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Everyday Gardeners

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Posts by Denny Schrock

forced smiles

By late February nearly everyone is ready for spring to arrive. Cloudy, gloomy days bring a yearning for the bright colors and happy thoughts of spring. You can speed the process along by forcing flowering branches indoors. Even in a mild winter such as this one, by now most spring-flowering shrubs have received enough hours of cold to break dormancy once warm temperatures arrive. You can trick them into blooming early by cutting stems with plump buds (flower buds are thicker and rounder than leaf buds), and taking them into the warmth of your home.

The pink double blooms of flowering cherry pair with a rosy ranunculus in this spring bouquet.

Prune off pencil-width stems full of buds. Plunge the base of cut stems into warm water after stripping buds from the portion of the stem that will be under water. Keep the cut twigs at room temperature or slightly cooler to force them into flower. Change the water twice per week to keep it fresh. Within a few days to several weeks, depending on the time of winter and species of flowering shrub, your spring-in-a-vase will burst into bloom–an event that’s sure to bring smiles to the faces of those who see it.

Trees and shrubs that bloom earliest outdoors are the easiest and fastest to force indoors. Forsythia, flowering quince, redbud, pussy willow, and serviceberry are good choices for first-time forcers. But crabapple, lilac, and kousa dogwood will work, too. They just take a little longer.

This year I’m getting a jump on spring by forcing forsythia branches. The shrub needed pruning anyway. Rather than tossing the branches in the woodchip pile, I decided to enjoy them in flower first. I’m having fun watching the progression of swelling buds, and can hardly wait for the first bud to burst into full flower.

 

Combine Tete-a-Tete daffodils with pussy willow branches for an instant spring garden.

The bright yellow blooms of forsythia are some of the easiest to force into bloom.

For an Asian influence, back a windswept flowering quince branch with a bamboo screen.

The pink or white blooms of a forced crabapple add a delightful fragrance to any indoor setting.


indoor plant projects add beauty

If you’re ready for spring to arrive, but the weather isn’t quite cooperating, why not plan and plant an indoor garden project? During a photo shoot last week for an upcoming book on indoor gardening, I completed several projects featuring bromeliads and a couple involving converted indoor fountains. Use your imagination to come up with unique containers for terrariums and dish gardens. The results will enliven your indoor living spaces and help bridge the time until you can dig in the garden outdoors.

This former slate fountain now houses 'Bright Star' dieffenbachia and 'Brasil' philodendron. 'Millenium' variegated English ivy trails from the top of the fountain.

This wreath of air plants (Tillandsia spp.) is easy to make with a double-wire wreath ring, a hot glue gun, a collection of air plants, and a wreath hanger.

A former slate waterfall fountain cradles air plants (Tillandsia spp.) at each level. The plants need only water and bright light to thrive.

These air plants (Tillandsia spp.) were glued to a piece of wood and propped up in a tall vase that serves as a terrarium. The glass marbles prevent the stick from shifting.

Earth stars (Cryptanthus bivittatus) are terrestrial bromeliads. Here they're planted with moss and decorated with glass marbles in a shallow microwave baking pan.


bromeliads for valentine’s day

Bromeliads are easy-care indoor plants that pack a punch of color for months on end. Rather than giving your valentine flowers with fleeting color, consider giving a lasting gift of one of these beauties. (While you’re at it, pick up one for yourself too!)

All that these undemanding plants require is bright light and occasional watering. The varieties that form cuplike rosettes make watering a snap. Simply fill the “cup” with water, allowing a bit extra to drip down to the soil. Types with scaly silvery foliage (sometimes called air plants) thrive with twice-weekly misting or dunking.

Because they are tropical in origin, bromeliads appreciate comfortable room-temperature conditions. You can move them outdoors to a shaded location for the summer, but protect them from frost.

'Valentina' is a new variety of guzmania, appropriately named for gift giving to your sweetheart. Its combination of green straplike leaves, bright red bracts, and tiny white flowers is stunning.

Blushing bromeliad (Neoregelia carolinae 'Tricolor') develops a reddish pink blush on its green and white striped leaves when it blooms. The flowers are often hidden in the plant's vase, but the colorful foliage steals the show anyway.

Silver vase plant (Aechmea fasciata) pushes up a starburst of pink bracts and small purplish blue flowers from its silvery vase of foliage.

Pink quill (Tillandsia cyanea) is an air plant bromeliad. Its bright pink bracts remain even after its purple flowers fade.

