Titan Arum Blooms Again At Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse

Clive is blooming! Again!
The flower started to open about 7:00 pm on Saturday, June 20th with the spathe unfurling to reveal a beautiful maroon colour inside. After watching the bud grow taller and swell expectantly for over a month, the opening was a bit of a surprise because it happened so fast.  Looking at the live webcam at first didn’t seem like it could be happening. But it was true. Clive, one of the largest Titan Arums at the Floral Showhouse was blooming again. Arriving at the Floral Showhouse would first reveal an olfactory assault – more confirmation that Clive was indeed blooming. And second, there was visual proof!


Titan Arum Clive as the spathe is unfurling on opening night.


Clive in full bloom on Sunday, June 21, 2015




















































It was 2012 when Clive bloomed last. The final height at blooming today was recorded at 84 inches (2.13 m). And yes, the Corpse Flower name really does apply to this flower. As Clive opened, the putrid smell of decaying flesh got more intense – especially when climbing a ladder to get a top down photo!


Wayne Hoeschle, Titan Arum curator cross pollinating Clive on opening night.



The female flowers can be seen when peeking through a cut out window of the Titan Arum blooming at Niagara Parks. Male pollen from Ohio State's Titan Arum was used to cross pollinate the flower.

The female flowers can be seen through a cut out window of the Titan Arum bloom at Niagara Parks. Male pollen from McMaster’s Titan Arum that bloomed June 3, 2015 was used to cross pollinate the flower this morning in the hopes the Clive will produce seed.










The plant, Amorphophallus titanum, called the Titan Arum or Corpse Plant, is one of six dormant corms donated to Niagara Parks by Louis Ricciardiello of Gilford, New Hampshire, in December 2011. Titan Arum specimen #1, nicknamed “Morph,” bloomed for the first time at Niagara Parks on May 4th, 2012. At blooming the flower was an incredible height of 244 cm (96 inches). After the Titan Arums bloom,  they go dormant for months, and then send up a huge leaf that measures 6 m (20 feet) tall. That leaf soaks up the sun for a year or more and, with the copious amounts of water and fertilizer, puts nutrients back into the underground corm to hopefully return it to blooming size. A blooming size corm weighs an impressive 80 kg (175 lbs) and is about 70 cm (27 inches) in diameter.

For the latest news on the Titan Arum bloom visit the Niagara Parks Facebook Page or the Miracle Farm Blueprint.

Take a look at the Titan Arum live webcam on the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse website for the latest flower view.

A Few Favorite Spring Blooming Shrubs

What does it take to get on the top ten best shrubs list?
One of the main reasons for growing shrubs is to have a plant that will look great in flower and contribute to the landscape during another season. This multi-season interest is important to become a top shrub. Shrubs that look great for two weeks in May while they are in bloom are nice, but a top shrub must have other characteristics to justify its status in the garden. These characteristics might include: vivid fall color, persistent or edible fruit, exfoliating bark, flower fragrance, or a striking architectural appearance. Surprisingly, some of the best shrubs may not be very familiar to gardeners. It is time for the secret to be revealed and more top shrubs put into gardens.

Glorious Forsythia suspensa in the spring

Forsythia is a shrub that heralds the arrival of spring for many people. The newer cultivars have upright and arching branches that are laden with golden-yellow blooms. A cool spring could extend the blooming time for Forsythia for more than four weeks during late April and May. There are even forsythia that bloom reliably in colder regions. The early forsythia cultivar called ‘Ottawa’ is hardy to minus 32 degrees Celsius (about the same in Fahrenheit). The most popular forsythia is ‘Lynwood’ which has long arching branches that could reach 9 feet (3 metres) in length and flowers that are a rich yellow color. If space is a problem, consider the dwarf green-stem forsythia, with primrose yellow blooms called ‘Bronxensis’ that is only 1 foot (30 centimetres) tall.

To keep forsythia blooming well, prune out about one-third to one-half of the oldest branches immediately after it has finished flowering. This will encourage healthy new shoots to grow during the summer. These will be your flowering branches for next spring. Forsythia are dramatic in the garden during the winter when their tall and straight or arching branches create a haystack look. To accentuate the tan color of the twigs and the magnificent blooms, place forsythia where it has a dark green backdrop of conifer foliage. Forsythia can be used as a natural hedge, as a mass planting in a shrub border, or even as an espalier plant growing against a wall (as can be seen at Oaks Garden Theatre in Niagara Falls, Ontario Canada). In most cases, give them room. Some forsythia can grow to be over 9 feet (3 metres) tall and most importantly, the same width. For the best blooms, prune forsythia to rejuvenate it and grow it in the full sun.

Korean Spice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)

One of the most popular of all shrubs is the Koreanspice viburnum, (Viburnum carlesii). Blooming for 10 days in early May, this shrub has an unforgettable sweet fragrance that produces a response similar to aromatherapy. The plant is also very beautiful in flower. The white flowers are shaped like snowballs and decorate the entire shrub. The shrub is a slow grower and will probably reach its ultimate height and width of 5 feet (1.2 metres) after 15 to 20 years. It is not fussy about soil – any reasonable garden soil will do. One of the advantages of this plant, are its tough leaves, which make it undesirable as food for the pesky viburnum leaf beetle. Plant this shrub where it will receive sun for most of the day and where the fragrance can waft into an open window. Even though it is well worth growing just for its fragrance and attractive blooms, this plant has nice red fruit and an interesting structural form.

The common spicebush, (Lindera benzoin) is a native shrub found growing in many Northeast US and Southern Ontario swamps and woods. Spicebush is a treasure waiting to be discovered by gardeners and unfortunately is rarely found in mainstream nurseries. Possibly the reasons that Spicebush is not readily available is that it is difficult to transplant and it is slow-growing. Purchasing plants that have been container-grown will increase its chances of survival. This shrub has small clusters of yellow petal-less flowers tightly pressed along the branches which open early in the spring even before the leaves unfold. The best feature of this plant is the spicy fragrance emitted by all parts of the shrub when rubbed or scratched. Many parts of spicebush are reputed to have some herbal properties. The seeds from the female plant were used during the American Revolution as a substitute for allspice (which was not available from England). The twigs and leaves were used during the Civil war as a substitute for foreign teas. Spicebush also is used as food for wildlife. Birds will eat the fruit and deer enjoy munching on the twigs. Another interesting feature of this plant is that it is either male or female. If it is female, it will have small, round, bright red fruits just under 1/2 inch (1 cm) in diameter that are most visible after the leaves drop in the fall.

Native plants have so many good attributes that it is incomprehensible that they are not used more in gardens. Spicebush is almost pest-free and disease-free and is happy growing in heavy, alkaline, clay soil. It can be used as a tall visual screen to block undesirable views or it can be used as an understory shrub in a partly-shaded location. In the fall, this shrub has foliage that is a brilliant golden-yellow color.

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)

Cornus mas, or Cornelian cherry, has flowers that are similar to Spicebush but has the advantage of being even more showy. Cornelian cherry has small, yellow, petal-less flowers which bloom before the leaves emerge. It is also one of the first shrubs to bloom in spring. It has the look of a light, airy, yellow cloud. The blooms are so early that it blooms even before forsythia. The flowers form the previous fall and are protected from the harsh winter by a hard covering. When they bloom they stay open for about 3 weeks during April. A cherry-sized fruit forms during the summer and turns bright red when ripe. This edible fruit is highly prized by birds. The fruit is not as showy as it should be since it is hidden in the leaves. Some gardeners (with patience) have cooked the fruit and used it in making preserves. This Dogwood family member is adaptable to many soil types and tolerates city conditions well. It can grow in full sun or partial shade. Its main requirement is space. Ultimately it will reach 18 feet (6 to 7 metres) tall and grow almost as wide. This hardy shrub can be used in large shrub borders or in mass groupings for large properties.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier grandiflora)

Another excellent shrub which has edible fruits that are prized by birds and gardeners is the Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia). This multi-season shrub has attractive white blooms in May, edible fruit in July, reddish foliage in the fall and smooth grey bark in the winter. The juicy, purple-black fruit resemble (and taste like) blueberries if you can beat the birds to the ripening fruit. The serviceberries make excellent jellies and pies. Serviceberry blooms reliably with lots of delicate five petalled white blooms in early May. This shrub blooms well in full sun or in a partly shaded location. Be wary that hot, dry weather will shorten the blooming time of this shrub to about one week. Serviceberries have a nice red-orange fall foliage and can be grown under taller trees. It can also be used in groups for a massed effect. The smooth gray bark of this upward spreading shrub is attractive during the winter.

Several other shrubs deserve special attention. Exochorda (Pearlbush) has beautiful, pure white, showy flowers which open when the horsechestnuts are in flower. The branches gracefully arch to the ground on this 5 foot (1.5 metre) high plant.

Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus)

Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) is a native shrub that has very interesting fragrant maroon-chocolate blooms. The flowers are the size of a quarter and are a pleasant surprise for anyone who travels near this plant in May. It is a native shrub that should be used more often in gardens.

There are two groups of plants that have not been included in the best-shrubs list. Many would expect that Magnolias should be placed in this group. They are not included because of severe pest problems caused by the Magnolia scale. This devastating insect is big trouble for unprotected plants. Until it is under control, watch your Magnolias. The other group of plants that many would expect to be on this list are the Spirea. These plants have been the mainstay of our gardens for decades – perhaps too many decades. They are overused and until a dramatically new introduction arrives, they should hide in the background. They do have some great attributes, but they are tiresome and have an old fashioned look.

Remember, the best shrubs are the ones with multi-season interest. Consider how a shrub will look for the remaining fifty weeks after it finishes flowering.


All images used from www.wikipedia.com under the Creative Commons Share Alike license. Authors: Cornus mas (Bouba), Calycanthus floridus (Ulf Eliasson), Viburnum carlesii (Rudiger Wolk, Munster), Amelanchier grandiflors (Kurt Stuber).

The Year of the Marigold

The National Garden Bureau (NGB) has announced that 2010 is the year of the marigold. So let’s celebrate this great flower.

Marigolds, native to the New World and sacred flower of the Aztecs, journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean twice to travel 3,000 miles north of their center of origin. This lengthy serpentine journey is a testimony to the rugged durability of marigolds. The National Garden Bureau celebrates the marigold, one of the most popular annuals grown in North American gardens.

African Marigold Taishan Yellow

Growing to 12" (30 cm) this African Marigold cultivar called 'Taishan Yellow' is a delight.

Marigolds are native to the Americas from Argentina north to New Mexico and Arizona. The earliest use of marigolds was by the Aztec people who attributed magical, religious and medicinal properties to marigolds. The National Garden Bureau found the first recorded use of marigolds in the De La Crus-Badiano Aztec Herbal of 1552. The Herbal records the use of Tagetes lucida for treatment of hiccups, being struck by lightening, or “for one who wishes to cross a river or water safely.” The last use confirms the magical properties ascribed to Tagetes.

The Aztecs named their native flower, cempoalxochitl, and bred it for increasingly large blooms. It is suspected that in the 1500’s, native marigold seeds were taken from the Aztecs by early Spanish explorers to Spain. The marigolds were cultivated in Spain and grown in monastery gardens.

From Spain, marigold seeds were transported to France and northern Africa. The taller marigolds, now called African or American, became naturalized in North Africa.

During a 1535 expedition to Tunis, the tall naturalized marigolds were observed and mistaken for native wildflowers. Seed was collected and once again taken to Spain. The newly collected marigold was named Flos Africanus due to its mistaken origin. The tall marigolds were widely known by that name well into the 1700’s. This was a classic case of error in origin.

