A Tapestry of Holly – McLean Nursery

Large 42 inch wreath made at McLean nurseries in Maryland

Large 42 inch wreath made at McLean nurseries in Maryland

Wreaths and holly berries go together like milk and cookies. The combination is a classic and McLean Nursery in Parkville, Maryland has it down to a fine art, growing all kinds of hollies since 1946. When Thanksgiving rolls around, McLean goes into full swing cutting all kinds of evergreens – boxwood, magnolias, and cedar, but in particular their specialty-holly. Bill Kuhl the owner of McLean, has many mature specimens to cut from, including American, English, and the deciduous hollies, commonly called Winterberries, or Ilex verticillata. Satyr Hill Holly, an Ilex opaca, was developed at McLean from a volunteer seedling and named Holly of the Year in 2003 by The Holly Society of America, Inc.

Sprays of holly ready to go to a new home for decorating

Sprays of holly ready to go to a new home for decorating

A table of winterberries, a deciduous holly

A table of winterberries, a deciduous holly

Starting with an evergreen base fastened to a wire form, bunches or picks of tips of evergreens, berries, and holly are added for texture and color. Last, cones, pods, and the odd vegetable are added along with a huge loopy bow. The yellow berries are especially striking on wreaths.

A wreath decorated with turnips!

A wreath decorated with turnips!

Miriam, chief elf at McLean, displays one of her creations, accented with Magnolia leaves

Miriam, chief elf at McLean, displays one of her creations, accented with Magnolia leaves

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Hanging completed bows ready to wire on a wreath

Hanging completed bows ready to wire on a wreath

People know that when they buy a wreath at McLean that the greens will be freshly picked so that the wreath or arrangement will last through the holidays and beyond. The festive holly is used on almost every wreath and arrangement.

holly

Boxwood trees in the greenhouse

Boxwood trees in the greenhouse

If you want to buy greens or berries to make your own arrangements, a scale weighs your selections and is priced by the pound.

Weighing greens

Weighing greens

Table arrangements of candle rings and boxwood trees are also made with the signature McLean style at a very reasonable price. The freshly picked beauty of the evergreens make McLean’s wreaths stand out from the crowd and people come from all over to snatch them up to decorate their doors and mantels.

Table centerpieces

Table centerpieces

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Large wreath with beautiful 15 inch sugar pine cones

Large wreath with beautiful 15 inch sugar pine cones

Everyone needs a Kermit the frog mascot on their work table

Everyone needs a Kermit the frog mascot on their work table

Posted in Decorating Christmas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Miniature Christmas Garden Craze

 

Globe terrarium

Globe terrarium

Globe terrarium sitting on a Hopkins desk top

Globe terrarium sitting on a Hopkins desk top

Maybe it is just me. Since I had an order for 40 of my miniature gardens as gifts at the local Johns Hopkins for the staff of one of the hospitals, I am going crazy with Christmas decorating in miniature. Instead of  dreaming about sugarplums, I’m dreaming of miniature gardens in an endless line that I am decorating! I love making these small creations that people can enjoy for months to come.

I love this little footed terrarium for tiny scenes

I love this little footed terrarium for tiny scenes

For my popular posts on making miniature gardens, go to Miniature Gardens-Whimisical Creations, Fairy Gardens, and Fairytale Christmas.

Mini garden with gnome

Mini garden with gnome

It merely takes a small glass terrarium container, bonsai pot, or low terra cotta container and you can make your own. For materials, I use small Christmas balls, reindeer moss, miniatures, sheet moss, and small potted plants from a local nursery. I use either woodland plants for a moist container or succulents for a drier one.

Gnome home

Gnome home

For details on making gnome homes in a cut away pot, go to Gnome Home.  You need to cut a chunk out of a terra cotta pot to create this and I give you instructions on how to cut the pot.

Woodland garden

Woodland garden

Mini succulent garden

Mini succulent garden

A succulent container that you would keep on the dry side

A succulent container that you would keep on the dry side

A woodland Christmas scene that you would water a little more

A woodland Christmas scene that you would water a little more

All of the plants will get much larger and can be kept in bounds for at least a year. Transplanting and replanting would be in order when the plants grow too large for the container and you could keep the planter going for several years or more.

