Alliums All Season Long

Allium schubertii

Allium schubertii

Once in a while a plant comes along which I fall in love with instantly and I can’t do without – in this case Allium schubertii! It is in the onion family so is unpalatable to deer-hooray! A pink or purple fireworks display, Alliums are under-appreciated perennials that will persist for years in your garden with little care.

 Another allium which is a little bit smaller


Another allium which is a little bit smaller

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Sprayed seed head in garden

 

Alliums are great for long-lasting color in flower, and the seed heads live on for years afterward and can be used for decorating, especially for fairy gardens and Christmas.

Dried allium seed heads sprayed gold and silver

Dried allium seed heads sprayed gold and silver

A showy starburst pink flower 12 to 18 inches wide is its trademark (Schubertii), held only 8 inches high, and then it dries right on the plant to a sturdy seed head. If you don’t pick it by early summer, it will become a tumbleweed in your garden. I find the seed heads everywhere after a windstorm as I have dozens of these plants.

Alliums in my garden

Alliums in my garden

Alliums

Of course, there are lots of alliums out there, but I love the soccer ball size of the Schubertii! The bulbs require good drainage and my alliums must be happy as they come up year after year. Planted by bulb in the fall, alliums are not eaten by squirrels either as they have an oniony taste.

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Alliums planted with Amsonia

 

A large grouping of a smaller allium

A large grouping of a smaller allium

 

So- hardy, deer, rodent and deer resistant, and no care- why aren’t they more widely planted? Probably because they are pricey. In the fall, you frequently see the 3 to 4 foot tall Globe Master allium which could set you back $10 for a single bulb. The other varieties are a little less expensive, but not as easily available in stores.Allium Schubertii

Allium Schubertii

Bees love alliums

Bees love alliums

For the recent Baltimore Symphony Decorator Show House, I strung a half dozen dried seed heads together and suspended them over the fairy garden in the landscape. I had a lot of comments about this feature and most people had never heard of alliums or ornamental onions. This fall I will be adding to my collection.

Seedheads of allium suspended over fairy garden

Seedheads of allium suspended over fairy garden

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Alliums intermingle with other flowers nicely

Alliums intermingle with other flowers nicely

Posted in plant profile | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Gnomes on the Loose

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The gnome on the left is a fishing gnome and the gnome on the right was supposed to be carrying an egg

 

One of my most popular posts on The Garden Diaries was Gnome Home, and has gotten more hits than any other post except for Decorating the White House, so I know that they are popular!  When I started decorating the Baltimore Symphony Show House this spring, I was delighted to find two old gnomes still kicking around in the basement of this house that was built in the 1920’s. Bringing them out in the light of the day, I set them up next to the fairy garden which I created on a mossy hill. The larger gnome above has an inscription “Made In Germany” so I knew that I had some authentic gnomes, made in Germany where they originated.

Fairy garden in a mossy setting

Fairy garden in a mossy setting

Gnome Origins

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Garden gnomes go way back to 1870’s Germany where they were first sculpted out of clay by Phillip Griebel, a sculptor of terra-cotta animals, in the town of Graefenroda. Gnome legends were very popular in Germany and Griebel made Gnome statues that spread throughout Europe. They are still being made there today by Phillip Griebel’s descendants and knowing that, I just am dying to go there. I would love to see their birthplace! You can tour their production facilities and see their informative museum. To see pictures, go to http://gardengnomeshome.com/gnome-directory/gartenzwerg-museum.

Philip Griebel produced gnomes based on local myths about the gnomes’ willingness to help in the garden at night. The garden gnome quickly spread across Germany and into France and England, and wherever gardening was a serious hobby.

Mickey Mouse gnomes?

Mickey Mouse gnomes?

 Just to check on the authenticity of the basement gnomes, I emailed Reinhard Griebel in Grafenroda, Germany and sent a picture of the found gnomes. He confirmed that they were in fact made in Germany and the little guy was still in production.

Fairy garden at the show house was the perfect spot to place the old gnomes

Fairy garden at the show house was the perfect spot to place the old gnomes

Controversial Gnomes

Garden Gnomes are not without their controversy, and were banned from the high-class Chelsea Flower Show until just 2013. Accused of garden snobbery, Chelsea lifted their ban, caving to pressure, and started to allow these popular garden sculptures. Serious gardeners don’t seem to appreciate these cute creatures, so I guess that makes me an amateur gardener!

German gnome, by Wikipedia

German gnome, by Wikipedia

Also, gnomes are the subject of pranks, called gnoming, which is the return of gnomes to the “wild”. Many gnomes have been “liberated” or “kidnapped”, sent on trips around the world, and have become quite famous.  The best known example was a kidnapped gnome taken from a garden in California, and it ended up being photographed with Paris Hilton  in People magazine. These antics just add to the “tongue in cheek” appreciation of gnomes for me. I enjoy that people can have fun with gardening and gardening tchotchkes. There are many clubs and organizations dedicated to the prank of gnoming.