The name Tagetes has unusual origins as well, tracing back to the revered Italian god, Tages. A grandson of Jupiter, Tages came forth from a clod of earth as a wise and handsome boy. So the American native marigold is commonly called French or African but the genus name Tagetes refers to an Italian god.

Marigolds figure prominently in many religious ceremonies. In Mexico and Latin America, marigold flowers are used to decorate household altars to celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Flower heads are scattered on relatives’ graves, which can account for the profusion of marigolds in cemeteries.

Marigolds are also used in Hindu religious ceremonies. The National Garden Bureau’s research found the Indian “gendha” to be the T. erecta species. An account in 1963 describes the marigold being used as garlands to decorate village gods during the harvest festival. The traveler recalling the festival also noted the maize and peppers were exactly the same shade of orange-yellow as the marigold. It was as though the corn and peppers were selected or bred to match the marigold flower color. “Gendha” is also reported to be used as a yellow cloth dye in India and Pakistan.

Several hundred years after their initial journey from the Americas to Europe and Africa, marigolds were introduced to North American gardeners. This reunion of sorts did not happen until shortly after the Revolutionary War. Marigolds were just one of many plants shipped to the young country.

Around the turn of this century, sweet peas and asters were the most popular flowers in the United States. Yet both of them were becoming beleaguered by disease and declining overall performance. The time was right for a ‘new’ flower to make its debut. In 1915 David Burpee took over the seed company, which was founded by his father, Washington Atlee Burpee. Young David felt that marigolds held promise and decided to feature them in his catalog and fund research.

Since the 1920’s marigold breeding has developed hundreds of new varieties. The odorless marigolds, hybrids and triploids have all been advancements in breeding. In the last thirty years most of the research, new varieties, and seed production has been accomplished by American breeders and seed companies. Somehow it seems fitting that the marigold would find the breeding emphasis and popularity back in the Americas, its center of origin.


The genus Tagetes contains 40 species. All are native to the New World with the greatest diversity being found in south central Mexico. Three species have been chosen for research and cultivation as ornamental plants. They are:

T. erecta – commonly called African or American.
T. patula – commonly called French marigolds in spite of American origin.
T. tenuifolia – Signet marigolds, unusual lacy leaves with small single flowers.

A fourth species, T. filifolia or Irish Lace, is not widely grown or known. It is planted for the foliage rather than flowers.

In the plant kingdom, other flowers have had the word marigold added to their common name. This adds to the confusion of the marigold species. Plants such as Caltha palustris, commonly called marsh marigold and Calendula officinalis. pot marigold or cape marigold are not within the Tagetes genus; the focus is placed on T. erecta and T. patula. These two species are the origins of most modern day garden marigolds.

Tagetes patula. the “French marigold”
This dwarf, compact plant species contains the widest color range of marigolds. The flowers can be pure or solid orange, yellow, gold or mahogany red. The color diversity expands with bicolors meaning two colors per flower. Bicolors such as orange and gold, mahogany red and yellow offer a spectrum of color combinations. Petals can be edged with a contrasting color or the color can be placed at the petal base. A clue to identification can be noted here. If you observe a mahogany red bloom, it is a French marigold. The mahogany red color is not available in the T. erecta, L. species.

The French marigold flower form has been divided into five distinct types. The single flower form is the easiest to identify. There are five or eight overlapping petals in a single layer. These are called ray petals. There is a small central disc or tuft of stamens and pistils, the reproductive plant parts.

The anemone flower form contains broad, flattened petals, again overlapping. There are more rows of petals surrounding the central disc and are described as semidouble. The anemone flower form has recently received attention from many breeding programs.

The carnation flower form or fully double has numerous rows of overlapping petals. There can be a small central disc. This was the most common French marigold flower form in the 60’s and 70’s.

The crested flower form is subdivided into double and single crested. The crest or central disc petals are the dominant feature in either flower form. The center contains numerous short petals tightly clustered. Surrounding this crest are the ray petals, broader and flatter. If there is only one row of ray petals surrounding the crest it is considered a single crested flower form. If there are three or four rows of ray petals, it is a double crested French marigold. There have been many recent introductions in the double crested form. At this time there are no hybrid French marigolds.

In the garden, the T. patula marigolds are considered dwarf French. They range in height from 6 to 14 inches when mature. A gardener can choose from 1 inch to 2-1/2 inches for flower size. This species is the most popular of all marigolds. Easy to grow under most weather and soil types, French marigolds are reliable annuals.

Tagetes erecta, African or American Marigolds
This species is characterized by larger leaf size and larger flowers than T. patula. The flower forms are either semidouble or fully double. The semidouble flowers have fewer rows of ray petals than fully double. The size of the flower is the dominant feature. A small flower is 3 inches across. The larger flowers are 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 inches. The colors are solid, no bicolors occur in this species. The color range is from white and cream to primrose, yellow, gold and orange. There are many F1 hybrid T. erecta cultivars available to home gardeners. Since they are hybrids, they express hybrid vigor by producing numerous flowers on uniform plants with a long flowering season.

Due to the height, most gardeners place T. erecta in the back of a bed or massed in an individual planting area. The plant height at maturity can be 9 inches for a dwarfer variety. The height can be from 9 to 28 inches. The tallest varieties attain a height of 38 to 40 inches and also have longer flower stems suitable for cutting. The T. erecta marigolds are versatile. Fewer plants are required in a garden bed to create the desired result, lavish annual color. Space the plants further apart, 12 to 18 inches or more depending upon the mature height. The marigold plants will fill in the space between them.

T. erecta species are day length sensitive. Each cultivar varies in the response to day length. If a home gardener is growing T. erecta from seed sown after March 1 and wants earlier flowering plants, a short day treatment can be applied. Just cover small seedlings with a light proof cover at 4:00 p.m. and remove at 8:00 a.m. This treatment can be applied for two weeks.

Triploids or 3-N Hybrids
T. erecta x T. patula. This is a wide cross between the African (American) and French species. The cross between species results in a plant that is sterile, unable to reproduce. Since the triploid is not capable of setting seed, the plant produces more flowers. This characteristic is significant when compared to T. patula. Most T. patula plants will decrease flowering under hot summer temperatures. It is called heat stress and shy blooms are the result. The triploid marigolds are not subject to heat stress and continue blooming prolifically regardless of the heat. The triploid blooms are 2 to 2-1/2 inches. Mature garden height can be 10 to 16 inches. The flower form on triploids can be single, double or semidouble. The color range is similar to T. patula with solid colors and bicolor designs. The triploid seed germination is less than the T. patula germination. The first triploid marigold was introduced in 1939. There have been many triploids introduced, improvements in flower size and compact plant habits. Triploids are capable of literally covering the plant with blooms.

How to Grow Marigolds
Marigold seeds are large, easy to handle and germinate reliably in warm, moist soil. T. patula can be sown directly on garden soil after the soil has warmed to 70ºF. Soil should be tilled so that it drains and has a fine, loose texture. Dig a furrow about two inches deep with the corner of a garden hoe. Water the furrow slowly to soak the soil. Scatter seeds in the furrow about an inch apart. Cover lightly with dry soil, sand, or vermiculite. Water again with a fine mist. Continue watering daily with a fine spray for 10 to 14 days when seedlings should appear. As seedlings grow, water less frequently but apply more water to encourage deep root growth. The T. patula seedlings can be transplanted when small to other garden locations. If garden soil is fertile and rich in organic matter, supplemental feeding might not be necessary. Overfeeding or a rich organic soil can result in vegetative growth and a lack of flowering. T. patula will flower in 6 to 12 weeks from sowing, depending upon variety and weather conditions.

T. erecta marigolds are best started indoors and transplanted into the garden. Sow seeds eight weeks prior to planting outdoors in warm garden soil. Cover seeds lightly and maintain uniform moisture. Transplant into larger containers at the 3 to 4 true leaf stage. Provide as much direct sunlight as possible while indoors.

The National Garden Bureau found two diseases that might infect marigolds in gardens. These two are aster yellows and botrytis, the most common problems encountered by North American gardeners. Many gardeners will not encounter any problems or diseases with marigolds. The marigold aroma, produced by oil glands on the undersides of leaves, is thought to repel some harmful insects. Thusly, marigolds are one of the most reliable annuals any gardener can grow for summer color and durability.

Aster Yellows
As the name indicates, this disease affects asters and marigolds as well as many other garden flowers. The disease is spread by six-spotted leafhoppers, which become infected by feeding on infected weeds. The leafhoppers spread the disease as they feed. The higher the number of leafhoppers, the higher the chance of plant infection.

The symptoms include a yellowing of the foliage, pale greenish yellow abnormally shaped buds and blooms, and an overall stunting of the plant. A diseased plant stands out from among healthy ones by its lack of flowers and oddly shaped plant. By the time the buds and blooms become misshapen, there is no alternative but to remove the plant. The only control over this disease is to control the population of leafhoppers, an unlikely solution at best.

This fungus, Botrytis cinerea, thrives in cool, moist conditions attacking injured tissues, dying blooms or foliage. The fungus is a mold that produces masses of gray spores that are spread by wind or water. Botrytis usually affects double marigold blooms late in the growing season when heavy dew and cool temperatures create the perfect environment for this fungus growth. It appears as brown, dying tissue at the base of the flower petal. If allowed to grow, the fungus can spread rapidly to infect healthy plants. The best control is to remove spent flower heads from the plant. This is particularly important near the end of the growing season.

Marigolds and Nematodes
Nematodes are a diverse group of microscopic worms. Some nematodes are beneficial to the soil or plants, others invade or penetrate plant roots and feed on nutrients thereby robbing the plant of them. Some of the harmful nematodes can be reduced by marigolds growing in the soil. Recent scientific studies have shown that chemical compounds produced by most Tagetes are toxic or antagonistic to certain harmful nematodes. Evidence suggests that the chemical compounds are toxic to nematodes both upon entry into the root system or in the vicinity of the roots. The National Garden Bureau concludes that Tagetes contributes to the control of harmful nematode pollutions in garden soil.

Container Gardening
Marigolds adapt well to container gardening. Remember to match the mature plant size to the container size. The T. patula French marigolds can be grown in smaller containers due to their smaller plant size. One French marigold will fill a 6-inch pot. French marigolds can be planted with vegetables in the same container. Combining various cultivars requires more attention to the water and fertilizer needs of the plants. French marigolds will thrive in larger containers such as wine barrels, urns, or redwood planters. One consistent rule for all container gardens is to ensure that water drains from the soil. Use containers with holes on the bottom or sides.

Both T. tenuifolia, signet, and T. erecta, African or American marigolds can brighten any patio with bold color grown in containers. Signet marigolds require a 6 to 10 inch container while the African or American needs more space and soil. Use a 12 to 15 inch diameter container at least 18 inches deep for the mid height range T. erecta.

Future Breeding
America continues to lead in the breeding advancements of marigolds. The two Tagetes species receiving the most breeding and research effort continue to be the T. patula, French and T. erecta, African or American. Breeders are selecting marigolds for earlier flowering with specific improved characteristics such as increased flower size. The single marigold flower form has been given recent attention with several new varieties introduced. Crosses between species such as the T. patula x T. erecta or triploid marigolds will continue to be improved for germination and seed vigor. Someday, breeders will be able to introduce the T. patula mahogany red genes into the T. erecta species for huge 3-inch red blooms. Or the reverse, introduce the white T. erecta genes into a dwarf French marigold. The National Garden Bureau is confident the breeders will continue to select marigolds that will find a featured position in America’s gardens. Whether tall or short, single or double flowered, marigolds will flourish across North America.