Christmas miniature garden

A larger Christmas garden

I used this Christmas tree ornament for a tiny snowman

I used this Christmas tree ornament for a tiny snowman

Step By Step

Step by step for making miniature gardens

Step by step for making miniature gardens

  • Place potting soil in container with drainage: Alternatively, if you have a glass type terrarium, place gravel in bottom with some horticultural charcoal ( few tablespoons, available at garden centers)

  •  Plant a variety of plants with different textures and colors, starting with the largest ones first; I used from 3 to 5 plants for each small garden

  • If a woodland garden, I like to place moss in between the plants to hide soil; If a succulent garden, place small gravel on surface

  • Place any pathways, ornaments, reindeer moss, or gnomes at the very end; I like to use colored glass chunks for added color

  • Water thoroughly until the soil is saturated and place in a filtered sun spot for woodland scenes and full sun for succulent ones

  • For care, I stick my finger down into the soil to see if it is moist or not; For succulent gardens in the winter water every few weeks, and for woodland ones, water about once a week, depending on how warm and dry your house is

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Mini gardens dropped off at  Johns Hopkins

Mini gardens dropped off at Johns Hopkins

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Decorating “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton Mansion

One of the large arrangements that I worked on for the main hall

One of the large arrangements that I worked on for the main hall

Every year, I help with the decorating of “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton National Historic site, for their Yuletide celebration.  Dating back to the eighteenth century, Hampton is a large estate built in the Georgian architectural style, situated on many acres including a farm, greenhouses, slave quarters, an orangery, large Italianate gardens, horse stables, cemetery, and an English style park-like setting. Built as a country seat just after the Revolutionary War by the prominent Ridgely family, the house and its immediate surroundings are just a remnant of the Hampton estate of the early 1800s.

English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from t...

English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from the southwest. Hampton National Historic Site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Decorating the Mansion along with the Park service is a lot of fun, and gives me ideas on decorating my house with fresh greens, garland, natural materials, and fresh flowers and fruit – all materials that were used back “in the day”, Williamsburg  or Colonial style.

Park rangers Amanda and Brooke are very helpful and knowledgeable about decorating the mansion for Christmas

Park Rangers Amanda and Brooke are very helpful and knowledgeable about decorating the mansion for Christmas

Christmas tree at Hampton in the music room is decorated with handmade Victorian ornaments

Christmas tree at Hampton in the music room is decorated with handmade Victorian ornaments

Located in the music room, the Christmas tree exudes Victorian elegance with the hand-made ornaments reflecting the ornate Victorian era. The screens in the background are hand painted with colorful scenes and the furnishings reflect the lavish decorating in vogue at that time for the very wealthy.

Peacock hand painted screen

Peacock hand painted screen

Festive settings for a dinner party at Hampton

Festive settings for a dinner party at Hampton

Place settings are in the cranberry colors befitting the Yuletide season, and sideboards and tables are laid with the house silver and groaning with food ( good quality fakes), but set up for a typical Christmas spread of the period.

Food good enough to eat!

Food good enough to eat!

Portrait of Eliza Ridgely, the American heiress and mistress of Hampton for many years

Portrait of Eliza Ridgely, Lady With a Harp, the American heiress and mistress of Hampton for many years

 

The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland take charge of the festive greenery decorations, as well as the fresh floral arrangements, all with the time period in mind when choosing materials. There are dilapidated greenhouses on site, slated to be restored, which the Ridgelys used for out of season food and forcing flowers. Many of the clubs of District III, Baltimore and Harford County, participate and get together to carefully decorate the towering Christmas tree and make lots of time consuming boxwood wreaths.

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One of the volunteers working hard on an arrangement

One of the volunteers working hard on an arrangement

 

Working on a large urn

Working on a large urn

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Hampton mansion

Landing arrangement with peach roses

Landing arrangement with peach roses from 2013

 

We meet in the old Orangery to work our magic on beautifying the mansion.  Armed with fresh-cut greens, we bring cut flowers, greens, and cutters. The Park Service also will cut some special greens from the landscape, like ivy berries, holly,  and boxwood, which are beautiful and were certainly used when the Ridgely family lived there.

Mature Ivy

Mature Ivy

Decorated table at Hampton

Decorated table at Hampton

At night the mansion is full of musicians, carolers, and docents who will answer questions about daily life of the Ridgelys, as well as the many slaves who lived on the grounds.