Protest Gnome from wikipedia

Protest Gnome from wikipedia

The best-known of these is the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. Their website is hilarious and says that, “For too long we have let our neighbors usurp the rights of these gentle woodland creatures“. They entreat people to report any gnome in captivity! Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaEh8EABR-s to watch a moving video.

Polish Gnomes

The hot spot of gnomes is Poland. More gnomes are made in Poland and China than anywhere else on the planet, even in Germany. In the Wieliczka Salt Mine, called the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland, gnomes were carved underground out of salt.

Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza

Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza

Popular in Polish folklore, in Wroclaw Poland, gnome statues dot the city everywhere and have become a major tourist attraction. A legion of little people cast out of metals, are ubiquitous – in doorways, alleyways, and street corners, but easy to miss because of their size. You can actually do a tour of these gnomes which number over 250, and they have become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, more so than the magnificent cathedral.

Gnomes in Wroclaw Poland from Wikipedia

Gnomes in Wroclaw Poland from Wikipedia

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For directions on making your own Gnome Home, go to Home Sweet Gnome

Tutorial on making a gnome home

Tutorial on making a gnome home

Below is another of my broken pot gardens in a much wider pot to give you a totally different look.

Broken pot garden for a gnome

Broken pot garden for a gnome

Happy Gnoming!!

Posted in Fairy and miniature gardens, Garden Oddities | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Great Sunflower Project – The Backyard Bee Count

Lemon Queen Sunflowers in my backyard

The Great Bee Count

Within the past couple of years, you might have heard that bees are in trouble, growing scarcer, and suffering from a mysterious ailment called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. A variety of culprits have been fingered in causing this syndrome, including pesticide use, parasites, loss of habitat, and diseases. To study bees, both native and the non-native honeybee, scientists decided that they needed a method to determine the numbers and spread of different pollinators. To accomplish this, in 2008 a survey was launched enlisting and empowering local citizens in reporting observations about bees in their own backyard or deck called The Great Bee Count.

Citizen Science

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The Great Bee Count, recruits citizens across the United States and Canada to plant sunflowers and observe all types of bees visiting the flower in a 15 minute time period daily for a week and record their findings on-line.  The first Great Bee Count took place about 7 years ago and countless volunteers recorded their findings to help scientists to check on the prevalence of our tiny pollinators in North America.

Sunflowers are bee magnets

Sunflowers are bee magnets

By creating a map of bee visits, scientists will be able to direct conservation efforts exactly where they are needed.

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The data is called ‘trend data’ and showed that in some parts of the country the bees are doing very well, but in other parts like Florida where pesticide use is widespread, the bees are not nearly as numerous. I participated last year and counted at least a dozen bees on my sunflowers in a 15 minute period daily in my backyard in Maryland which shows that this part of the country is above average ‘bee friendly’!

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Each of the many seeds of a sunflower has been pollinated

 

For an interactive map of the country go to https://www.greatsunflower.org/Map

Now is the time to order those seeds and get your garden ready to plant your sunflowers. Lemon Queen is the preferred variety of sunflower seeds. It is important to check to make sure that the seeds did not receive a neonicotinoid seed treatment or even better, are organic.  The Great Sunflower Project recommends that people look for Renee’s Garden Seeds because they have partnered with Renee for a number of years and she has offered to pass along 25% of her proceeds from seeds bought at her website to the Great Sunflower Project.

Lemon Queen are the best ones for this project because they have visible pollen

Lemon Queen are the best ones for this project because they have visible pollen

The typical observer saw 2.6 bees every 15 minutes on their sunflowers. Up to 20% of the volunteers observed no bees at all which is very disheartening. Sunflowers were chosen as the standardized plant because they are ‘bee magnets’ and are easy to grow in every state. ‘Lemon Queen’ is the preferred variety because some sunflowers have been developed that have no pollen, but ‘Lemon Queen’ has visible pollen. Even if the grower did not observe bees during the 15 minute interval, that information is valuable also in informing scientists. Keeping tabs on our bees has become an important tool in studying this essential aid to our food supply. Up to one-third of our food supply relies exclusively on bee pollination.

Sunflowers attract many pollinators besides bees

Sunflowers attract many pollinators besides bees

Anyone in North America can participate in The Great Bee Count even if you just have a single container planted outside on a balcony or deck. To find out how to sign up, go to http://www.greatsunflower.org/, register, and plant your sunflower seeds so you can start counting this summer! This is a great project for an ordinary person to have help out the scientific community to study our local bee populations.

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I would love to hear from people who are not in North America to see if there are any similar projects in their country.  Please let me know if you have heard of any or participated.

