Blooming Hill Greenhouse-A Family Owned Business

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Blooming Hill makes use of old ironing boards to display flowers

Patronizing independent nurseries, not big box store chains, is an important part of my shopping for plants. A totally different shopping experience greets me as I walk in the door and you will find knowledgeable and eager to please owners and workers. The plant selection is quite eclectic with little gems that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

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Coleus ‘Coleo”

Also, the plants are taken care of and not neglected like I see too many times at big box stores. Mainstream garden centers and big box stores tend to stick with the tried and true, afraid to plant “outside the pot” for fear that customers won’t buy something different.

Jo Troy, owneer of Blooming Hill Greenhouse

Jo Troy, owner of Blooming Hill Greenhouse in Parkton, MD

moss basket

Jo Troy working on a moss basket, one of her specialties

But as a plant lover, there are so many new varieties and cultivars out there to try, I think that the more to choose from the better. I do love Petunias, Verbenas, and Sweet Potato Vine, but there are so many alternatives available to create something a bit different from your neighbor.

Abutilon

Abutilon

Abutilons or Flowering Maples caught my eye as I entered Blooming Hill Greenhouse, in Parkton, MD and I had to stop and admire this treasure that will be sure to attract hummingbirds to your garden.

You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!

You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!

Unusual annuals are everywhere

Unusual annuals are everywhere: I forgot the name, but check it out at the open house!

Tucked away off a winding country road, you would never know the greenhouse was there until you stop at a bottom of a hill and spot the small sign. After turning up a steep driveway through woods dotted with Azaleas and other woodland plants, you know you are in for a treat. Greeted by 3 medium size poly greenhouses at the crest of the hill, there are always outdoor selections on tables to slow your journey into the mix of living, breathing, beautiful plants.

TheTroy family lives right next door to their business

The Troy family lives right next to their greenhouses. Row covers are ready to throw on top of outdoor plants for cold snaps

Brimming with treasures, the usual and unusual that you never see anywhere, and hanging and moss baskets everywhere, Blooming Hill is full of surprises. I enter like a kid in a candy shop and want one of everything. Or even better, three of everything! Also carrying tons of herbs and vegetable plants, this is a one stop nursery to fill your place with color.

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A completed bowl arrangement

Begonias of all colors and sizes fill Blooming Hill as one of Jo Troy’s favorite plants. She told me that she never met a Begonia she didn’t like! I have to agree with that as I survey the selections of Begonias.

Begonia 'Unbelievable Miss Montreal'

Begonia ‘Unbelievable Miss Montreal’

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Begonia ‘Glory Pink’

Blooming Hill Greenhouse

As a landscape designer, if I have a customer who wants to create their own containers but needs help with selection and colors, I send them to Blooming Hill for their expertise and advice. Owner Jo Troy is patient and helps customers personally select their plants to take home or if you bring in your container to the greenhouse, she will customize your planter for a very reasonable cost.  Her daughter Millie is also sought after as a designer of masterpieces in a pot.

Millie, Jo's daughter, is watering all the plants by hand

Millie, Jo’s daughter, is watering all the plants by hand

A plantaholics’s dream come true, Blooming Hill specializes in the creation of “moss baskets”, hanging baskets planted around the entire circumference of the “moss” covering in a wire basket. Requiring many plants to fill in the stuffed balls, and time to grow in, the moss baskets are works of art.

Moss basket

A hanging moss basket is a ball of flowers

See how Jo creates these masterpieces from scratch.

All plant lovers and collectors will find something to ooh and aah over and take home with no location in mind, but thinking that you can’t do without it!  Still selling well- filled market packs, the most economical way to buy plants, I splurge on zinnias, vinca, and other annuals to fill my beds for the summer.

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Sun Patien

A variegated Sunpatien: you just need one of these to fill a pot

So, if you are in the Baltimore area, check out their upcoming open house at 18700 Frederick Road in Parkton, MD, April 30 & May 1st, 2016 from 9AM to 4PM. If you go to the open house, please tell Jo that Claire sent you!