Window Sill Gardening

Window Sill Gardening with African Violets and Gesneriads

African violets and members of the gesneriad family such as the gloxinias, Streptocarpus, and lipstick plants will thrive in conditions that are easy to achieve in most homes once some basic environmental conditions are addressed.   Window sill gardening is not free of challenges, but these are not insurmountable and overcoming them makes the rewards that much nicer.  One of these challenges is dealing with light levels that vary depending on the window orientation and time of year.  Indoor gardeners may have to use a compromised window for plant growth that is not the ideal situation.  Supplemental (artificial) light may be the answer to this problem.  Another challenge is the temperature of the growing area.  The best light might be up against the window which is also the coldest location.  Gesneriads are sensitive to cold and hot temperatures that are beyond a comfortable range.  Indoor environments during the winter also have the challenge of low humidity levels.  This is one of the easier challenges to overcome by using a humidifier. 

Normal home temperatures that are comfortable for people are well suited for gesneriads.  During the daytime, temperatures should be between 20 and 25 degrees (67-75 F.) Celsius for most of these plants.  A five degree drop in night time temperatures is ideal and may even encourage blooming.  It is critical for gesneriads to avoid excessively hot or cold drafts from an open door, fireplace or furnace vent.  Generally, a comfortable environment for humans will be suitable for these plants. 

 Most gesneriads are from tropical parts of the world, although there are some semi-hardy members such as Ramonda which is from the high altitude mountainous regions of Asia, Europe, and South America.  The most common member of the gesneriad group is the African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha) which is from the Tanzania and Kenya region of east Africa.  African violets in their native habitat grow on the banks of streams or as epiphytes on trees.  About 2,000 cultivars in white, pink, red, blue, violet, cream and yellow colours have been developed as a popular indoor plant.  Many advancements have been made to the original plant found in Tanzania which was a light to dark blue colour.  Other gesneriad family members are the trailing lipstick plants (Aeschynanthus species) which are epiphytes from the sub-tropical forests of the Himalayas, south China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and New Guinea.  From the tropical rain forest of the “New World” in Brazil come the goldfish plant (Nematanthus) and gloxinias (Sinningia species).  Gloxinias are gesneriads that have a single fleshy tuber. When the dry or cold season arrives in their native environment, the foliage dies down but the tuber remains alive.  When weather returns that is more suitable for growth, the plant starts to grow from the energy reserves in the tuber.  An interesting plant that is a tuberous gesneriad is the cupid’s bower or hot water plant (Achimenes).  This easy-to-grow plant is dormant during the winter and springs to life in the spring.

 African violets, the most famous gesneriad family member, were discovered by Baron Walter Von Saint-Paul in 1892 in Tanzania.  Upon its arrival to Europe it received the botanical name of Saintpaulia ionantha.  The genus name obviously commemorating its discoverer, but the species name is from the Greek language meaning “having flowers like the violet’s”.  This gave rise to the common name of African violet which give the impression that this plant is a true violet.  African violets are not a violet; they just looked like one to people back in the early 1900’s.   These plants soon became favoured because of its small size, free-flowering abilities, and ease of growth.  This has continued for over a century as more and more people are attracted to the wide variety of cultivars now available.  African violets have now become the most popular flowering indoor plant.  They now come in white, blue, purple, red, and yellow colours with bicolor, ruffled, or double petals.  The foliage might be green, reddish or variegated and leaf margins are sometimes finely serrated, ruffled, or lobed.  To add another dimension, there are now very popular African violets that are miniature and even trailing types. 

 One of the keys to getting African violets to bloom is to have adequate light levels.  Many gesneriads will not produce flower buds if the light intensity is not high enough.  The amount of light that is present on a cloudy winter day is the minimum amount needed to produce blooms.  To ensure that plants receive as much of this natural light as possible, set them in a south or southwest facing window during the winter months.  They must be moved to an east or north window during the summer months because the stronger rays may cause damage to the leaves.  In the summer, an alternative to a south window is to set the plants back away from the window or behind sheer drapes.  Another note is that the sun’s rays striking African violets from one side will cause the plant to grow lop-sided.   Turn your plants one quarter of a revolution each week to preserve their symmetry.  An easier solution might be to grow African violets (and other gesneriads) under fluorescent lights.  This is the only solution for gardeners who do not have south facing windows during the winter.  Fluorescent lights will provide an even distribution of light and can be used with a timer to ensure that African violets get more than 12 hours of light so that they will continuously bloom. 

 African violets are native to an environment that is warm and humid with temperatures that do not drop below 18 degrees Celsius (65 F.).  Keeping temperatures around 25 (77 F.) during the day and five degrees lower at night will be sufficient for good growth and flowering.  Dropping the temperature five degrees at night will produce larger flowers with more petals and brighter colours.  The ideal humidity, between 40 and 60 percent, is often a challenge to achieve during the winter.  Low humidity levels will cause leaves to curl and become crisp at the edges.  Bloom quality may decline too.  To help solve this problem, place a shallow tray of water near the plants so that it will evaporate and humidify the air, group plants together, or use a humidifier nearby.

 Watering African violets the right way is a technique that will pay off with big flower rewards.  Use room temperature water that has sat for several hours to let the gaseous water treatment chemicals leave.  Water early in the day so that the plant is not excessively wet during the night.  Water as soon as the soil surface feels dry to the touch.  Add enough water to the top of the pot so that it runs out the bottom and into the saucer below.  Let this sit for about one hour and then drain the water from the saucer.  African violet roots are susceptible to damage from overwatering, drought, and cold water.  Some gardeners insist that watering from the bottom is the correct way to water gesneriads.  This can be done if careful attention is paid to the amount of time plants sit in the water.  Root damage can happen fast.  Watering from the top also flushes out fertilizer salts so that they do not build up in the soil. 

 Fertilizers for flowering indoor houseplants should have a higher phosphorous number.  This is the middle number of the ratio.  Fertilizing with a weak solution every time the plant is watered will provide a more constant feeding for the plant.  Use one-quarter strength (or less) depending on the frequency of watering.  A dormant plant that is not blooming or coming into bloom should not have any fertilizer. 

African violets (and most gesneriads) should be grown in a sterilized, light soil mixture that is peat-moss based.  Air space in the soil is very important for healthy roots.  The best pots for growing gesneriads are the ordinary plastic ones.  These will hold moisture well and are light to pick up.  Clay pots may accumulate salts around the rim that could damage African violet stems.  African violets can stay in the same (3-4 inch) pot for years because these plants do not have an extensive root system. In time the plant, with its overhanging leaves, may seem very out of scale to the pot.  When the plant is 3 times wider than the pot, it is time to move it up to the next larger sized pot.  Repotting should take place in the spring.  Let the plant dry out slightly so that the leaf petioles are somewhat flexible before repotting or else they may snap off.

Gesneriads for the Windowsill

More Great Windowsill Plants That are NOT African Violets

The lipstick plant is a trailing gesneriad family member botanically called Aeschynanthus.  Most of the flowers in this group are bright red or reddish-orange and tubular in shape.  One type, Aeschynanthus lobbianus has a flower structure when in bud that looks like a burgundy lipstick case that is winding open to reveal bright red lipstick inside. 

Sinningia (gloxinia) is a large and diverse group of plants that contains the large showy trumpet flowers of the florist gloxinia.  Also included are miniature plants that are not much larger than a quarter. 

 Episcia are a gesneriad group that are grown more for their colourful foliage than for their small, single flowers.  Episcia ‘Cleopatra’ is one of the favourites because of its leaves which are pale pink, white, and light green.  It is very striking but a challenge to grow because of its requirements for a terrarium-like environment with warm temperatures, constant moisture and high humidity.  Other Episcias, such as the ones with coppery-green foliage and red flowers are easier to grow.  Treat these like African violets. 

 Newish to the gesneriad scene are the Chiritas which are mostly from damp, semi-shady sites in tropical China.  Some people like Chirita sinensis for its leathery, silver foliage, but other members of this family are also attractive for their beautiful lavender, white or yellow miniature Gloxinia-like flowers. 

 The gesneriad genus called Nematanthus sometimes has a common name of gold fish plant for its small orange, puffy flowers.  The orange fish shaped blooms are a nice contrast to the glossy dark green foliage of their mainly trailing plants. A minimum temperature of 15 degrees Celsius will keep these plants sporadically blooming through the winter. 

 Achimenes are easy to grow tuberous plants that are dormant during the winter and have showy blooms in a wide range of colours during the summer.  If these plants inadvertently become too dry during their flowering phase they will just go into dormancy early.  Let them rest in a dry location with temperatures above freezing and they will be ready to bloom the following summer.  This plant has a common name of hot water plant because water is just about all that this plant needs to spring to life.

 Dainty tubular blooms that hand down from downy, upright plants are characteristics of the Kohleria genus.  This plant also has an underground rhizome and goes dormant similarly to Achimenes. 

 The Streptocarpus group of plants are becoming increasingly popular for people who want easy-to-grow houseplants.  These plants, also known as cape primrose, are best grown in the same conditions as African violets.  They have long strap-like leaves and numerous showy blooms held high above the leaves. 

 Columnea are mainly trailing plants that have masses of brilliant flowers cascading from along the stems.  For maximum production of flowers, water this plant sparingly during the fall for six weeks.  Once flower buds appear, water columnea regularly.

Pretty Pansies

Pretty Pansies

Pretty Pansies

It is instant color time in the garden with the addition of pansies, Johnny jump-up (Viola tricolor), or violas! These short-lived perennials are excellent autumn and winter grown plants for the garden. They are usually treated as winter annuals and enjoyed while the tropical plants spend the winter inside or dormant.

The cheerful, round blooms of pansies clear, penciling lines or with blotched faces. What’s not to like!

Many pansies are faintly scented with early morning or dusk being the best time to give them a sniff test. The yellow or blue pansies are reputed to have the strongest scent. Plant many together to concentrate their fragrance or plant them in containers close to a main door.

Great for containers, garden beds, window boxes, etc. with a huge range of colors to coordinate for your designing pleasure.

Pansies love the cool & cold weather. Snow and ice may temporarily slow down their blooms but it won’t stop these tough winter wonders. Many series are hardy to 10 degrees F. Plants were totally encased in ice during our last ice storm and they bounced right back in my garden. Some pansies may exhibit a purple coloration on their leaves during cold weather. Pansies will thrive until the weather turns hot. Most pansies do not tolerate hot and dry weather conditions.

The best conditions to grow pansies are in full sun to part shade with well-drained, organic, compost rich soil. Plant them in the garden anytime from late November (whenever it starts to cool down) through early spring.

Pansies are usually trouble-free but sometimes are attacked by downy or powdery mildew, crown or root rot. Slugs, snails and aphids are potential pests if pansies are grown in shady and moist conditions.

Water them well after planting and mulch to conserve moisture. Fertilize once a month with an all-purpose flowering plant food. Deadhead the finished blooms to keep the plant blooming.

Did you know that there is a town called Pansy in Texas? It is in Crosby County and is named for the attractive flower. Did you also know that pansy flowers are edible (use the ones grown organically).


Accord Series (large) 8 colors
Crown Series (medium) 9 colors
Crystal Bowl Series (multiflora) 11 colors
Imperial Series (medium) 5 color mixes
Joker Series (medium) 4 colors
Lyric Series (large) 5 colors
Majestic Giants Series (large) 6 colors
Maxim Series (multiflora) 14 colors
Medallion Series (large) 6 colors
Padparadja (multiflora) 1 color
Roc Series (medium) 9 colors
Springtime Series (medium) 17 colors
Swiss Giants (large) old fashioned 5 colors
Universal Series (multiflora) 13 colors

The Exotic Frangipani

Frangipani, a wildly tropical plant; in name and exotic looking foliage and flower, is a contrast of sorts. The foliage pre-bloom is coarse and the stems lanky, but once the plant opens even one flower – all that changes and the plant becomes a tropical blooming beauty. With exquisite flowers having a richness and depth of color that few flowers can achieve, Frangipani adds “icing to the cake” with an enticing citrusy, cocoa butter/cinnamon fragrance to the garden as well.