Doll's tea party set up in the nursery

Doll’s tea party set up in the nursery

If you are in the Towson area this weekend, be sure to stop in Saturday or Sunday, December 13 and 14 from 1-4PM for their open house. Also open on Saturday evening from 6-8:30 PM, and back by popular demand is the “candlelight” open house on Sunday, the 14th, from 6-8:30 PM. Visitors can go through the house and each room will highlight how Christmas was celebrated at different periods that the Ridgely family lived at Hampton, from 1783-1948.

For more information go to http://www.nps.gov/hamp/planyourvisit/yuletide-at-hampton.htm

Posted in Decorating Christmas, Floral Arranging, garden travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Deck the Halls – A Succulent Christmas

Succulent tree

Who says you have to decorate with holly, mistletoe and pine? When I spotted succulent Christmas trees made up at a local nursery last Christmas for hundreds of dollars!!!,  I was inspired to create my own for Christmas.

Branch out and explore the many textures and colors of succulents.  To paraphrase the great Will Rogers: I never met a succulent that I didn’t like! I enjoy the sculptural  colorful quality of succulents so much that I continue to find ways to use them around the house and garden.

Succulent tree

Taking months to fill in, I wanted to make sure that my tree was fully grown in for the holidays, so I started the tree in the early spring. Tiny succulents in two to three inch pots are available in big box stores for a good price and if you have any existing containers of succulents, you can trim the tips off for cuttings.

Succulent varieties in small pots

Succulent varieties in small pots

 Aim for a variety of colors and textures when you select your succulent to make the tree attractive and interesting. There are so many varieties of succulents that this isn’t hard to do.

An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from

An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from

Step By Step for a Succulent Tree

Succulent Tree

Succulent Tree

  • Cut off a piece of chicken wire about 18 inches in length. This length depends on the size of the tree that you want to end up with. Mine ended up at 15 inches tall and 10 inches wide at the base.

  • Form the chicken wire into a cone and fasten together by bending the ends in.

Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone

Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone

  • Saturate sphagnum moss in water and stuff the form with the moss firmly; Be sure to pack the moss so that you have a firm base to work with

Finished cone stuffed with wet moss

Finished cone stuffed with wet moss

  • If taking cuttings, I cut the growing  tip off, measuring between 2 to 5 inches in length, and strip off the lower leaves and let the cuttings sit out at room temperature for a day or two to form a callous.

Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss

Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss

  • If you are using small potted plants, remove the plant from the pot, shake off most of the soil and you are ready to insert this into the moss form

  • Using a pencil or sharp pointed stick, insert the point into the sphagnum moss and wiggle the end to make the hole larger enough to receive the cutting or plant

  • Insert the cutting as far as you can; If the cutting is loose, you can use wire fern pins to hold it steady

  • Place the full moss cone into a pot of soil and fasten the edges to the soil with fern pins

Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer

Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer

  • For the first couple of days, keep the cone in the shade, gradually moving out to the sun, when the cuttings start to root which can take only a week or two

  • To water, submerse the cone into a bucket of water for a few minutes until thoroughly saturated, about once a week

  • As the plants grow, you will need to cut off the tips, and use these cuttings to fill in holes

My succulent tree kept growing all summer long and periodically, I would cut off a tip that was getting really long and fill in a bare spot so that by the end of the growing season, my tree was completely filled in.

At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in

At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in

If you want to see how to make other succulent creations, such as a wreath, a sphere, and a garden, go to Succulent Creations to see step by step of making other shapes. For decorating pumpkins with succulents for the holidays, go to Pumpkin Treats to see how creative you can get with succulents.

Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch

Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch

 

Finally for Christmas, I placed the pot into a decorative container and decorated with some Christmas balls. As a finishing touch, I stuck some air plants for in for a feathery texture.  Insert them in between the spaces  of the succulents.

Add air plants in at the very end

Add air plants in at the very end

 

To keep the tree alive over the winter, I will place it in a sunny window and water sparingly because succulents can rot easily when they slow growth in the winter. When spring comes, I can increase the watering so that they begin to grow again.