Don’t forget that there are many plants that you can plant to encourage bee visits. Go to Plant For the Bees post to see more suggestions.

 

Posted in beekeeping, gardening, Sustainable Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Happy Hollow- Hosta Mecca

Hosta Heaven

Hosta Heaven

Do you want a  garden trip to a run of the mill big box store? Or do you want personal attention? And do you have shady areas in your garden that need TLC and need the ideal plant for that perfect spot? Look no further than Happy Hollow nursery in Cockeysville, MD. Specializing in hostas and other shade loving plants, Sue Bloodgood grows the most extensive collection of hostas around and can share excellent advice on plantings in difficult shady areas that you are scratching your head about.

Selections of miniature Hostas at Happy Hollow

Selections of miniature Hostas at Happy Hollow

Carrying over 200 hosta varieties, Happy Hollow nursery is tucked away in a suburban neighborhood in Cockeysville, MD, and a great place to see the many varieties of Hostas. These can vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that are puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged — the variations are virtually endless. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer which are attractive to pollinators.

Sue Bloodgood surveying her dizzying array of hostas

Sue Bloodgood surveying her dizzying array of hostas

A tray of miniature hostas showing the variety that the 'littles' come in

A tray of miniature hostas showing the variety that the ‘littles’ come in

Two large greenhouses full to the brim with hostas and other shade companion plants, like Brunnera, Pulmonaria, Tricyrtus, and shade grasses, Sue carries many unusual and hard to find plants, like “Praying Hands” Hosta.

Praying Hands Hosta

Praying Hands Hosta

Praying Hands is a 2′ wide clump composed of strangely folded, dark green crinkled leaves, each with a narrow, creamy yellow border which resembles a multitude of hands folded in prayer.

Praying Hands Hosta

Praying Hands Hosta

I went to Happy Hollow when I needed some miniature hostas for some clients. My local wholesaler carried about 3 varieties of minis and I needed more. Sue Bloodgood carried at least 2 dozen varieties of minis and it was hard to choose from them all.

I was designing plantings for a boulder garden in the shade and wanted miniature hostas

I was designing plantings for a boulder garden in the shade and wanted miniature hostas

 I fell in love with one of her hostas, called ‘Striptease’ and had to take one home.

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Hosta ‘Striptease”

Hostas are the perfect foil for so many plants

Hostas are the perfect foil for so many plants

 

 Boutique nurseries are becoming more and more popular when you are looking for something unusual and the selection at the big box stores can be limited. I haven’t seen miniature hostas other than ‘Mouse Ears’ or the one pictured above called ‘Striptease’ anywhere before, and I do a lot of plant shopping. Catering to a small segment of the discerning buying public, boutique nurseries are struggling to stay in business and are competing with larger nurseries that carry a little bit of everything. But Happy Hollow doesn’t sell fertilizer, pots, or bird houses – they simply sell the best hostas anywhere. And for personal attention and advice for gardening in the shade, stop in at Happy Hollow Nursery.

Hosta "Mouse Ears" is adorable!

Hosta “Mouse Ears” is adorable!

For more ideas on shady ground covers, go to my post “From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade “.

A simple ground cover of hostas can be very effective-Blue Cadet

A simple ground cover of hostas can be very effective-Blue Cadet

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This one is Kabitan

 For more info on Happy Hollow Nursery, go to https://www.facebook.com/pages/Happy-Hollow-Nursery-hours-10-5-Wed-Sun-call-for-special-appointment/1459714117597679?fref=ts

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Macy’s Flower Show-Art In Bloom

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Shopping and a flower show – what a combination!! I was in heaven when I visited NYC’s Macy’s Herald Square store and saw the phenomenal floral creations covering every available inch of the store. Along with the clothing and shoe displays, you can enjoy over the top floral creations and artwork. Designers even bedeck an escalator area with flowers!

A springtime scene between Macys escalators

A springtime scene between Macys escalators

All of the support pillars had gardens

All of the support pillars had gardens

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Many of the support pillars had hanging gardens of Babylon! Just think of watering these for the entire run of the show, Sunday, March 22 to Saturday, April 4. This years theme was “Art In Bloom” and the artworks were outstanding and memorable.

Framed works of floral art

Framed works of floral art

A veritable horticultural art gallery greets you when you step through the doors, with floral displays depicting different major movements in art history.

Simple but effective

Simple but effective

macys flower show

 Classical art, pop art, impressionistic art was all represented.

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Statue of David clothed in pop art flowers

Statue of David clothed in pop art flowers

Flowering full size cherry trees lined the aisles.

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macys flower show

Floral seminars, painting sessions, and other special events occur throughout the show with famous floral designers like Martha Stewart and Jes Gordon performing their magic. The central arrangement, a celebration of Easter and Springtime was a show stopper. Three or four bunnies were peeking out behind the flowers and people gathered around trying to find them all.