Frangipani blooming in Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin Texas

Frangipani blooming in Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin, Texas in May

The plant is known as Plumeria, named in honor of the seventeenth century French botanist, Charles Plumier who travelled to the Antilles and Central America recording many plants and animals. At the age of 16 he joined the religious order of the Minims in France and devoted himself to mathematics and physics. After being sent to Rome, Plumier began to study botany and once he returned to France, he began work exploring the coasts of Provence and Languedoc. At the age of 43 he went on his first botanical expedition to the French Antilles. It was a success and he was appointed royal botanist. During his three botany expeditions he was the first to identify and describe the beautiful Fuchsia. The genus name in his honor was originally spelled Plumiera (and some still use this spelling).

The common name, frangipani comes from a sixteenth-century Italian nobleman, the Marquis Frangipani who invented a method of perfuming gloves that came to be known as Frangipani gloves. When the Plumeria flower was discovered, the scent reminded people of the fragrance Frangipani used to scent gloves and so the name began to be associated with the plant too. Another theory for the frangipani name is that the white Plumeria sap resembles the French product frangipanier, a type of coagulated milk.

Plumeria is just a small genus of 8 species originally native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. The plant was frequently transported by Spanish Catholic priests as they travelled to new areas. Each species has different leaf shapes and growth habits. Many species have naturalized in southern and southeast Asia.

Plumeria is in the Apocynanceae (dogbane) family with oleander and periwinkle. The family contains mainly tall trees found in the tropical rainforests. Plumeria is a deciduous shrubs or small tree here in Central Texas, but in tropical regions Plumeria can grow up to 30 feet high and wide. Plumeria, like Oleander has some poisonous properties, but is not nearly as bad as some of the other family members. The milky sap, found in all plant parts is irritating to the skin, just like many Euphorbias.

Frangipani blooming in Langkawi, Malaysia

Frangipani blooming in Langkawi, Malaysia

The beautiful flowers are admired for their deep and rich in coloration and beautiful shading. Mostly Plumeria flowers can be found in combinations of whites, yellow, corals, pinks, and purples from March through October. New curly blooms have been introduced to add a new twist to the pinwheel effect of the blooms as they unfold. Some cultivars have up to 200 blooms in a cluster (others only 50). The flowers are used for making leis in Hawaii.

Flowers are most fragrant at night in order to lure the sphinx moths to come pollinate them. But, interestingly no nectar is contained in the flower. The moths pollinate the flowers as they search from one to the next looking for the non-existent nectar.

Frangipani can be propagated by taking 4 inch to 1 foot cuttings of the thick stems, allow them to dry off for two weeks (like a cactus) and then sticking them into a gallon pot of a mixture containing 2/3 perlite and 1/3 peat or potting soil. Add a coarse draining material (like pea gravel) on the top 1 inch of the pot. Water well, then let the soil dry before watering again. Spring cuttings will take about 90 days to produce a full root ball – when they can be transplanted.
Plumeria seeds are not true to the parent plant, but if you are willing to experiment to find new colors – this is the way. The reds and pinks apparently reveal the greatest variation in color. The few Plumeria seeds produced have a long narrow wing attached to the seed. Insert the seed so that it is under the soil and the wing is sticking above the soil. Keep the potting soil moist and germination should take place in about 21 days.

Grow Plumeria in full sun (or at least 6 hours) for the best blooms. It is one of the most sun and wind tolerant of the tropical plants. Plant it in well drained (particularly during the winter), organic soils. Prune the plant during the active growing season. Try to prune for a pleasing shape but this is not often possible because of the natural way that Plumeria grow. The leaves tend to grow only near the branch tips and few branches are produced. Pests are few, but sometimes scale is a problem and rot when too much moisture is present around the roots.

Fragrant Frangipani at sunset in Langkawi

Fragrant Frangipani at sunset in Langkawi

Plumeria are not very winter hardy – only to zone 9. Protect from cold damage when temperatures dip below 40 deg. F. and especially if frost is forecast. Use frost cloth or mulch inground to ensure that the roots will overwinter in Central Texas. Grow in a pot and move to a protected location. Often the cooler weather will cause the leaves to drop in the fall. If temps drop below 32 deg. F. plant stems turn to mush. Some frangipani growers bury their plants underground to protect them from the winter cold temperatures. The cultivar ‘Texas Sunshine’ is reputed to be one of the most cold tolerant (to 25 deg. F). Other supposedly hardy Plumerias are ‘Celadine”, ‘Aztec Gold’ and ‘Samoan Fluff.’

There are over 300 named varieties of Plumeria.

St. Joseph’s Lily

St. Joseph’s Lily, Hardy Amaryllis, Johnson’s Amaryllis, Bouquet Amaryllis

The stunning St. Joseph’s Lily (Hippeastrum x johnsonii) that is so fondly associated with many Southern gardens originated as a chance cross between Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) vittata and A. reginae  (both originally from South America).  One of the first hybrid Amaryllis, it was perhaps unintentionally crossed by Arthur Johnson, a British watchmaker from Prescott in Lancashire between 1799 and 1810.  First described and illustrated in 1816 by Pierre-Joseph Redoute, the plant was originally called Amaryllis brasiliensis and later referred to as Amaryllis johnsonii in 1831.  The bulb could have been lost during the early days, but luckily Mr. Johnson shared his new plants with the Liverpool Botanic Garden before his greenhouse was accidently destroyed, along with everything inside.  The plant made its way into cultivation in the US by the mid 1800s.  And now after almost 200 years and few nursery offerings, the bulb is being propagated by Tony Avent using tissue culture and should be more readily available now.

Hardy Amaryllis - aka St. Joseph's Lily

Hardy Amaryllis aka St. Joseph

St Joseph’s Lily is a true passalong plant and garden heirloom, spreading from neighbor to neighbor or through family ties in the South.  It is a plant that can often be found blooming in abandoned homesteads and older cemeteries.  In Perennial Garden Color, Dr Bill C. Welch calls them “living antiques because they are tangible symbols of success for generations of Southern gardeners.  Many have been lovingly handed down among the families that contribute cultural diversity and richness to our gardens.” Many call this bulb the finest amaryllis for Southern gardens.

This tough plant is one of the hardiest amaryllis and is hardy to zone 7 (maybe even zone 5 or 6 with heavy mulch protection).  It requires little care and is a member of the “takes a licking and keeps on ticking-blooming plants”.  The ease that it returns to bloom each spring and multiplies (perennializing here) without much or any attention is one of the nicest attributes of this plant and makes it a great “first plant” for younger gardeners.  It slowly spreads by bulb offsets without being invasive.

The leaves are thick masses of evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous (depending on the winter temperatures), strap-like foliage up to 30” long.  In Central Texas, the leaves usually don’t die back and stay evergreen.  In the sun, the foliage has a coppery hue.  Plant height is a dramatic 24” tall when blooming.  Some gardeners report this bulb is avoided by deer.

St. Joseph’s lily blooms in late winter to early summer (usually March-April here), has a spicy fragrance and often has 5-6 blooms per stalk.  The bright red tepals (undifferentiated petals and sepals) with white “stars” on the throat form large trumpet-shaped blooms.  Some mature bulbs can have up to 4 stalks (~24 blooms) on one plant and many bloom for a month.

The plant has average water requirements during the year and will even go dormant in the summer if there is less water.  To avoid rotting the bulb, do not overwater it.  It is a good xeric plant that can survive hot, dry summers.  Either irrigate this plant during the summer to keep the foliage healthy or let it go dormant.  Tolerant of full sun to part shade.  Soil pH is ideal when acidic to neutral (5.5-7.5) and good drained is preferred.  This bulb is more tolerant of heavy clay soils than other Amaryllis – but good drainage is needed in colder locations during the winter.

Like all amaryllis, St. Joseph’s Lily can be grown indoors but it is a little more finicky than the modern types and doesn’t bloom as well in a pot.  The cut flowers can last a week or more in a vase.

The most popular type of propagation for gardeners is separation of the bulblets in the fall.  They can be started from seed, but being a hybrid the offspring will probably be different than the mother plant. The plant rarely sets seed.  Sow seed as soon as it is ripe.  A wholesale tissue culture lab in Eustis, Florida called AG3 is now propagating this plant in greater quantities than previously done.  At present it is rarely available in the nursery trade and can command $18 for one very large bulb, but with tissue culture, there should be many more available at a reduced price.

It is believed that the common name St. Joseph’s Lily is in reference to its blooming time which coincides in some areas with St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th.

Striking red and white blooms of the St. Joseph's Lily

Striking red and white blooms of the St. Joseph's Lily

Osage Orange – The Tree That Helped Settled the Wild Frontier

The Mighty Osage Orange

The tree with too many names to remember is unforgettable to anyone who has picked up the bumpy, greenish-yellow, citrus-smelling fruit in the fall. The Osage orange is a tree with a history. It is an unassuming tree that was instrumental in settling the wild frontier. Through the years and across the continent it was called Bodare Us, Bodark, Bodeck, Bodock, Bois d’arc, Bowwood, Geelhout, Hedge, Hedge Apple, Hedge-plant, Horse Apple, Maclura, Mock Orange, Naranjo Chino, Osage, Osage Apple-Tree, Rootwood, Wild Orange, or Yellow-Wood. Originally the First Nations People of the Omaha-Ponca called it Zho-nzi-zhu, which meant yellow flesh wood tree and the Pima called it S’hoitgam kawli meaning thorny fence. To all it is a remarkable tree that offers shelter, protection, strong wood, and interesting fruit.

Osage Orange Tree

Osage Orange Tree

Botanically, it is called Maclura pomifera, named after William Maclure (1763-1840), who was an American geologist. The species epithet, pomifera means bearing fruit, pomes, or apples which refers to the large, green, grapefruit-like fruit. The Osage name came from French settlers who called the Wazhazhe natives by that name. These natives lived near the trees native habitat. The tree was incorrectly called an orange for the citrus smell of the fruit skin when it is ripe.

French settlers found that the Southern Native people used the highly prized, flexible, and firm wood for bows. It was such a superior wood that it was used for trading, as gifts, or for bartering well beyond its native range. Many archers still consider osage orange wood to be the best in the world for their bows. The common name of bodark (and its variations) is a colloquialism for the French words “Bois d’Arc” meaning wood of the bow. White settlers found that the tree had many additional desirable qualities. It was tough and durable, transplanted easily, and tolerated poor soils, extreme heat, and strong winds. Osage orange trees also had no serious insect or disease problems.

How did osage orange, which produces no building lumber, get planted in greater numbers than any other tree species? Osage oranges were much prized as impenetrable hedges invaluable before the invention of barbed wire. Their dense growth and foreboding thorns were used to keep cattle and horses contained. After barbed wire made hedge fences obsolete, the trees were still used as a source of fence posts and as windbreaks to stop soil erosion. Their strong wood could withstand termites and rot for decades. Osage orange is considered one of the most durable woods in North America. This small tree was planted as living fences or hedges along the boundaries of farms and homesteads and was prized as a divisional fence because timber was scarce in many regions of the mid-western United States. The trees were a good fence alternative that cost little to grow, lasted for generations, needed no repairs other than pruning, and kept out stock of all sizes large or small.