 

Posted in Decorating Christmas, DIY, succulents | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Poinsettia – History and Legends

 

Poinsettia, Sparkling Punch

Poinsettia, Sparkling Punch

Thanksgiving is just a memory, the turkey scraps are wrapped up in foil ready for turkey soup,  and I am ready to start my Christmas decorating. Poinsettias are the traditional floral decoration for Christmas and coming out in so many incredible colors, that I had to write about them!

Can you guess what is the best-selling potted plant in the United States and Canada? I was amazed to learn that the Poinsettia is the most popular by far. Here are some other interesting tidbits:

History & Legends

  • The Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, means very beautiful

  • The showy leaves, called “bracts”, and are not the actual flower. With the proper light and temperature, the bracts accumulate the anthocyanin pigments that give them their color. The flowers of the poinsettia are in the center of the bracts, along with the sweet, fragrant nectar.

  • The cultivation of Poinsettias originated with the Aztecs hundreds of years ago in Mexico. Montezuma, the last Aztec king, would have Poinsettias brought into the city, which is now known as Mexico City, by caravans because he liked them so much.

  • Aztecs used the bracts, the colored portion, as a dye, and the sap as a medicinal to control fevers.

  • Joel Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. minister to Mexico in 1825, found the plant blooming on the side of the road, which the native people regarded as a weed!, took cuttings, and sent some plants to his home in South Carolina.

  • Poinsett shared his finds with other plant enthusiasts and that is how the Poinsettia came to the United States.

Poinsettia Valentine

Poinsettia Valentine

  • The Ecke family in California, grew Poinsettias in southern California in the 1920’s, primarily as a cut flower and landscape plant, and remain to this day, the largest producer of Poinsettias in the US.

  •  Grown as field grown potted plants for the cut flower trade, Poinsettias were shipped all over the country by train. Poinsettias really gained wide-spread recognition through media promotions on The Tonight Show and the Bob Hope Christmas Specials. This promotion ensured that Poinsettias were as much a part of the holiday tradition as Christmas evergreen trees.

  • When the flowers or stems are cut, they ooze a milky sap that can cause people with latex sensitivities to have an allergic reaction.

  • Poinsettias are not poisonous.

  • Red is the most popular color, and the variety called “Prestige Red” tops the popularity list.

Poinsettias with blue hydrangeas

Poinsettias with blue hydrangeas

Color Palette

Breeding of the Poinsettia began with the goal of improving cultivars that would retain their leaves and bracts for a longer period. The breeding also created stronger stems, multiple branching, earlier blooming, and the palette of colors that we recognize today. These modern cultivars last longer, bloom earlier, and are available in a vast array of colors from red to white, pink to burgundy, and with many variations including doubling of flowers and flecks of color on contrasting backgrounds.

Glitter applied to Poinsettias at the supermarket

Glitter applied to Poinsettias at the supermarket

Selecting a Healthy Poinsettia

Poinsettias do great in the home with proper care and will keep their coloration until mid-March. When choosing a healthy plant, look for dark green uniform foliage. But be aware, that lighter colored or mottled bracts typically have lighter green foliage. Reject any plants that have dropping leaves, or ones that have pale green or yellowing foliage.

Jingle Bells Poinsettia-the actual flower is in the center of the bracts

Jingle Bells Poinsettia-the actual flower is in the center of the bracts

Visions of Grandeur Poinsettia with Orchids

Visions of Grandeur Poinsettia with Orchids

When purchasing, make sure that the plants are well wrapped or sleeved before transporting, as low temperatures, even for short periods, can damage the plant.

Sleeved poinsettias

Sleeved poinsettias

Care

Poinsettias thrive in indirect, natural daylight- a minimum of 6 hours a day. Do not place them in direct sunlight, as this may fade the bract color. For longer bloom, store in temperatures of 65 degrees to 70. Keep the soil moist, and water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Do not allow the plants to sit in standing water. If your plant comes in a foil wrapper, remove this so the pot can drain properly or puncture so that the wrapper can drain. Fertilizer is not necessary while blooming.

  • Keep in indirect, natural daylight

  • Water when soil is dry to the touch

  • Keep in temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees

  • Make sure the pot drains

  • Fertilization is not necessary

A white double poinsettia

A white double poinsettia

Reflowering-Tough but not Impossible 

It is possible to get your Poinsettia to “reflower” next year, but you need to follow strict requirements for light, temperature, and fertilization. Following all these rules is way too much trouble for me, so I consider this plant a “throwaway”. Poinsettias are very inexpensive and I leave the growing of them to experts who have the right equipment to make this happen. If you really want to get your Poinsettia to bloom again, go to  http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07412.html for detailed instructions.