Earth star (Cryptanthus bivittatus) makes a sculptural statement in a mixed planter. Its cream, rose, and green stripes attract attention.


dive into coleus

 

Here are portraits of some of the Under the Sea Series of coleus. Top row l. to r.: Bonefish, Gold Anemone, Hermit Crab. Bottom row: Lime Shrimp, Moten Coral, Sea Scallop.

Coleuses have undergone an amazing transformation in the past few years. No longer relegated to the dark corners of the garden (although they still fill that role admirably too), the brightly colored foliage of coleuses can now take center stage in full sun thanks to numerous sun-tolerant introductions. At this year’s American Nursery and Landscape Association Clinic, the Under the Sea Series of coleus from Hort Couture won the Garden Idol award, meaning it was the favorite of attendees. Plants in this series are characterized by extreme frills and dazzling colors reminiscent of life on a coral reef. The ones that I’ve seen growing in the garden add an exciting element of texture paired with stunning colors.

The aptly named Under the Sea coleus series takes my thoughts back to the days when The Little Mermaid movie was first released, and the song, ‘Under the Sea’ was popular, at least among the elementary and pre-school set, of which my daughters were a part at the time. I remember them performing that song with their friends at a 4-H talent show. They didn’t come away with any American Idol awards, but getting up on stage and performing was a good experience for them. As they sang,
“The seaweed is always greener
In somebody else’s lake…
Just look at the world around you
Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you
What more is you lookin’ for?”

Indeed. I have a bench of coleuses in my greenhouse, just waiting for spring to arrive. I can’t wait to create islands of color with them in the landscape. Look for Under the Sea coleus at independent garden centers this spring.

 

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Trends in indoor gardening

The Tropical Plant Industry Expo is the place to go to see what’s hot in indoor gardening. The fact that it’s held in southern Florida in mid-January, is another incentive to attend! Trends that I saw this year include a resurgence in the popularity of terrariums and dish gardens. But these aren’t simply a return to mass-produced fad gardens from the 1970s. Modern mini-landscapes have more style and individuality. Often they’re displayed in unique containers or feature sculptural plants. The emphasis is on tough, easy-care plants such as succulents and bromeliads. Here are some examples that I saw at this year’s Expo.

The ribbed glass on this terrarium adds a unique perspective, resembling a pumpkin. It makes a great centerpiece.

The ceramic base on this terrarium hides the soil and root zone while displaying the foliage clearly.

Put that cupcake holder to use displaying begonias, ferns, peperomias, nerve plants, and miniature palms.

Spikes of maroon Dracaena marginata explode from a bed of heavily patterned peacock plant (Maranta) in this combo.

These earth stars (Cryptanthus), a type of bromeliad, look other-worldly when displayed on a pedestal.

Echeverias, kalanchoe, and peperomia team to create amazing texture and color in this succulent dish garden.


The winter garden at Mobile Botanical Gardens

On a recent press tour of the Mobile Bay area as a guest of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, I had the opportunity to visit Mobile Botanical Gardens, a 100-acre site with collections of hollies, rhododendrons, magnolias, and perennials. One of the highlights at this time of year is the camellia winter garden honoring horticulturist and plant breeder, Kosaku Sawada. He developed numerous varieties of camellias adapted to the Alabama Gulf Coast. Here are images of some of the color I spotted on my tour.

Top row (l. to r.) - Camellia japonica 'Kiku Toji', Camellia japonica 'Alba Plena', Camellia sasanqua 'Sarrel's Favorite'; middle row: Camellia hiemalis 'Chansonette', loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), fried egg plant (Gordonia axillaris); bottom row: Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis), white ginger (Hedychium coronarium), calamondin orange (XCitrofortunella)

The open canopy of longleaf pine encourages the growth of dozens of species of wildflowers.

The garden is also known for its work in longleaf pine forest restoration. Much of the site is devoted to this important Lower South habitat, home to dozens of species of wildlife and wildflowers.

Other sites nearby to experience nature include the 5 Rivers Delta Center, an educational center and starting point for nature tours in the delta, The Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, with its boardwalk, aquariums and exhibits, and the Audubon Bird Sanctuary part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. The latter two are located on Dauphin Island, a barrier island at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

For a more formal garden experience in the Mobile Bay area, be sure to visit Bellingrath Gardens and Home. I wrote about it several weeks ago. Here’s a link to that post.


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