Osage Orange fruit

Osage Orange fruit

Osage orange trees have been such a common sight through the Great Plains and eastward to the New England states that it is easy to assume that they are part of the native plant community through this area. To date osage orange has been planted in all 48 continental United States and South-eastern Canada where it can survive in hardiness zone 5. The well-travelled osage orange was originally native to a very small area. It grew in south-western Arkansas, south-eastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas. Most of its native habitat is along the Red River valley through these three states and also in the Blackland Prairies, Post Oak Savannahs and Chisos Mountains of Texas. It has since escaped and naturalized throughout the eastern and north-western US.

Osage orange is a medium-sized tree with leaves that are up to 20 cm long. The leaves have smooth margins and are tapered to a sharp tip. The best identification features are 1 cm short thorns that are located where the leaf petiole attaches to the twigs. The fruit is very noticeable in the fall once the leaves have fallen. It is a large, green, wrinkled, cannonball-size fruit that ripens in the late fall to a yellow colour. The fruit may be so numerous that tree branches will bend under their weight. The rock-hard, unripe fruit could weigh as much as one kilogram each. Cutting open the fruit will reveal a solid centre surrounded by about 200 seeds and a sticky white sap that can cause dermatitis. The seeds are loved by squirrels who, with great determination, tear apart the fruit to get their food. Since most birds, livestock, and animals find the fruit unpalatable, there’s usually plenty for the squirrels.

Osage orange is a member of a small group of plants that are dioecious and have separate male and female flowers on different plants. The female trees have small green flowers that open just after the leaves unfold. The male flowers are one inch long racemes found on terminal leaf spurs. The pollen is light and travels with the wind. Sometimes female trees will produce abundant fruit without having a male tree nearby, but the fruit will not have any seeds.

Osage Orange Fruit

Osage Orange Fruit

The loss of thousands of kilometres of osage orange hedgerows and the ensuing loss of wildlife habitat is a concern. It is estimated that over 400,000 kilometres of fence lines were once planted with osage orange trees from New Jersey to Ontario and south to Texas. Now only the remnants of these vast hedgerows remain 150 years later. Preserving our historical plantings is a goal that should be recognized very soon.

What does the future hold for the osage orange? Plenty of interest is on the horizon about new uses. The fruit is reputed to have insecticidal properties. The heartwood, bark, and roots have extracts that may be used in food processing and dye making. Already, the tree has its own websites dedicated to cultural information, bow making, and gardener testimonials at www.osageorange.com and https://hedgeapple.com.

This fall, if a scenic journey takes you travelling through the countryside, look for the old gnarled trees in a long forgotten hedgerow. If these trees have large yellow-green fruit, think back to the early settlers and their bushel baskets full of grapefruit-like fruit travelling across the land in their quest to find their new home.

All images in this article have been used under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike License and were originally published at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maclura_pomifera.

Clematis…Do you say kle-matis or Klem-ah-tis?

Clematis 'John Warren' Pruning Group 2

Clematis 'John Warren' Pruning Group 2

The beauty of Clematis is evident no matter what name it is called – traveller’s joy, old man’s beard, leather flower, vase vine or virgin’s bower.
The large, exquisite blooms of the Jackmanii type of clematis and similar types are really spectacular in the summer. With a little care, this durable and dependable, large flowering clematis can be a show-stopper in the garden.

Clematis 'Princess Diana'    Pruning Group 3

Clematis 'Princess Diana' Pruning Group 3

Clematis, as a group, do have a lot of diversity, gardeners just have to look beyond the large flowering Jackmanii types. There are clematis with flowers that are tiny bells or fragrant puffs of white petals that seem to float in the air. A wide range of flower types and blooming times give gardeners many options to enjoy this (mostly) climbing plant.

Clematis 'Pohjanael' Pruning Group 3

Clematis 'Pohjanael' Pruning Group 3

The one major hindrance for gardeners is the mystery of when and how much to prune. Pruning at the wrong time can sacrifice that season’s blooms, or pruning too little could deposit all the blooms at the far reaches of the stems. The secret to pruning clematis correctly is to identify where the flowers are supposed to be blooming. With this information, clematis can be grouped according to whether the flowers are formed on the last year’s wood or on the current season’s stems. Timing, in addition to the type and amount of shoots to remove, will be determined by where the flowers are formed. If clematis are pruned at the wrong time or pruned haphazardly without consideration to timing, then the current season’s blooms or the next season’s blooms are in jeopardy.

Several types of Clematis growing up a trellis

Several types of Clematis growing up a trellis

Clematis can be placed into three pruning groups. Group 1 includes those that bloom in the late spring or early summer and that flower on the previous season’s mature wood (last years stems). This is the smallest and least known of the three groups. Clematis that fall into this category are mostly Clematis alpina, Clematis montana, Clematis macropetala and their cultivars. Typically the blooms from clematis in this group are smaller, single and either bell-shaped or saucer-shaped. It is important to prune group 1 clematis after they have flowered (in early summer). This also includes carefully removing any dead or damaged stems. If necessary, shorten the healthy stems just enough to keep the plant contained where you want it. Do not prune this group late in the season or else the blooms for the next year will be removed.

Clematis 'Blue Light' Pruning Group 2

Clematis 'Blue Light' Pruning Group 2

Group 2 includes the early-summer, large-flowered cultivars that bloom on new shoots growing from the previous year’s growth. These clematis also bloom again toward the end of summer as the current year’s shoots mature. Clematis in this group hold their blooms upright, are mostly saucer-shaped and can be single, semi-double or fully double. This group is the biggest and contains many of the most popular and well-known clematis. The large-flowered types are usually the least vigorous clematis. Prune this group in early spring just before new growth starts. Remove dead and damaged stems and prune back all remaining stems to healthy buds. This minor pruning creates a framework for the blooming shoots.

Clematis durandii Pruning Group 3

Clematis x durandii Pruning Group 3

Group 3 is a very diverse group of clematis that all bloom on current year’s shoots during the summer and into the autumn. This includes the late-blooming, large-flowered cultivars which have flowers that are mostly outward facing, saucer-shaped and can be single, semi-double or fully double. Group 3 also has late-flowering species, herbaceous species and small flowering cultivars. The small flowering cultivars could be single or double, be saucer-shaped, star-shaped, bell-shaped, tulip-shaped or tubular. Group 3 clematis can be pruned the most severely of all the groups since they bloom on the current season’s growth. Prune this group down to 30 cm from the ground in the early spring before growth starts if you need to control the ultimate height of climbing plants.

Clematis 'General Sikorski' Pruning Group 2

Clematis 'General Sikorski' Pruning Group 2

Clematis grow best when their feet are cool and mulched or in the shade and their heads are in the sun. To accomplish this, mulch or plant a shorter perennial at the base of the clematis to shade its roots. Clematis have a soil preference that is neutral or slightly alkaline and should be well-drained and rich. Never let clematis dry out.

Clematis 'Inspiration' Pruning Group 3

Clematis 'Inspiration' Pruning Group 3

Clematis wilt is a serious problem that has devastating results. Young members of group 3 (the late-blooming large-flowered types) seem to be more susceptible to this problem than other groups. Clematis wilt is a broad term to describe plants (or portions thereof) that wilt when the soil is moist. To reduce the chances of clematis wilt, plant climbing types with the top of the root ball 8 cm below the soil surface. This encourages the plant to produce strong shoots below the soil surface. If a plant suddenly wilts for no visible reason, prune it at the base and dispose of the wilted stems. In some cases, the plant will send up a new healthy shoot.

Clematis 'John Warren' Pruning Group 2

Clematis 'John Warren' Pruning Group 2

There are pleasant surprises when growing some clematis. The doubles will often bloom first as doubles and then later in the summer as singles. They could even change their flower colour slightly for the single blooms. This is like having two different plants growing in the same location. An interesting situation arises if a severe winter kills the top growth of double clematis. They will send up shoots from the base and only have single blooms that year. The re-blooming members of Group 2 also have slightly different flowers as the season progresses. The later flush of blooms could be smaller or single and differ in colour from the first blooms. Many clematis have the added bonus of having decorative, fluffy, round seed heads. Clematis tangutica, a yellow, bell-shaped flowering plant, is one of the best for this showy feature.

Clematis 'Omoshiro' Group 2

Clematis 'Omoshiro' Group 2

Clematis have unfortunately been stereotyped into one narrow use in the garden. They have traditionally been grown up a trellis against a house. There’s even been debates about whether clematis look better growing up a trellis or arbour instead of on a wall. The time has come to consider the many other uses for clematis. Use them woven through a chain link fence. They can also be used as a vine groundcover over an eyesore that should be hidden. Be more daring and grow clematis up the base of a tree or through shrubs. They look great climbing up through an old shrub rose.

Clematis 'Piilu' Pruning Group 2

Clematis 'Piilu' Pruning Group 2

There’s another mystery to solve. Should gardeners say kle-matis or klem-ah-tis? The latter would be usually better received among a group of British horticulturists. The former is perfectly fine when complimenting your neighbour over the back fence. The choice is yours and it depends on your audience. The name is from the Greek word “clema” which means tendril and was used for several climbing plants.

The mysteries of the clematis are easy to unravel once the blooming time is identified. Explore the beautiful world of magnificent clematis blooms for your garden from spring to fall.

From Compost Pile to Gold Medal Winner (and other great plant success stories)


Pennsylvania Horticultural Society names the 2010 Gold Medal Winners

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has chosen five outstanding woody plants as their 2010 Gold Medal plant winners.

Since 1979, the Gold Medal program has recognized plants of outstanding merit, though often underused and they may not necessarily be new to the nursery trade. The winners are chosen for their superb eye-appeal, performance and hardiness in Zones 5-7. They are also judged for their beauty in many seasons, whether it be their foliage, flower or structural form. Gold Medal winners exhibit standards of excellence for hardiness, disease and pest resistance, and ease of growing when planted and maintained as recommended.

The 2010 Gold Medal winners are:

Clethra alnifolia ‘Compacta’ (Dwarf Summersweet)

Clethra alnifolia 'Compacta' (Dwarf Summersweet)

Clethra alnifolia 'Compacta' (Dwarf Summersweet)

In the mid-1970s Tom Dilatush, a noted nurseryman and longtime PHS Gold Medal committee member, discovered Clethra alnifolia ‘Compacta’ growing on a New Jersey compost pile. Tom was impressed by its superior landscape characteristics, and his keen observation was reaffirmed 30 years later by the high marks the plant received in the PHS Gold Medal trial. Tom had originally called this plant ‘Tom’s Compact’ but it was shortened to ‘Compacta’. Still the plant is a superior variety of summersweet, displaying darker, glossier leaves and a more compact, denser growth habit than other cultivars.

Clethra alnifolia 'Compacta' (Dwarf Summersweet)

Clethra alnifolia 'Compacta' (Dwarf Summersweet)

This “mulch-mound-miracle” is also hardier and more floriferous. What else could you ask for? Oh, yes, it’s also native, low-maintenance, and moderately deer-resistant. Uses include the foundation, border, in mass, the shady container, and the naturalized garden. It is best planted in part sun, but it tolerates all light conditions. ‘Compacta’ grows about 3 ½ feet high by 4 feet wide and prefers well-drained organic soil. Hardy in Zones 4 to 9.

Ilex Red Beauty ‘Rutzan’ (Red Beauty Holly)

Ilex Red Beauty 'Rutzan' (Red Beauty Holly)

Ilex Red Beauty 'Rutzan' (Red Beauty Holly)

As the name implies, this holly bursts into an eye-catching sensation when its berries ripen in the autumn, far outperforming other evergreen hollies. Handsome dark glossy evergreen leaves create a densely branched pyramidal tree. Introduced by Elwin R. Orton at Rutgers, Red Beauty is a result of years of cross-breeding between Ilex aquifolium, Ilex rugosa, and Ilex pernyi. Essentially, it’s half Meserve (blue) holly and half Perny holly.