Peach Poinsettia

Peach Poinsettia

Monet Poinsettia

Monet Poinsettia

Poisonous??

Contrary to popular opinion, Poinsettias are not poisonous, but neither are they edible. There was a study done that determined that a 50 pound child would have to eat 500 leaves to get really sick! And the leaves supposedly taste awful. The Poinsettia plant is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family of plants, which includes the rubber tree, where natural latex comes from. So, If you are allergic to latex, and ingest this plant, you may have some degree of discomfort, but it is not fatal. Likewise, if you handle the plant, you could develop a rash. Poinsettias are not harmful to pets either, unless they ingest leaves or bracts in very large quantities. Cats who chew on the leaves may salivate and can vomit if the leaves are swallowed, but it will not kill them.

Decorating With Poinsettias

Rather than scattering Poinsettias around the house, try grouping them together for bigger impact. I also like to place Poinsettias in baskets along with other plants, pods, and cones, to add interest.

Decorating with Poinsettias

Decorating with Poinsettias

Use your poinsettias in groups

Group your Poinsettias for bigger impact

Surprisingly, as cut flowers, Poinsettias are great, but you rarely see them. The plants are so inexpensive, that I don’t feel guilty buying one, and cutting the flowers off for arrangements. You can get an entirely different look by using them as cut flowers and they last a long time in a vase, over a week!

Poinsettias used as a cut flower

Poinsettias used as a cut flower

 

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Centerpiece Ideas for Thanksgiving

 

Pumpkin centerpiece

Pumpkin centerpiece

I have lots of pumpkins rattling around the house from Halloween decorating and wanted to repurpose one for the Thanksgiving table. Check out my post on Pumpkin Eye Candy to see how many amazing pumpkin heirlooms there are available in the local markets.

Jarrahdale Pumpkin

Jarrahdale Pumpkin

 

 I love the grey green color of the heirloom pumpkin Jarrahdale, but didn’t want to cut into it, so I built the flower arrangement on top. Jarrahdale is also a wide low pumpkin that is a great centerpiece height.

 

Pumpkin with oasis

Pumpkin with oasis

Jarrahdale pumpkins have a nice concave top and it was easy to cut my wet oasis, cover it with chicken wire, and nestle it into the top of the pumpkin. The chicken wire keeps the oasis from breaking up from too many large stems being inserted. Stick a few picks into the oasis pinning it to the pumpkin so the oasis doesn’t slide around.

Components

  • 1 Jarrahdale Pumpkin

  • Oasis with chicken wire and 2 picks

  • Eucalyptus pods and green seeded Eucalyptus

  • Yellow Pom Poms

  • Green Spider Mums

  • Blackberry Lily Seed Heads

  • Hypericum Berries

  • Nandina Berries

Pumpkin with seeded Eucalyptus and yellow pom poms

Pumpkin with seeded Eucalyptus and yellow pom poms

Start greening your oasis with short stems of foliage of eucalyptus. Here I used seeded eucalyptus and add some color with yellow pom poms. I picked these up at a local florist. But you could use cut greens from your yard and berries from the fields to cut your costs.

Pumpkin centerpieceContinue adding the yellow pom poms, hypericum berries or any other red berry, blackberry lily seed heads, and Eucalyptus pods. Top off with your larger flowers- the green spider mums, and spritz the botanicals to fully hydrate everything so it keeps until Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Centerpiece Keep the pumpkin in a cool dark place until ready to use and Give Thanks!!

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For decorating pumpkins with succulents, go to Pumpkin Treats-Decorating with Succulents.

"One Too Many" pumpkin variety has a white background and stippled veins

“One Too Many” pumpkin variety has a white background and stippled veins

For a Christmas pumpkin, go to Decorated Pumpkins with Berries, Pods, and Drieds.pumpkin with decorations

Centerpiece for Christmas

Thanksgiving Arrangement

Another Thanksgiving Centerpiece

 

Posted in Floral Arranging, Gardening crafts | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Crimson Poppies at The Tower of London

Sea of red poppies at the Tower of London

Sea of red poppies at the Tower of London

A sea of crimson poppies has sprung up in a 16 acre barren dry moat surrounding the Tower of London. Starting on July 17, a total of 888, 246 hand crafted ceramic poppies, each one representing a British military death in WWI,  have been individually placed in the moat with the final one being placed today, November 11, culminating with a ceremony and a two minute silence to honor the dead.

tower1

The art installation is called “Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red” and is literally a sea of blood-red tide of poppies. Each poppy represents an individual who did not grow old.