Springtime basket

Springtime basket

 

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Orchid Mania at NYBG (New York Botanical Gardens)

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Orchid chandeliers! Orchid planters! Orchid islands! Just think orchid everything at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. I saw orchids there in colors I have never seen before like this mint green hanging orchid ( I love green flowers!)

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Miltonias are my favorites-They look like orchid pansies

Miltonias are my favorites-They look like orchid pansies

Orchids are at their peak at the end of winter/early spring and the various botanical gardens make the most of it. Longwood gardens has their opus and the New York Botanical Garden chimes in with their twist. And their twist is stunning! Orchid Chandeliers were touted as the star and just look up and you will see the beautiful ceiling mounted floral creations that make your jaw drop! –  Aerial flowers!

Orchid Chandelier

Orchid Chandelier

As soon as you step foot into the conservatory, cylinders and enormous hanging creations with a kaleidoscopic symphony of colorful orchids such as Cattleyas and Phalaenopsis  are framed by the magnificent architecture of the crystal palace Conservatory.

Orchid Chandelier

Orchid Chandelier

The floating islands of orchids were just as incredible and greeted you at the door of the historic Victorian inspired Enid A. Haupt conservatory. But the theme of this year’s orchid show is “Look up!”, not “Float like a boat” and you can see how they made these creations at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6q4BQH8vn0

NYBG conservatory

NYBG conservatory

The gardens at the NY Botanical Gardens were still in winter mode

The gardens at the NY Botanical Gardens were still in winter mode

Floating islands of orchids greet you at the entrance of the Conservatory

Floating islands of orchids greet you at the entrance of the Conservatory

There were other chandeliers, like the  Staghorn ferns!

There were other chandeliers, like the Staghorn ferns!

More chandeliers

More chandeliers

Guerlain, a perfume and makeup company teamed up with the New York Botanical Garden on its Orchid Evenings to promote its orchid scent focused on the flower.  And talk about fragrance! It was wafting everywhere in the conservatory. All the orchids were so fragrant, I couldn’t figure out where the fragrance was originating-it was just everywhere.

The Cattleyas are particularly fragrant

The Cattleyas are particularly fragrant

Other tropicals were showcased along with the orchids as they bloom at the same time- Bromeliads, Anthuriums, Bird of Paradise, and Gingers were all in exquisite form.

Yes, Anthuriums!!

Yes, Anthuriums!!

Let's not forget the Bromeliads

Let’s not forget the Bromeliads

Planters full of multiple orchids

Planters full of multiple orchids

Go to http://www.nybg.org/exhibitions/2015/orchid-show/ to read about the popular orchid evenings, dance exhibitions, poetry readings, and tips on orchid care that you can enjoy until April 18 in NYC in the Bronx.

White Orchids

White Orchids

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Home Sweet Home-Providing the Perfect Habitat for Mason Bees

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A bee house mad out of stacked pallets

 Custom Condo

Attracting bees with the right plants is important, but what about inviting them to make a home nearby with attractive ready-to-move-in housing? A custom condo became my project in the winter for solitary mason bees, otherwise known as orchard bees, because they are excellent at pollinating fruit trees.

Natural habitat for wild bees from www.wildbienen.com

Natural habitat for wild bees from http://www.wildbienen.com

Curb Appeal

Mason bees start looking for homes in early spring so I wanted to have it in “move in condition” with lots of curb appeal  in early March. They use clay to make partitions and seal the entrance to their nesting tubes. This unique building behavior leads to their common designation as masons.

Mason Bees, from Wikipedia

Mason Bees, from Wikipedia

When I did my research on solitary native mason bees, I discovered to my surprise that they are a much more efficient pollinator than the social honey bees which were originally imported from Europe with the colonists. Mason bees are one of the few managed native pollinators in agriculture because of this terrific pollinating ability.

If you would like to help bees, you can participate in their Indiegogo campaign and you can contribute and get your own mason bee kit, become a bee booster, or adopt a bee. Crown Bees is raising money and awareness with their effort.

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Mason bee on apple blossom, from Crown Bees

Mason bee on apple blossom, from Crown Bees

 

Differences Between Mason and Honey Bees

Mason bees are about the same size or slightly larger than a honeybee and color is your best way to tell them apart.They are a dark metallic blue, not striped brown and orange like the honeybee.  Being solitary, the mason bee tends to its own brood, instead of having a queen and worker bees like the social honey bee. They seem to appreciate the company of others of their kind and happily build their nests next to each other. They also readily accept the hollow tubes provided by the orchard grower for this purpose. Mason bees don’t produce honey like the honey bee, but collect pollen and nectar just like the honey bee for feeding their young.