Ilex Red Beauty 'Rutzan' (Red Beauty Holly)

Ilex Red Beauty 'Rutzan' (Red Beauty Holly)

For berry production, Red Beauty needs a male pollinator; use any of the blue male hollies such as Ilex ‘Blue Boy’, ‘Blue Prince’, or ‘Blue Stallion’ and plant one or two within 100 feet. (When selecting a site for the males, remember that they don’t produce berries.)

Plant Red Beauty in sun to part-sun in well-drained acidic soil. It is best used as a specimen tree or as a well-placed accent plant. It grows to about 15 feet high and is hardy in Zones 6 to 9.


Illicium floridanum ‘Halley’s Comet’ (‘Halley’s Comet’ Florida Anise)

Illicium floridanum 'Halley's Comet' ('Halley's Commet' Florida Anise)

Illicium floridanum 'Halley's Comet' ('Halley's Commet' Florida Anise)

Do you need a head-high evergreen for that shady spot? Look no further. Illicium floridanum ‘Halley’s Comet’ can fill this niche. A deer-proof shrub native to the southeastern United States, Florida anise produces 4-inch-long dark green leaves (similar to Rhododendron), which emit a strong, pleasant fragrance when bruised. Outperforming the species and other cultivars, ‘Halley’s Comet’ has superior characteristics, including improved cold tolerance and faster growth. It’s also a better bloomer, with plenty of large, red, star-shaped flowers that bloom in May and can persist into the summer.

Illicium floridanum 'Halley's Comet' ('Halley's Commet' Florida Anise)

Illicium floridanum 'Halley's Comet' ('Halley's Commet' Florida Anise)

Florida Anise thrives in shady, moist, well-drained soil and tolerates part-shade. Too much sun, though, will cause it to turn yellowish. Hardy in Zones 6 to 9. Steve Mostardi of Mostardi Nursery in Newtown Square, PA, and chairman of the Gold Medal Committee adds, “Another great attribute of this plant is its ability to be tolerant of dry shade once it becomes established in the landscape.”

Juniperus conferta ‘Silver Mist’ (‘Silver Mist’ Shore Juniper)

Juniperus conferta 'Silver Mist' ('Silver Mist' Shore Juniper)

Juniperus conferta 'Silver Mist' ('Silver Mist' Shore Juniper)

Juniperus conferta ‘Silver Mist’, is a unique species within a very common genus. This shore juniper is salt-tolerant and well-adapted for the seashore garden. This urban-tolerant evergreen was selected for its dense, more compact growth habit; exceptional bright silvery-blue needles; and robust, versatile demeanor. It is hardy in Zones 5b to 9.

Juniperus conferta 'Silver Mist' ('Silver Mist' Shore Juniper)

Juniperus conferta 'Silver Mist' ('Silver Mist' Shore Juniper)

Barry Yinger found ‘Silver Mist’ in a small Japanese nursery and introduced it through Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md. He notes, “This distinctive form of the Japanese shore juniper has fluffy bright silver needles on a spreading plant that usually is less than a foot tall. It is extremely tolerant of heat and drought and is best used in a bright, sunny location with excellent drainage.
If planted 2 to 3 feet apart, it will make an unusual ground cover that is beautiful all year around.”

Styrax japonicus ‘Sohuksan’ (Emerald Pagoda Snowbell)

Styrax japonicus 'Sohuksan' (Emerald Pagoda Snowbell)

Styrax japonicus 'Sohuksan' (Emerald Pagoda Snowbell)

In 1985, a group of plant explorers organized by the U.S. National Arboretum visited some remote islands off the southwest coast of South Korea. On Sohuksan Island, the group collected a distinctive form of the Japanese snowbell with a superior plant habit, large, glossy leaves, and very large fruit. Thanks to the horticultural wizardry of the late Dr. J.C. Raulston, a cutting he carried back to the North Carolina State Arboretum survived and established this tree in cultivation.

Styrax japonicus 'Sohuksan' (Emerald Pagoda Snowbell)

Styrax japonicus 'Sohuksan' (Emerald Pagoda Snowbell)

Its larger glossy leaves are sun-tolerant, and its large white flowers are highly fragrant. It naturally makes a single-stemmed, medium-size tree attaining about 30 feet in cultivation, growing very fast in its first years and then more slowly.

It grows best in fertile, well-drained soil in light shade with morning sun. It is sun-tolerant, but should not be planted in a hot, dry location. Hardy in Zones 5 to 8.

For a complete listing of plants with profiles and sources, go to www.goldmedalplants.com.

The “tough as nails” Red Yucca

Red Yucca blooms

Red Yucca blooms

The tough beauty – Red Yucca.

Firstly, Red Yucca is not a real Yucca! And secondly, the flowers are not really red either. So, now that the misleading common name is fully exposed, perhaps there should be a move to more correctly call this plant the “Rose-Coral Yucca Imposter”. Red Yucca, (Hesperaloe parvifolia) is a succulent in the Agave family.

Deceptive name aside, Red Yucca is a very useful plant in many landscapes. Thin, tough foliage gives it excellent heat, drought and cold protection for Southwest gardens. Bright tubular flowers bloom for months and are a great bee, butterfly and hummingbird attracting feature.

Red Yucca is native to Texas and can be found residing in the western portions of the Edwards Plateau as well as growing west into the Chihuahuan desert of Arizona and Northern Mexico.

Although it is not a true Yucca it does act and look similar to one (without the dangerous dagger leaf tips). Rosettes of thick, sword-shaped, gray-green evergreen foliage have attractive peeling margins. The leaves turn a slight plum color during colder weather. The plant (sans blooms) is about 2-3 ft tall.

Red Yucca plant

Red Yucca plant

The arching flowering stalks can reach 5 ft. The buds are a very attractive bright pink-red. The tubular blooms are pink on the outside and open to display a salmon color in the center. Yellow and cream cultivars are also available. Red Yucca blooms from spring until early fall. Periodically round seedpods form.

Red Yucca is remarkably cold hardy and has been found growing high up in the Colorado mountains (hardiness zones 5-10). It blooms best in full sun. Once it is established, Red Yucca has quite low water requirements and has good drought tolerance. It will appreciate some supplemental irrigation during dry periods though. Conversely, do not overwater. This plant likes gravelly limestone soils with fast drainage. Fertilize lightly (do not apply excessive nitrogen) in the spring.

Plant Red Yucca close together since they are rather sparse and their natural openness encourages weeds around them. If a mulch is used, do not pack an organic type high around the rosette. This will hold too much moisture against the woody stem and may cause damage. Planting Red Yucca close together also gives a more dramatic show when the arching flower wands are in bloom. For maximum effect also consider planting them in front of a stone wall or with a dark green evergreen backdrop.

Red Yucca blooms

Red Yucca blooms

Propagate by dividing the rhizomes and offsets. Ripe seed can be started in the fall (but much patience is needed). One report was that after two years, seedlings were only 6 inches tall. Red Yucca is slow growing in the beginning (maybe even sulks for a year or two). Eventually, offshoots and baby plants will appear as a signal that the plant is ready to really grow. Minimal maintenance is required with just a periodic tidy up with the pruners. No serious pests (except possibly deer nibbling on the flowers and buds).

Long blooming, good looking, “tough as nails”, low maintenance, drought tolerant and it attracts hummingbirds. What a winner!

Showy Mexican Milkweed

Mexican Milkweed

Brilliant red and orange Mexican Milkweed blooms in an Austin, Texas garden

Brilliant red and orange Mexican Milkweed blooms in an Austin, Texas garden

Mexican Milkweed (also called Bloodflower, Swallow-wort, Silkweed, Tropical Milkweed, Indian root, Butterfly Weed, Red Cottonweed, and Scarlet Milkweed) is botanically known Asclepias curassavica.

This tropical, herbaceous perennial (evergreen in milder areas) is hardy to zone 8, but can be grown as an annual in colder areas.  Vertical and showy, this plant with its dramatic red-orange blooms can grow to 48 inches!  The continuous supply of red-orange and yellow blooms from early summer to early fall is a visual treat for gardeners and also a food source for many winged Lepidoptera, flies and insect visitors.

Since Mexican Milkweed can reach such often unexpected heights, plant it in the middle or back of the border so that it doesn’t block other shorter plants.  An alternative is to pinch the plant in the spring to cause more branching and a bushier form.

Mexican Milkweed seeds almost ready to leave the pod

Mexican Milkweed seeds almost ready to leave the pod

This South American native prefers slightly acidic to neutral soils.  It is very adaptable and is easy to grow in dry, moist and even wet soils.  Full sun to partial shade conditions are ideal with the best blooms in sun.  Mexican Milkweeds are somewhat difficult to transplant as it has a deep fleshy, tap root.  Better success is achieved when young plants are transplanted or container grown plants planted.  They are slow to become established but become a tough plant once settled.  This is an excellent xeriscape plant that should not be over-watered.

Mexican Milkweed is easy to propagate and many options are available to multiply plants.  These include dividing the plant, rooting cuttings or sowing seeds.  Seeds are ripe when the long, narrow pod splits open and releases the white fluffy parachutes.  The plant easily self-seeds in warmer climates.  Seeds are easy to germinate and can be sown immediately.

Brightly colored milkweed aphids

Brightly colored milkweed aphids

Pests include spider mites and milkweed (These are the same ones found on oleander) aphids (yellow-orange soft-bodied with black legs).  Aphids are unsightly but don’t cause much harm if the plant isn’t under extreme stress.  Leaves will turn a mottled yellow/brown color if aphids are numerous.  Use a strong spray of water to wash off the aphids if desired (or let the ladybugs munch away if just a few are present).  If aphids are numerous their excrement (honeydew) will produce a grayish black fungus called sooty mold.  This will reduce the photosynthetic ability of the plant. 


There might also be milkweed bugs on plants.  These orange-red bugs have black antennae, legs and heads.  They eat the seeds and tissue of the milkweed plants.  They often gather as groups and are rarely numerous enough to be a problem.  These bugs are one of a small group of insects that can tolerate the toxic compounds in milkweeds. 

The caterpillar stage of the Monarch butterfly

The caterpillar stage of the Monarch butterfly

Butterflies and other nectar feeding insects are very attracted to the blooms.  This is a very important butterfly host and larval food plant for the monarch butterfly but also is host for the queen and soldier butterflies (Monarch relatives).  While migrating north, Monarch butterflies lay eggs on this plant even though it is not native to Texas.  The yellow and black striped caterpillar only feeds on Asclepias spp. (Milkweed relatives).  Monarchwatch.org lists Mexican Milkweed as the best plant for the garden and best for maintaining monarch butterflies.  Experiments show most female monarch butterflies, if given a choice of milkweed types, will pick Mexican Milkweed to lay her eggs.  The young caterpillars love the leaves and fortunately the plant is vigorous enough to re-grow the eaten foliage.

Milkweeds have many ethnobotany uses around the world.  An internet search will supply plenty of details.  The sap is an irritant if contact is made with the skin.  Also many parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten by humans.  The plant contains a toxin called galitoxin.  This is found in all vegetative parts of the plant.  This human and livestock toxin though, is helpful in protecting the Monarch butterfly.  Monarch caterpillars that have fed on milkweeds ingest this compound which makes them distasteful to predators such as birds.  The milkweed compound becomes more concentrated in adult butterflies thereby offering more inherent protection.  Birds eating Monarch butterflies have been observed to vomit shortly after ingesting them. 