Poppies

 

An army of volunteers will dismantle the exhibit, checking, cleaning and packing each poppy to be shipped to new owners. Each poppy was sold for 25 pounds or about $40 to benefit the six armed forces charities. More than five million visitors trekked to the Tower of London to view this incredible art installation. Photos courtesy of Amy Sparwasser.

towerjjj

 

This 3 minute Youtube video shows the scope of the installation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q56BJGUUL5A

 

Posted in art in the garden, garden travel | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Autumn’s Colors

autumn

 The autumn color palette is astounding here in the mid-Atlantic for weeks in October and November. Magenta, orange, scarlet, persimmon yellow,  and purple tones are well represented. Here are some of my favorite plants to enjoy and plant for their beautiful displays in the fall.

Smoke Tree and Amsonia

Smoke Tree and Amsonia

Amsonia, Fall Perennial

Amsonia and Smoke Tree

Amsonia and Smoke Tree

The frostier it gets, the colors display better and more intensified hues. For plantings, if you plant the perennial amsonia, you will have great fall color and a perfect backdrop for the fall show of colors.

Amsonia hubrichtii turns golden yellow in fall for weeks

Amsonia hubrichtii turns golden yellow in fall for weeks

Turing a flaming golden color when the nights turn chilly, amsonia is the perennial for fall. I ignore amsonia through the summer adorned with it’s feathery green foliage and starry blue flowers, suddenly noticing it in the fall, admiring the perfect backdrop effect to set off autumn colors.

Amsonia has a smallish blue flower that is pretty but not outstanding

Amsonia has a smallish blue flower that is pretty but not outstanding

Almost over night, the feathery green foliage turns a beautiful golden-yellow, which becomes a perfect foil for fall flowers, notably Dahlias and other large-leaved accent plants like Castor Oil Bean. The fine foliage of amsonia is a perfect companion for coarser leaved plants.

Amsonia and Castor Oil Bean

Amsonia and Castor Oil Bean

Dahlias, Fall Flower

Dahlias, another overlooked plant in the early summer comes into its own in the late summer and fall, lighting up the garden when the nights turn cool. Sporting large bold foliage, Elephant Ears becomes a perfect backdrop for this beautiful bloom. Dahlias bloom for weeks and weeks starting in the late summer, continuing into November with painterly splashes of bright color.

Dahlias and elephant ears

Dahlias and elephant ears

Dahlia

Dahlia

Dahlias pop up tall in the fall garden backed up by the fall color of dogwoods

Dahlias pop up tall in the fall garden backed up by the fall color of dogwoods

Dahlia

Maples, The Best Fall Tree

If you plant a maple, you will have fall color guaranteed! There are few maples that don’t put on a colorful fall display. It doesn’t matter if it is a red maple, Japanese maple, or a sugar maple, you are in for weeks of brilliant colors.

Norway Maple

Norway Maple

Acer aconitifolium

Acer aconitifolium

 

Japanese Maples

Japanese Maples

 

Under the canopy of Japanese maples

Under the canopy of Japanese maples

Japanese maples

Japanese maples

 

 

 

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Plant Oddity – Pumpkin On A Stick

Pumpkin on a Stick

Pumpkins, Pumpkins, and more Pumpkins !

You might have noticed a theme of pumpkins with the last few posts, like Gourdzillas, Decorating Pumpkins With Succulents, and Pumpkin Eye Candy, and I thought I was done with the whole pumpkin theme for the season.  But in my travels recently, I noticed Pumpkin On a Stick, or Solanum integrifolium and am putting this on my list of “must grows” for next year.

Botanical Interests seed packet for Pumpkin on a Stick

Botanical Interests seed packet for Pumpkin on a Stick

Ornamental or Food?

Falling in the eggplant family, the little pumpkins are used in stir-fried Asian dishes. But I just want to grow this cute ornamental jack-o-lantern for jazzing up my Thansgiving table and fall flower arrangements.