 

Tubes in a nesting box

Tubes in a nesting box

Home gardeners can attract mason bees in their own gardens by placing home-made bee houses and blocks in their own yards. Scroll down to see my version of a DIY house for mason bees.

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Life Cycle

Unlike the honey bee, the mason bee flying season is early spring because they can tolerate lower temperatures. The honeybee will only fly when it reaches the 50’s, but the mason bee flies in the 40’s. Once a mason bee emerges from their over wintering tube, they mate, search for empty holes that are the right size and shape, and start to work. They collect food for their brood, which is tree pollen plus nectar. Females collect this food, bring it to their nests, and knead it into a ball, mixing it with nectar and their own saliva. Once they have a food store that is big enough, they lay an egg on top of this mass and seal-off the chamber or cell with mud.

Mason bee egg surrounded by food stores of pollen and nectar, Wikipedia

Mason bee egg surrounded by food stores of pollen and nectar, wikipedia

Then, they start the process all over again until there are five to eight eggs each with food, each separated by a thin wall of dried mud. They seal the entrance to the hole with a thicker mud wall. The larvae grow and, by the end of summer, metamorphose into pupae and later into adults, and remain safe and sound inside the nest in a cocoon until the next spring. The new generation emerges the next spring, usually in perfect timing with the blooming peach or apple trees.

Mature mason bees break through the mud wall

Mature mason bees break through the mud wall

Bumble bee on Azalea blossom

Bumble bee on Azalea blossom

 

Nesting House Basics

You can make suitable nesting sites with readily available materials. The web site http://www.wildbienen.info/index.php, a German website is excellent. There are lots of examples of wild bee houses on this site. Since many wild bees are sedentary, residing where they originated, they will stay nearby, provided there are suitable nesting sites. The greater the variety of species and population density in the area, the faster colonization.

Pollinator house from www.wildbienen.com

Pollinator house from http://www.wildbienen.com

Location, Location, Location

For locating your house, look for a south or westerly facing aspect to make full use of the morning sun. Protected from wind and rain by locating the house under a roof, will increase your chances of  bees and other insects of moving in. A ready source of uncovered soil for the mason bee to use as mud in sealing the eggs, is also important as well as proximity to floral sources. For help in planting the right plants, go to https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/plant-these-for-the-bees/

How to site a bee house

How to site a bee house

 Easy DIY Mason Bee House

Mason Bee House

Mason Bee House

For an easy mason bee habitat out of wood, I created this simple box with a roof out of cedar wood. The house measures 18″ x 22″ high with a peaked roof, 6″ high. The depth of the house is about 4″. I took an untreated 4 x 4 timber and cut it into chunks the depth of the house, and drilled holes into the blocks of different diameters. The various sized holes give pollinators a choice in picking out the most suitable hole for their species. This house would be appropriate for different varieties of native bees. The back was just a piece of plywood to give the house stability.

 Move In Day

Filling in all the spaces with lotus pods, pine cones, and hollow stems of sunflowers that I cut down from my garden last year took some time. Topping it off with plastic covered hardware cloth, the bee condo was ready to hang and open for business.

Completed mason bee house attached to a shed

Completed mason bee house attached to a shed

Tubular Housing

Tubular is the main feature that mason bees are interested in. Finding something round is critical for their success. I keep looking for tubular shaped objects that I can use in future housing projects.

Wood blocks with grooves for egg laying bees

Wood blocks with grooves for egg laying bees

Wooden blocks that split apart revealing the cocoons made by the pupae of the bees for harvesting are simple but effective. Easy tear tubes made of paper are convenient to use but once you tear them apart, that is the end of them.

Easy tear tubes with cocoons revealed

Easy tear tubes with cocoons revealed

Go to www.crownbees.com to browse ready-made houses and tubes, if you don’t have time to build from the ground up. You can also get an attractant pheromone that will be sure to entice the mason bees to nest in their new home. The site is also a wealth of information about many native bees.

Mason bees are gentle, from Crown Bees

Mason bees are gentle, from Crown Bees

Crown Bees recommends that once summer is over, that you harvest the mason bee cocoons and place them in a humidity tray with a moist cloth in your refrigerator to keep conditions right for surviving until next spring.

Humidity box for overwintering cocoons in the refrigerator

Humidity box for overwintering cocoons in the refrigerator

When warmer weather rolls around, bring the humidity tray outside in the warmer air and wait for the cocoons to hatch and release the bees. I ordered some cocoons from them and a few hatched in transit which I released outside when they came.

 

Mason bee hatched out of cocoon

Mason bee hatched out of cocoon

There are many other strategies that you as a homeowner can do to help out with our pollination crisis. See my action plan outlined at https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/sex-in-the-garden/

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Containers With Pizazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!