Buds and blooms on the Mexican Milkweed

Buds and blooms on the Mexican Milkweed

Mexican Milkweed is not a native plant (and probably isn’t even from Mexico!)  It is from South America.  There is concern in some warmer areas (central and southern Florida) where it is naturalized and has become somewhat weedy through self-seeding.  Most do not considered it invasive but there are those that wonder if it will push out the native Milkweeds.  In Texas there are about 30 species of native milkweeds and only sightings of Mexican Milkweed in areas in the far south and southwest (Houston and Brownsville). 

[Mexican Milkweed is hardy in zones 8 and warmer.]


‘Butterfly Red’ red and orange blooms
‘Silky Gold (syn. ‘Aurea)’ yellow and mango colored flowers
‘Silky Red’ (syn. ‘Silky Deep Red’) dark red and yellow flowers.
‘Silky Scarlet’ scarlet and red flowers

Mexican Milkweed seeds releasing to the wind

Mexican Milkweed seeds releasing to the wind

Columbines and Granny’s Bonnets

The Beauty of Columbines

Old-fashioned Charming Columbines Old-fashioned Charming Columbines

Columbines are a delightful addition to the perennial garden.  Forming an upright plant with fine lacy foliage, this plant is a favourite of many gardeners.  Columbines bloom for many weeks in late May and early June.   They have very interesting and highly decorated blooms.  Whether they are purple, white, red, or yellow in colour, many columbine blooms resemble fancy bonnets.  Columbines are perfect for an informal, woodland or cottage-style garden where it does not matter if plants change their location or self-seed thereby introducing a brand new colour.  Even the name seems to fit a more natural garden style.  The word columbine comes from Latin meaning dove.  Earlier gardeners thought that columbine flowers resembled a cluster of doves. 

Columbines are well loved because they are so easy to grow.  Just give them a slightly well drained, sandy (or gravely) site and they will be happy.  They are even adaptable to different soil pH and can tolerate anything from slightly alkaline to slightly acidic.  A garden location that has full sun is best for lots of blooms but partial shade will also suit them.

The flowers of columbines are very distinctive with their bell-shape and varying spur lengths.  Many colour variations of yellow, purple, white, pink, orange, and red can be found among the group. For some of these colours, both single and double blooms are available.  Interestingly, long-spurred flowers orient their blooms upward while short-spurred types are nodding (facing down).  Columbine flowers are actually made of two parts.  The sepals are the outer structures that flare out at the open end.  These sepals are usually brightly coloured.   The real petals (there are five) are the inner flower structures.  These extend upwards and end in the nectar spurs.  The attractive, but often scent-less columbine flowers bloom for 2-4 weeks in early summer.  To prolong this blooming time and prevent self-seeding, remove the spent flowers. 

There are many types of columbines native to Europe, North America and Asia.  Alpine types from the Rockies are great for the rock garden because they only grow to 10 cm tall. Our native columbine with its scarlet flowers grows to reach 60 cm and the new hybrid columbines are dramatic in the middle of the perennial garden at 1 metre tall. 

One of the most beloved of our native wildflowers is the wild Canada columbine.  These are the delicate orange-red and lemon-yellow blooming plants found along the sunny edges of woods. Other common names for this plant include meeting-houses, or honeysuckle.  Botanically, it is called Aquilegia canadensis and can be found growing from Eastern Canada to Florida and also in New Mexico. Fern-like dark green leaves are at the base of the plant while downward-facing blooms with medium spurs are at the top.  This plant is tolerant of full sun if there’s plenty of moisture.  It is also tolerant of excessive heat if some shade is provided.  Hummingbirds love these flowers because of their long nectar spurs. This is one of the few columbines that will come true to seed every year. 

Pretty Columbines adding a Cottage Garden mood Pretty Columbines adding a Cottage Garden mood

One of the most interesting columbines is called Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Nora Barlow’.  Many call this plant “Granny’s Bonnet” because of the layers of petals in the flower. This columbine has short, spurred blooms that face downward.  It is a curious, but much loved cultivar of the original European columbines.  This plant has double flowers made up of many narrow, greenish sepals and pink petals without any spurs.  The flowers must be tilted upward to really see their true beauty. 

Another favourite columbine is Aquilegia ‘Crimson Star’ which has long spurs and a rich crimson red colour on the outside with white petals in the centre.  This columbine, like others with long spurs, turns its blooms upward toward the viewer.  Aquilegia ‘McKana’s Giants’ is another long-spurred columbine with large blooms.  This columbine has a mixture of outer sepal colours and inner petals that are either white or yellow.

Aquilegia caerulea (Rocky Mountain Columbine) is the state flower of Colorado. It is spectacular in its native habitat blooming along the mountain roadsides in brilliant blue and white. Even though the plants are short-lived, they are worth the effort to start from seed.  The upright plants grow best in rich soils. 

Green flowers seem very strange in a world full of brilliant colour.   Anyway, Aquilegia viridiflora is a columbine from Russia and western China that has nodding, fragrant blooms that have green sepals and purplish brown petals.  This is one plant to see in person to really appreciate its unusual beauty. 

A columbine called ‘Woodside Variegated Mixed’ is a Victorian era plant from the 19th century.  It was re-introduced and is outstanding because of the two types of yellow variegation on the leaves.  Some plants have pure yellow leaves while others have yellow mottling and streaks.   Large white, pink or purple blooms crown these plants in the summer. 

Columbines are clump-forming perennials that are not long-term residents in the garden. Consequently, growing a few new plants from seed every few years is wise.  Seed can be sown indoors during the winter or outdoors directly into the garden.  Sow the seed indoors in a shallow pot and place it in the refrigerator for 3 weeks.  Do not cover the seed as it needs light to germinate.  Outdoors scatter the seed lightly on the surface of the soil in the fall.  Many columbines self-seed and hybridize freely in the garden.  Just let these seedlings bloom and remove the colours you don’t like.
There are two major pests of columbines in Southern Ontario.  One is the columbine leaf miner that makes a meandering path through plant leaves.   The mined areas are white as a result of the chlorophyll being removed from the leaf.  Chemical controls are very difficult since these insects are very well protected inside the leaf.  Remove all infected leaves during the summer and clean up all plant debris in the fall.  This is an unsightly problem that occurs with most columbines every year.  The damage done by the columbine leaf miner looks worse than it really is.

Hinckley's Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana) Hinckley’s Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana)

The other pest is a caterpillar that occasionally takes a liking to the fern-like foliage of columbines.  The columbine skipper is a purplish butterfly and its green larvae chews holes in plant leaves.  They will even hide, very well protected, in rolled up leaves.  

Columbines have an innocent old-fashioned charm about them.  Whether they are single or double, they add so much to the garden in many ways.  It’s a great day when new colours start blooming in the garden from plants grown by seed.

Hardy Hibiscus

Bold and Beautiful Hardy Hibiscus
I was thrilled to see more brilliant red hibiscus flowers blooming in the garden this morning. There were several open earlier in the week but I didn’t have my camera ready at the right time, so early this morning after doing my watering chores, I ran down with my camera and snapped a couple of pictures of this beauty before it fades. It may be a fleeting moment of glory for today’s flower, but no worries – this wonderful hibiscus does produce a good succession of blooms for the tomorrows to come.
The Cordial series of hardy hibiscus are an exciting offering from Bloom of Bressingham, that has done very well in the garden for several years.  This group of compact hybrid Hibiscus hybrid have huge 8-10 inch diameter flowers on well branched plants.  These plants love the heat and have done very well on my back garden patio without much attention and fussing.  The entire Cordial series contains ‘Brandy Punch’, ‘Cherry Brandy’, ‘Peppermint Schnapps’ and ‘Cinnamon Grappa’ (pictured here).

The Bold and Beautiful Hibiscus 'Cinnamon Grappa' The Bold and Beautiful Hibiscus ‘Cinnamon Grappa’

‘Cinnamon Grappa’, with its large, brilliant cherry red blooms has bloomed the earliest in my Central Texas garden.  There has been a nice succession of large dinner plate size blooms from late May onward.  The plant is very ornamental and resulted from a cross made by Yoder breeder Mark Smith in Alva, Florida between an unnamed red hibiscus and rosy pink Hibiscus ‘Fantasia’.  He selected the ‘Cinnamon Grappa’ plant for its good branching, uniform growth, good flower size, flower color, foliage color and foliage shape.  ‘Cinnamon Grappa’ has attractive maple-leaf incised foliage with red highlights and stems.

A promise for tomorrow.

Beautiful Hardy Hibiscus in Bud

This somewhat woody shrub grows to 3-4 ft. and loves a hot, sunny, well-drained location!  An ideal heat-loving plant.  It is slow to start growing in the spring and gardeners will have to be extra patient waiting for the first new shoots to start growing.  Cut back the dormant plant in early spring or late fall.  The hibiscus is hardy from zones 5-9. ‘Cinnamon Grappa’ is the shortest of the Cordial series.

A great middle or front of the border plant, the Cordial series is also suitable for large containers.  Under the stress of intense, direct hot afternoon sun, it does wilt, but recovers overnight or if given water.

The others in this series include ‘Cherry Brandy’, reddish-pink and slightly later blooming, ‘Brandy Punch’, hot pink, and ‘Peppermint Schnapps’, pink with red veining and the tallest in the group.  

All are guaranteed to be showstoppers in the garden. Cheers! 

The Dinner plate sized blooms of Hibiscus 'Cimmanon Grappa'

Hibiscus 'Cinnamon Grappa'

Passionate about Passion Flowers

A Passion for Passion Flowers

Passiflora incarnata blooming in Austin, Texas Passiflora incarnata blooming in Austin, Texas

Anyone who has gazed at the intricate details of a passion flower in full bloom will understand how it is possible to be immediately captivated by this plants spell.  It is hard to believe that a flower so beautiful is genuine and not a vision or creation of human imagination.  Once viewed, there is no denying the fact that passion flowers evoke a strong emotional response when they are in bloom.  Building on the alluring sight of the flower is the fragrance of some passion flowers, so strong that it leaves a sweet tropical scent memory.   Gardeners fortunate to taste the distinctive, nectar of the edible fruit will have an even clearer understanding of the reason that passion flowers are one of the crown jewels of the plant world.  The best news is that they are easy to grow in most indoor gardening conditions. 

Passion flowers invoke more than an emotional response, they also have reputed medical properties. Their most prevalent use is as an extraction of glycoside, which is made from the dried leaves and its used as a sedative or tranquilizer.  In Brazil, trained herbalists prescribe an herbal remedy using the rind of the fruit as a sedative for the relief of headaches.  In Mexico it was and still is taken for insomnia, epilepsy and hysteria.  Some people use the juice as a digestive stimulant.  Herbal uses date back to the North American natives (Algonquin and Cherokee) who used parts of the native passion flower to create an curative tranquilizer.

Passion Flowers blooming at Chanticleer - The Pleasure Garden near Philadelphia Passion Flowers blooming at Chanticleer – The Pleasure Garden near Philadelphia

Recently it was discovered that passion flowers have uses that are culinary in addition to their long-known medicinal properties.  The oil from the seeds is now used domestically and industrially as an edible oil similar to sunflower oil. Some types of passion flowers have even been used as a beverage that is a substitute for tea.  Caution should be taken at all times when preparing herbal remedies.  Consult an experienced herbalist instead of attempting any self-medication.  The results could be very tragic as the raw root of passion flowers has narcotic effects and is poisonous.

Historically, the first passion flowers, called Maracuja in their native South American habitat, were introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the 18th century.  The story begins in 1609, when a Mexican scholar showed Jacomo Bosio, a fellow scholar, drawings of a wonderful flower so marvellous that he did not believe them.  After receiving more drawings and assurances from Mexican Jesuits, Jacomo Bosio was finally satisfied that this marvellous flower did exist. He now felt that it was his duty to present the ‘Flos Passionis’ (flowers of passion) to the world.  The unusual flower structure was believed by Spanish Missionaries and early discoverers to be emblematic of the crucifixion of Christ.  They saw the 5 stamens to represent the wounds, 3 styles for the 3 nails and white and purple-blue for purity and heaven.  Finally the leaf symbolized the spear.