Pumpkin on a Stick harvested

Bearing thorns, fuzzy leaves, and a four feet height, the plant towers over other eggplants in the garden, and the plant looks remarkably like Bed of Nails or Solanum quitoense, profiled in Plant Geek Alert.

 

Solanum quitoense

Solanum quitoense or Bed of Nails

Culture

Around for over 125 years which makes it an official heirloom vegetable, it has also been called Pumpkin Tree and Pumpkin Bush. Planted directly in full sun in your garden, the plant needs steady moisture and benefits from regular fertilizing as it grows large fast. Pretty soon, the insignificant blooms appear, followed by pale green nubby fruit that turn into their final pumpkin ribbed shape a few weeks later.

Pumpkin on a stick

Pumpkin on a stick

In late summer, the fruit changes to a scarlet color and when frosts start to hit, the eggplants turn their final rich orange color. You can harvest up to a dozen pumpkins on one plant. Use in cooking or arrangements!

Pumpkin on a stick in floral arrangement, from http://dodgetheflorist.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html

Pumpkin on a stick in floral arrangement, from http://dodgetheflorist.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html

 

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Gourdzilla!! Giant Pumpkin Shenanigans

Giant pumpkin

Giant pumpkin

The Growing

Growing titanic orbs or gourds is a competitive cut throat sport. As recently as 16 years ago, the heaviest (official) pumpkin weighed a mere 403 pounds. Now in 2014 the one ton mark has been surpassed! That is a lot of pumpkin, not to mention, how do you move one that size?? With a fork lift and pickup truck at least, so this is not something that any home grower can do. Champion pumpkin growers have their own methods and secrets that they guard closely in hopes of breaking the record books one more time.

275px-2009_Circleville_Pumpkin_Show_champions

Circleville Pumpkin Show champions with weight penciled on them, from Wikipedia

Start Right-Good Genetics!

The most important step in growing a champion is getting the right seeds and these aren’t available at any nursery. Dedicated and obsessed Growers have been refining the genetic makeup potential and integrity of these for many years, and have developed more superior strains than are available at the local nursery on their seed packet displays.

Pumpkin Seeds

 Obtaining the proper seeds is truly the “secret” to growing huge pumpkins and are available at specialty companies and growers, and on EBay.

Pumpkin blossom, wikipedia

Work, Work, and More Work to Produce a Champion

Ground preparation with lots of organic material tilled under begins in the fall. A minimum of 400 square feet in full sun is required and forget about taking a vacation while the pumpkins is growing, because the plant requires constant tending. Among the tasks confronting a serious grower is daily pruning, removing excess pumpkins, pollinating, rotating the gourd, watering, fertilizing, setting up a temporary cold frame over tender plants, soaking and filing the seeds for better germination, applying fungicides and pesticides, and the list goes on and on.

Male and femaile pumpkin flower, from Wikipedia

Male and femaile pumpkin flower, from Wikipedia

Splitsville, Oh No!

The pumpkin can gain 20 to 40 pounds a day during high summer! And that puts stress on the stem and the biggest calamity of all, splits! Once a fissure or rupture has occurred, the grower might as well hang it up and hope that he has another vine to fall back on. Literally, the grower devotes a whole year of his/her life to this endeavor and one day if the pumpkin develops a fatal split, he has to wait until next year to start all over again.

Seen at a local nursery, this baby weighed in at 1725 pounds!

It’s Expensive!

You can sink a lot of money into this highly competitive endeavor – from foliar nutrients, specialized sprinklers, beneficial soil inoculants, miniature cold frames, and other tools to help you grow that record breaker. And once you have a mammoth sitting in your garden, then you have to harvest it and it isn’t just a matter of cutting the stem and bringing the pumpkin into the house. There is a company that markets giant pumpkin lifting rings or slings for “lifting the gold” that can run up to $400! This is not a cheap hobby!

Final Reward-Winning a Blue Ribbon

But if you are successful at fighting back the weeds, insects, and splits that can attack at any point, you can enter at one of the many pumpkin contests around the country and take home a prize of thousands of dollars. Considering the many problems  and uncertainties that can strike without warning (think hail storm!), I think I will settle for carving pumpkins!

Carved Pumpkin

Carved Pumpkin

 

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