Shade container, tuberous begonia, caladium, lysmachia, button fern, tradescantia, ivy

Shade container, tuberous begonia, caladium, lysmachia, button fern, tradescantia, ivy

Container Finesse

I create containers for clients all the time and am always looking for inspiration to move away from the “geraniums with spike and trailer”  school of thought. With a little more planning and shopping, you can come up with a showplace masterpiece with WOW impact.

Container with a variety of plants for all summer color

Container with a variety of plants for all summer color-Canna, trailing zinnia, trailing petunia, sweet potato vine, coleus, verbena, and salvia

Take pictures of creations that you like and copy them, but add your own personal touches to make it your own. Once you have done enough containers, the combinations are second nature, starting with just one really wonderful plant and working from there.

Succulents- you can go on vacation and leave these without worrying!

Artful Containers

The best piece of advice that I picked up over the years was a secret to coordinating your colors in an arrangement.  Choose a piece of fabric or piece of art that you really like, and take it with you when you plant shop.  Of course, you can’t take a painting with you, so grab refrigerator magnets with famous paintings on them from museums, cut a swatch from fabric, or cut out paintings from magazines.  Inspired by a Van Gogh, my most successful container used the colors from his iris painting. Van Gogh’s painting has that intense blue which so many people adore – also orange, greens, a touch of white and yellow. If you like it in a painting, you will like it in a container!

Beautiful colors from Van Gogh painting

I have plenty of room to plant in my beds but I really enjoy planting in containers because they become a piece of art in miniature. This is my opportunity to try new annuals that are untested by me,  and go wild with the color combos.  Bold, vibrant,  and sizzling color, is the driving force for many of my combinations. To browse the new Pantone colors for 2015, check out http://www.pantone.com/pages/index.aspx?pg=21163&. Marsala, an earthy wine red color, is the top pantone color of the year and can inspire you to try some colors that might not be in your comfort zone. I will be heading to the heuchera (coral bells) aisle of the nursery to try the burgundy heucheras.

A variety of Heucheras

A variety of Heucheras

Painter palette of colors

Painter palette of colors

I find that there are too many containers with pastel and hum drum hues, and that I enjoy creating a bold and striking container .

Musical Plants-Rearrange for the Season!

Cluster containers together for a bigger impact and ease of watering

Cluster plants together for a bigger impact and ease of watering

I rarely keep my flowers in the pot all season.  They just fizzle by the end of the summer and I get tired of them! Sometimes I have three seasons of containers –  a winter one with an evergreen and some pansies and other cool weather flowers, then I move on to petunias, supertunias, cannas, lantanas -everything that likes heat, and finally to fall plants –  mums, asters, grasses, cabbages, and ferns. I mix and match perennials, shrubs and annuals to get the most versatility and longevity out of my pots. To see my post on Fall containers, go to Creative Fall containers.

Seasonal container-miscanthus, chrysanthemum, autumn fern, cabbage, artemisa, ivy

Edibles

Edibles in containers are big now and rightly so. So many leafy crops have gorgeous foliage and shouldn’t be relegated to the vegetable garden, and it is a great way to grow your veggies in limited space. One of my all time  favorite fillers is curly parsley. Colorful kale, lettuce, spinach, and other herbs like thyme are also great. Or, you can have an entirely edible container selection, and include eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, cucs. The sky is the limit. Go to  https://botanicalinterests.com/products/view/4526/Container-Vegetable-Seed-Collection to see the wide choice of seeds available. If it is too late to start seeds, there is a huge variety of midget sized plants available at any nursery that have been developed for container culture.

Container with edibles

Container with edibles-kale, lettuce,, pansies, angelina sedum

Large Containers Are Best

Choose a large enough container to avoid constantly watering it during our hot summers.  A pot with a circumference of at least 15 to 18 inches is enough to get you going with a choice of different types of plants, plus enough room for them to grow throughout the summer. I like the light weight faux pots that look like real pottery,  but will not crack and will retain water better than terra-cotta ones. These faux pots will last for years and you can leave them out all winter, plus they are inexpensive and portable. There are even self-watering ones available which have a water reservoir built into the container.  Regardless of the type of container that you have, make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom.  If there aren’t any, drill some using a large bit on a portable drill and be sure to make them large enough, at least 3/4 of an inch in diameter.

A great little trailer- Silver Falls or Dichondra

Good Soil – Good Plants

Good soil or potting medium is critical for the health of your plants that will be sitting in the container for months. Use an organic mix of compost, sphagnum moss, and perlite. There are a lot of commercial potting mixes on the market so be sure to choose one that has added fertilizer to it as container plants need a good boost of fertilizer to bloom all season long, plus regular applications. Make sure that you add a good dollop of compost in the bottom of the pot – a couple of inches at least.  This is where the roots are going to reach down and use up all those nutrients to produce flowers all season long. If you must reuse the same soil, then remove the top 5 or 6 inches and replace with fresh potting medium.

