growing a sweet potato plant with my grandchildren.

Growing a sweet potato is easy. Buy a good-sized sweet potato or yam from a farm or organic market; they are less likely to be  treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting.  Insert three or four toothpicks around the widest circumference and place the bottom in water. A flower vase with a slender neck is the perfect container to choose.

The tuber grows quickly and develops a large root system. In just over a month it will be ready for planting in a pot of soil.

I left a portion of the tuber above the soil line. I think it adds a bit of interest to the look of the plant. I also like the way the tuber mirrors the golden-orange brown of the pot’s ceramic finish.

Growing a sweet potato is a fun and easy project for Autumn or Winter.

Plant – Stevia

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I grew Stevia this year in my Square Foot Gardens. The plant, purchased at a local farm market, grew into a beautiful, large plant. A few weeks ago I harvested the leaves by cutting entire stems and drying them on a tray inside my car. The summer heat and sun quickly dried the leaves to the perfect crisp texture. When dry, just a few crumbles from a small piece of a leaf filled my mouth with sweetness.

Tips on Growing Stevia

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I will soon harvest the remaining stems of the stevia and take some cuttings to root and grow through the winter. Natural stevia has few side effects, but don’t confuse the plant with the Stevia-based sweeteners on sale in grocery stores. ‘Food Babe Investigates Stevia: Good or Bad’ is a good article that compares the natural plant with mass-produced product.

Another precaution is for those who have allergies:

In some cases, stevia can cause a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, but this is a relatively rare occurrence. According to the New Health Guide website, however, those with pre-existing allergies to chrysanthemums, marigolds, ragweed or daisies are at greater risk of a stevia reaction. ~ Livestrong.com

 

Plant – Holstein Cowpea

Holstein Cowpea – “Very unique, this pea is mottled half black and half white, just like a Holstein cow. The small bush plants yield well and are easy to grow. Very rare.” ~ Baker Creek Heirlooom Seeds

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One of the delights of my 2016 garden has been the heirloom Holstein Cowpea. I have eaten the offerings of this plant as a snapped green bean, and also harvested the cowpeas when the pods are dry. I will grow the dried cowpeas I’ve saved in next year’s garden. I’m also storing a few to eat as a specialty bean in winter soups. The cowpeas did well grown in the ground and in a hanging basket.

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I will definitely grow this variety next year, and hope to plant and harvest a bumper crop. An added benefit of the cowpeas is growing legumes adds nitrogen to soil.

Plant & Phloral Arrangements – Bargain Elegance

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Page through any high-end magazine or decorating book and you will often find Phalaenopsis orchids as a main focal point in the decor. The long stems, large green leaves, and gorgeous flowers are the perfect plant for any home. Phalaenopsis orchids are my first choice for an elegant flowering plant or gift.

I worked for several years as a floral designer. When an order was placed for an orchid delivery, I often put together floral pieces much like the orchid in the photograph. These plants had a big price tag, usually $50.00 – $60.00, not including a large delivery fee. A better choice is to make your plant a DIY project.

Phalaenopsis orchids are available just about everywhere. I bought the one in the photograph for $7.99 at my local Aldi Grocery Store. I have a stash of thrift store and yard sale ceramics set aside for dressing up houseplants. The one in the photo was a $2.00 purchase.

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One drawback of most Phalaenopsis orchids is their tendency to lean. To straighten the pot I use foil wedged in around the orchid pot. Since the orchid and the potting medium is light, this works perfectly to hold it in place.

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The moss that covers the top was an item gathered near my home. Dried for a week or so, excess dirt brushed away, the moss perfectly dresses up the top of the pot, and hides the mechanics beneath it. This orchid brings elegance to any room, yet is very economical at just $10.00. Give this design a try the next time you see orchids for sale at a great price.

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Plant – Monarda punctata/Spotted Bee Balm

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“Monarda punctata is a herbaceous plant in the mint family, Lamiaceae, that is native to eastern Canada, the eastern United States and northeastern Mexico. Common names include spotted beebalm and horsemint. It is a thyme-scented plant with heads of purple-spotted tubular yellow flowers above rosettes of large white- or pink-tipped bracts. The plant contains thymol, an antiseptic and fungicide. It was historically used to treat upset stomachs, colds, diarrhea, neuralgia and kidney disease.” ~ Wikipedia

I’ve seen this plant in the wild and found it this year at a local nursery. It is certainly nicknamed correctly…bees love it!

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I’ve also seen hummingbirds hovering over the plant.

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Plants and Problem-Solving – Sunflowers in Bloom

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Every year I attempt to grow sunflowers. Quite often, the animals that live in my yard will dig up the seeds before they even sprout. I’ve stopped this natural tendency of the critters by sprinkling chili powder on top of the soil that covers the seeds. Even so, if they sprout, the tender green shoots are a delicacy to chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits, and when I’ve checked the progress of the sunflowers I find them nipped away and ruined.

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This year I’ve had a bit more success. The sunflower in the photograph is growing outside my kitchen window. My husband measured it and the stalk was well over eleven feet. The plant is still growing and now has two blooms and many buds. So far, no adventurous squirrel has climbed to the top to bite away the buds and flowers.

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I owe my success in growing sunflowers this year to empty water bottles. After the sprouts broke through the soil I placed a bottomless water bottle, with the top cut away, around the shoot. In a few gardens, as the sunflower grew, I added another bottle for more protection. (Bunnies are very good at standing up on their hind legs to reach the top of a tender plant.) If you live in an area that stays warm through November, there is still time to plant a crop of sunflowers.

Plant – Kohlrabi

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Kohlrabi! Who knew it was so easy to grow? I’ve seen it on seed racks year after year and never tried it. This year I remedied that by planting a free packet someone gave me. I’m excited by the plants that are growing now. I’ve read kohlrabi tastes like a mix of cabbage and broccoli, and can be eaten cooked or raw. It is also recommended as a good addition to soup puree. Kohlrabi leaves can be cooked like mustard greens.

I found some good hints on using kohlrabi at the kitchn.com website.