Of botanical interest is the fact that it was not until the early nineteenth century that many species were seriously collected and cultivated in European Botanical Gardens and then found their way to wealthy Victorian gardener’s glasshouses.

In 1820, the first passion flower was hybridized to give it properties that made it more appropriate for the garden.  Now there are hundreds of hybrids in a wide range of colours (purples, blues, white, cream and red). Today 95% of passion flowers are from the tropical rainforest regions of South America, the remaining 5% are from Asia, Australia and North America, with still more new species discoveries being made.

Violet Passion Flower at Chanticleer - A Pleasure Garden in Wayne, PA Violet Passion Flower at Chanticleer – A Pleasure Garden in Wayne, PA

Botanically, passion flower is known as Passiflora which is from the latin word “passio”  for passion and “flos” for flower.  To date there are about 500 different species of passion flowers which have been discovered in the wild.  They are mainly vines with tendrils to help them climb (cling).  North America has several native Passiflora vines. One is Passiflora incarnata, which is called apricot vine or maypops in some areas.  It is native from Texas to Illinois and can be grown in a protected location outside in Boston or New York.  It may even survive outside in Niagara by dying to the ground each winter and re-growing. The blooms are an intricate bluish-white with purple accents.  It has a small, edible fruit that produce a loud pop when accidentally trodden upon. Although it is less flavourful than some of the other South American types, the 5-7 centimetre fruit has plenty of seeds to start and share new plants with gardening friends.

Of economic significance, some passion flower’s are grown for their fruit, the largest is the tropical, Giant Granadilla (Passiflora quadrangularis) which has melon size fruit up to 30 cm in diameter.  This is the source of passion fruit flavouring processed in Central America. Some vines produce twenty-five of these mammoth fruit in a season.  The passion fruit flavouring is often added to drinks and ices.

In their native habitat, passion flowers are almost exclusive hosts to over 70 species of tropical butterflies in the Heliconid family.  These colourful butterflies rely heavily on this plant both for the leaves as a larvae food source and for the nectar and pollen as an adult butterfly food source. The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory uses passion flowers as one of their larval host food for their in-house butterfly breeding program.

It is this close relationship between butterflies and passion flowers that helps some species avoid insect attack.  Look closely at many passion flower leaves and there will be inflated glands that mimic caterpillar eggs.  Passing butterflies avoid laying eggs on leaves that already are claimed by another butterfly.  This mimicry tactic saves the passion flower from being eaten. 

Bees enjoying Passion Flowers too Bees enjoying Passion Flowers too

Daylilies at Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin, Texas

Flowering Treasures at Zilker Botanical Garden

Rising extra early morning on Sunday gave me time to capture some flowers blooming at Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin, Texas before the sun got too fierce.   The daylilies (Hemerocallis) were particularly beautiful.


An aptly named Daylily - 'So Many Stars'

An aptly named Daylily - 'So Many Stars'

The Daylily  beds just west of the main entrance were spectacular in the early morning light. Each flower a perfect bloom to embrace the new day.
Daylily 'Velvet Gem' Daylily ‘Velvet Gem’

With the birds adding an audible chorus to the morning air, the daylilies were bursting into glorious bloom with all their might.  While one lone photographer walked the 50 feet from the parking lot to get up close and really appreciate all their beauty – at the same time hoping that others in the autos speeding by at 45 mph would slow down to take a notice too.   

Eye Yi Yi edited The stunning ‘Eye Yi-Yi’ Daylily at Zilker Botanical Garden

Zilker Botanical Garden is a 30 acre garden in the heart of Austin, Texas ajoining Zilker Park, a large recreation area treasured by the residents of the capital city.  The gardens are free and open daily from 7 am to 7 pm (or 5:30 pm in the winter). Parking fees apply during the spring and summer month weekends.  For more information call 512-477-8672 or visit www.zilkergarden.org. Zilker Botanical Garden is a collaboration of the City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department and the Austin Area Garden Council.

The beautiful 'Little Rich' Daylily at Zilker Botanical Garden

The beautiful 'Little Rich' Daylily at Zilker Botanical Garden


Tough and Beautiful, Vibrant and Durable!

Up close to the real Bougainvillea flower

Up close to the real Bougainvillea flower

The vibrant “flowers” are really just colorful, papery bracts that surround the real flower.  Looking closely at a newly opened flower, there are small white disks poking out from the three large papery bracts.  This is the true flower.  As with many other plants that have showy bracts, bougainvillea has a colorful display for an impressively long time.

Encouraging More Blooms…
Bougainvillea without blooms is just another ho-hum green vine.  So, the secret to flowering bliss is to keep encouraging more blooms.  Keep branches cut back to about 18-20 inches.  Keep the plant slightly pot bound.  Only repot it if absolutely necessary and then only increase to the next larger pot size.  Bougainvillea are heavy feeders and love to slurp up weekly elixirs of half strength 20-20-20, flowering plant fertilizer or Miracle-Gro.  With good sunlight and regular feeding Bougainvillea will bloom repeatedly almost year round.  Decrease the frequency of feeding during the winter if the plants are dormant.  Others like to encourage Bougainvillea to bloom by giving them “tough love”.  Keep them somewhat dry and restrict their roots.

Bougainvilleas often have two growing phases (vegetative and blooming).  During the vegetative growth period the plant concentrates on producing new leaves and stems. This could last for several weeks and often does not involve any new blooms.  During the blooming period, no vegetative growth occurs and the plant produces rewarding colorful bracts.  The length of the blooming period can be influenced by the environment, plant health and the day to night ratio.  The best blooming times are when night hours and day hours are almost equal (spring and fall).  Long days and short nights (July) may disrupt blooming.

The Best Growing Conditions
Bougainvilleas thrive in full sun (with a minimum of 5 hours of afternoon sun being the best situation)!  Outdoor locations are the best sites (although bougainvillea can be grown successfully in a bright indoor spot too).  These plants thrive in areas of low rainfall and intense sun and heat.

Don’t place a Bougainvillea container directly on the soil or else risk the plant rooting out the bottom and creating quite a surprise when the plant is moved.  Containers should sit above the soil and have plenty of drainage.

The one draw-back is that they are sissies when it gets cold (hardiness zone 10).  The Bougainvillea tough guy image only applies to the warm weather.  The bottom line is that they must be protected from frost or treat them as an annual.  Bougainvillea will be damaged or die if subjected to below freezing temperatures for more than 4 hours.  Short, light frosts may not kill the plant but the leaves and flowers will all drop.

Bougainvillea Offspring
Bougainvillea propagates easily from cuttings.  Use softwood cuttings in late spring or early summer.  Hardwood cuttings also root well when taken during the fall or winter.  Discard the soft terminal growth when taking cuttings and use the semi-mature growth just below it.  Rooting hormone helps too.


Long Lasting Bougainvillea "Flowers"

Haircut Time
Prune Bougainvilleas at any time of the year.  Blooming does not appear to be triggered by hard pruning.  Lightly pinch the growing tip of young plants to encourage them to become bushier at the sides.  The more they are pinched the better their ultimate form.

Hard prune your plants when they are getting out of control and need to have their growth checked or if they are being moved indoors.


Bright and showy Bougainvillea in a hanging basket from Atwater Market in Montreal QC

Bright and showy Bougainvillea in a hanging basket from Atwater Market in Montreal, Quebec

Some of the Bougainvillea Family

Bougainvilleas can be found with green or variegated (green and cream or green and gold) leaves and with several flower colors. 

Green leaved varieties:

‘Barbara Karst’ – bright red to bluish crimson
 ‘California Gold’- golden yellow
‘Jamaica White’- white veined with green
 ‘Juanita Hatten’ – dark pink
‘Sundown’ – apricot
 ‘Texas Dawn’ – smaller pink
‘Surprise’ clear pink/white bicolor

Variegated leaves:
‘Vickie’ pink and white blooms, green with a yellow center leaves.
 ‘Raspberry Ice’ Magenta blooms with green and white leaves

‘Double Pink’ clear pink, compact plant.
‘Klong Fire’ (syn. Mahara double red) brilliant pink, compact plant

Tough and beautiful- who could ask for anything more from the Bougainvillea.

Gazania – The Treasure Flower

 Cheery Gazania Daybreak Red Stripe
Cheery Gazania 'Daybreak Red Stripe' with marigolds

Cheery Gazania 'Daybreak Red Stripe' with marigolds

Gazania are members of the aster family that originally resided in South Africa.  They are tough, little plants that bloom with bright, daisy-like blooms and seem to thrive no matter how extreme the sun, wind, poor soil or drought challenges they face.   They are “good cheer” plants that bloom even under the harshest conditions.

Botanically, they are known as Gazania rigens (Clumping Gazania or Treasure Flower).  The plants are frequently used en mass as a temporary colorful groundcover and do look best when grouped together.  Gazania grows very well with portulaca (moss rose) since they both like the same sunny conditions, are similar heights and can tolerate some drought.

Gazania are long bloomers and some have large 4” blooms in bright yellow, orange, red, pink and white (or many combinations of these colors) that flower from well from fall, through winter and into spring.  During summer they will often have intermittent blooms before reblooming well in the fall.  A tender annual up to zone 8, they can be a perennial in zone 9. Protect during hard freezes.

The plants grow to 6 inches tall (12 inches when in bloom) and 8 inches wide.  Many have very attractive silver foliage front and back (or just the reverse side).  I prefer the silver foliage types because they are very attractive even when the blooms are not open.

Gazania are attractive to many types of wildlife including beneficial bees, butterflies and birds (as well as pesky rabbits).

Do not overwater the plants or they become susceptible to crown rot (particularly in the winter in Southern climates).  Plant them in well-drained, sandy or gravelly soil.  Like many silver-leaved plants, they are very drought tolerant and suitable for xeriscape garden and containers growing.

Some older varieties have flowers that close up during rainy, cloudy or dark days- opening only when sunny.  Apparently, this is a defense mechanism from their South African days.  They close up their flowers to protect the pollen from moisture.  Low temperatures or poor light trigger the flowers to close.  Since gardeners really want to see these beautiful blooms as much as possible, plant breeders have been working diligently to select plants that stay open longer during cooler, duller weather.  To do this, plant breeders visited gazania trials in the middle of the night and discovered the Daybreak series, which were the first to stay open longer. 

Deadhead regularly to encourage more blooms (if you are not waiting to collect the seed or have them reseed).  Allow the seedheads to dry on the plant and remove them when almost dry (when the white, fluffy tail starts to fall off).  Store the seed head in a closed paper bag to finish drying.  Remember that hybrids probably will not come true to the parent.  Gazania will often reseed in the garden.  


‘Aztec Queen’ multicolor, ‘Burgundy’ , ‘Christopher Lloyd’ rose and green, ‘Copper King’ orange, ‘Double Bronze’ , ‘Fiesta Red, dark orange-red, ‘Fire Emerald’ various, ‘Golden Margarita’ orange, ‘Gold Rush’ orange-yellow and brown,  ‘Mitzuwa Yellow’ yellow, ‘Moon Glow’ yellow, ‘Sundance’ gold/bronze and white, ‘Sunburst’ orange and yellow, ’Sundrop’ orange, ‘Sunglow’ yellow, ‘Sun Gold’ yellow, ‘Sunrise Yellow’ yellow and black.

Series Groups;

Chansonette, Daybreak, Dynastar, Kiss, Ministar, and Talent