Container in full summer glory

Right Plant, Right Spot

Note if your container will be in all day sunlight, partial shade, or mostly shade.  Shady container plants can be just as colorful as sunny ones with careful selection of colorful foliage. Go to the nursery and ask a knowledgeable employee for suggestions on varieties.  For any situation,  you want something tall for the back, like a grass, cordyline, canna or caladium, and a cascader for the edge and something to fill in between- thrillers, spillers, and fillers!

Foliage shade container by Leigh Barnes
Foliage shade container by Leigh Barnes- ferns, hakonechloa grass, helleborus, creeping fig, heuchera

It is an overused phrase, but it really describes the process well. For a pot 18 inches in diameter, you would need about 5 to 6 plants. Of the 5 plants, use a tall architectural one, a couple of fillers, and a couple of spillers. Be wary of stuffing too much in so that plants have room to grow.

Window Boxes

Shade Windowbox

Shade windowbox with begonia ‘Bonfire’

 

Succulent window box

Succulent window box

Planting window boxes uses the same principles as containers. To create depth you really make use of those spillers. Silver Falls, Dichondra, is a great asset for trailing down walls and planters for sun and shade, and the new begonia ‘Bonfire’ is valuable for bright color in the shade .

Trailing Silver Falls out of a windowbox

Trailing Silver Falls out of a windowbox

Silver Falls at Chanticleer in the ruin

Textures

When selecting your plants, consider your textures. I see too many containers planted with flowers and foliage that are similar in texture and look too busy.  Try mixing it up with some broad sculptural leaves, variegated foliage, and deeply lobed leaf shapes. Using varying forms will help your plants stand out instead of blending together in an indistinguishable mass.

Good textural contrast and variety-bubblegum petunia, variegated ginger, black and blue salvia, plectranthus, secretsea

More textural variety

Cannas and Caladiums -Focal Points

A variegated canna as a focal point

Caladiums

Caladiums

Cannas are good selections for sunny containers –  just make sure your pot is large enough.  I have seen cannas get 8 feet tall or higher! For shade, try Caladiums. There are beautiful Caladiums on the market with very colorful unusual markings and they will shine in the shade. But be careful when you plant these as they are very sensitive to cold. Make sure the nights keep above at least 50 degrees before setting these out.

 Coleus

Varieties of coleus

Varieties of coleus

The Coleus on the market now are not your grandmother’s Coleus! Many of these new varieties are designed to thrive in full sun –  not shade –   though there are a few that prefer shade only. Literally, there are hundreds of varieties on the market and you could simply do lots of containers with just Coleus and have very colorful pots. Coleus are among my all-time favorites with beautiful striking foliage. I prefer not to let Coleus flower as the flowers detract from the foliage beauty, and when they appear, I pinch them off.

A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!

A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!

Partial shade container in old fashioned lead pot0coleus, dragon wing begonia, fuschia, sweet potato vine, geranium

Maintenance-Nip and Tuck!

Maintenance includes regular watering, at least once a day when it is hot, fertilizing with a dilute or granular fertilizer at least once a week, and pinching back plants as they grow to maintain their shape.  I call this nip and tuck.  If you don’t do this on a regular basis, your plants will get leggy, unattractive, and woody. It is also a good idea to elevate containers on bricks or “pot feet” so that they drain properly. If you don’t have good drainage, your plants will literally drown from lack of Oxygen!  Make sure that your drainage holes are large enough so they don’t get clogged up and don’t use gravel in the bottom.  I carry a long metal rod for unplugging clogged drainage holes.

Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole

Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole

Added gravel just makes the pot heavier and does not help with drainage. Drip irrigation is an option if you have lots of containers that need regular watering and you don’t want to be a slave to your water can.  Drip is pretty simple to set up, with all the components available at a local nursery or hardware store and they just snap together. I compare it to playing with Tinker Toys!

Grouping

Another helpful hint is to group your containers, especially if you have many small ones.  By grouping, you achieve a bigger impact and it is far easier to take care of them in one bunch.  If you do drip irrigation, grouping is essential as you use less tubing and you can hide the tubing in the adjacent pots.

A large grouping at the National Arboretum in D.C.

Great color combo-coleus, trailing petunia, lotus vine, verbena, silver falls, black and blue salvia

Don’t be afraid to plant just one kind of sensational plant in a container – here it is oleander

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Lights, Camera, Action! Philadelphia Flower Show, Part 2

Japanese miniature garden

Japanese miniature garden

Mini Landscapes

My favorite part of the Philadelphia Flower Show is always the mini landscapes and settings. There is something about the attention to detail and scale that has always attracted me.

Top prize for mini landscapes went to the outstanding Japanese garden above which really inspired me to create one just like it, as I already have a Japanese dollhouse from when I was little. They would go perfect together!

Mini garden with colorful Begonias

Mini garden with colorful Begonias

Mini garden with gazebo

Mini garden with gazebo

Log cabin in the woods mini garden

Log cabin in the woods mini garden

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This musical mini landscape was planted in a guitar!

 

My favorite mini garden from last year

My favorite mini garden from last year

Closeup of the easel and painting

 

People young and old enjoy these miniature landscapes, and I had a full house when I did my “Tinkerbelle and Beyond” demo of miniature gardens with a very happy helper.

 

My helper created a complete fairy setting  and took it home to enjoy

My helper created a complete fairy setting and took it home to enjoy

Doing my demo at the Gardeners Studio on miniature gardens

Doing my demo at the Gardeners Studio on miniature gardens

Miniature Settings

Waiting in a long line to view the miniature settings, I could see people bend down to get a better view in front of the viewing window and exclaim with delight. The line moved slowly because of the amount of detail to absorb and the pictures to take.

Winning exhibit for drama

Winning exhibit for drama

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The setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ was the blue ribbon winner in the drama category

 

For a great blog on the techniques used to set these up, go to Flower Show Miniature Settings. The people who put these together go to a lot of work in ageing their  objects so that they don’t appear brand spanking new, with scratching, color washes, and even eye shadow! The Alfred Hitchcock setting was put together with sheets of cut polystyrene.

People who take on the job of creating these work on them for months, literally starting as soon as the current flower show is over.

Enchanted April setting

Enchanted April setting

Little shop of Horrors

Little shop of Horrors

With only two classes, drama and fantasy, and five exhibits in each, these settings drew a lot of viewers to see the interpretations of the movies along with of course-Plants!! A variety of plants were used – succulents, cactus, tiny house plants and even seedlings. I read on the blog, Flower Show Miniature Settings, that people have learned to use fast growing seeds, like cat grass, chia, or turf grass to add instant greenery.

E.T. miniature setting

E.T. miniature setting

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Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

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Hollywood Goes to the Dogs

Hollywood Goes to the Dogs

 The Philadelphia Flower Show ends on Sunday, March 7, so you still have time to go see it. Go to The Flower Show for more information about tickets and times.

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Lights Camera Bloom! Philadelphia Flower Show-Part 1

"The Movies" was the theme this year for the Philadelphia Flower Show

“The Movies” was the theme this year for the Philadelphia Flower Show

As you enter the Philadelphia Flower Show, you feel that you are visiting an old time movie theater that has a marquee, bright lights, and excitement, and you even smell the buttery scent of popcorn. And yes, they actually were selling hot buttery popcorn freshly popped, like hotcakes!

Cars themed Rt 66 executed by Burke Brothers Landscapes

Cars themed Rt 66 executed by Burke Brothers Landscapes

The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show is an annual event at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in March. The oldest and largest indoor show, the spectacle features elaborate landscapes, and over-the-top floral creations.

Over the top floral creations

Over the top floral creations

Not only a flower show, visitors experience live shows and entertainment, culinary demonstrations, DIY workshops and lectures. I did a demo on Fairy gardens meets the movies called “Tinkerbell and Beyond” and showed everyone how to arrange a miniature landscape.  Tinkerbell, The Hobbit, and Fern Gully gardens complete with animals and fairies were put together on the demo stage and I had a great helper who was eager to play in the dirt. I had an assistant to help me with my demo on miniature gardens

I had an assistant to help me with my demo on miniature gardens.

My assistant made a great fairy garden with a little coaching

My assistant made a great fairy garden with a little coaching

Tinkerbells' miniature garden

Tinkerbells’ miniature garden

The aisles were thronged with people trying to get a good view of the very inventive interpretations of movies.

'Nightmare Before Christmas' was a big hit

‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ was a big hit

Four season containers were on display to demonstrate that you can have containers planted all year long.

Four season containers
Four season containers

But the movie exhibits were so interesting that I kept going back to them to check them out.

Chicken coop made out of an old car for 'Cars" movie

Chicken coop made out of an old car for “Cars” movie!

Ratatouille was so cute!
Ratatouille was so cute!
Ratatouille popped up everywhere

Ratatouille popped up everywhere

I loved these air plants that were upside down in dried sea urchins to mimic jelly fish-In Finding Nemo

I loved these air plants that were upside down in dried sea urchins to mimic jelly fish-In ‘Finding Nemo’

Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatters Tea Party

Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatters Tea Party

I loved this storefront of underwear made of flowers!

I loved this storefront of underwear made of flowers

The miniatures were wonderful as usual and I am doing another post on just the miniature gardens and scenes. Stay tuned for part 2.

My haul of plants from the show

My haul of plants from the show

 

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