Blue Plumbago

Blue Plumbago, another annual that I never see anywhere else

Surfinia 'Summer Double Salmon'

Surfinia ‘Summer Double Salmon’

Container at Blooming Hill

A piece of art container for hsade; A customer dropped off this container to have it customized

Moss basket in the making

Moss basket completed but starting the process of growing in and producing flowers

Asclepias

I took this new variety home, a variegated Asclepias for my visiting Monarchs

 

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All Season Containers

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes-Tulips, violas, grape hyacinth, daffodils, allysum, salvia,and nemesia

Most people wait until mid to late May to plant their containers because of a chance of cold snaps, but I have been busy planting for weeks using plants that are cold tolerant, using bulbs, cool season annuals and perennials. For my most viewed post ever on containers, check out Not Your Ordinary Container-Containers With Pizzazz!

Shade Container

Shade Container

My Favorites

Bulbs only last a few weeks, but you can easily slip them out of the container and plant in one of your garden beds for a show next year. Leaving an empty spot that you can plug-in some annuals for a warmer season, like verbenas and petunias, containers can be transformed with the addition and subtraction of several plants and emerge with a completely different look.

Bulbs in containers

Violas are an early season staple that look good for about 6 weeks until the hot weather starts and then they are toast. See my post on Violas to see how many ways you can use this versatile plant. They give you a quick early boost of color which can be removed when the violas start to fade and then you can insert something more heat tolerant.

Viola Etain is one of my favorites

Viola Etain is one of my favorites

Mixing a melange of perennials, annuals, bulbs, and small shrubs early creates a container that will last through the season with tweaks throughout the year. Make sure that you take care of your container with good drainage, an essential for any plantings. I like to elevate my container off the ground so that it can drain properly. A plant stand or pot feet are perfect for the task.

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Pot feet keeps the container elevated so that water can drain off

Woodland Phlox is a great perennial that lasts for 6 to 8 weeks and is highly fragrant. When finished, pop it into the garden and replace it with something else blooming.

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Woodland Phlox(light purple) is highly fragrant and lasts for weeks

 

List of Early Flowering Plants for Containers

  • Annuals-alyssum, african daisy, lobelia, pansies, snap dragons, gerber daisies, english daisies

  • Bulbs- tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths, scilla, crocus, hyacinths, alliums, lilies

  • Perennials-pulmonaria, columbine, bleeding heart, woodland phlox, variegated yucca, candytuft, coral bells, scabiosa, violas, bleeding heart, brunnera, lobelia, lamium, woodland phlox, primrose, armeria, poppies

  • Shrubs-heather, pieris, broom, blue star juniper, dwarf rhododendron, blueberries

Early spring color

Coral bells, dwarf Rhododendron, bleeding heart, brunnera, and lobelia

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Purple Gem Rhododendron makes this container shine

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Lava Lamp Coral Bells, Violas, Millenial Allium, Lobelia, and Lamium

Coral Bells

Coral Bells or the Heuchera family are my must have for spring containers. Coral Bells emerge early and have perfect foliage colors that you can match to your blooms and foliage of the other plants in your container. There are literally hundreds of shades and varieties of this plant and you can never have enough of them! Known for foliage rather than flowers, Coral Bells are probably my favorite plant for borders and containers.

An array of Coral Bells in a greenhouse

An array of Coral Bells in a greenhouse

Coral Bells Fire Alarm

Coral Bells Fire Alarm

Coral Bells 'Grape Expectations'

Coral Bells ‘Grape Expectations’

If you start with a good potting medium that has lots of compost and perlite to aerate the soil, you can keep your container healthy for years. I make sure to fertilize all my containers regularly with a diluted fertilizer so that my plants are happy and healthy!

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Honeybee Nuc 101

 A miniature honey bee colony or what beekeepers call a Nuc, is a living organism that needs to be cared for properly for it to survive and thrive in your bee yard. A “beehive in a box” is the best way to give your beehives the quickest start right from the gate to start producing honey as they already have a laying queen who is mated, producing eggs, and ready to go.

Nucs ready to be picked up and placed in a beekeepers hive body

Nucs ready to be picked up and placed in a beekeepers hive body

Spring Start-Up

For beginning beekeepers, there are three different ways of starting your own hive: Packages, Nucs, or a Live Hive. To get an overview of Beekeeping, it’s costs, benefits, and problems, go to my post, Beekeeping Start-Up, Jump into the World of Beekeeping. To see how to hive a package, go to Bee Packages Are Here!

2 packages of bees in the back of my car

2 packages of bees in the back of my car

 

Options for Starting Your Own Hive

  1. Live Hive- This is probably the most difficult to purchase. Never buy a live hive until it has been thoroughly inspected by a state apiary inspector and given a clean bill of health. This might be a good approach for instant beekeeping, but you have to find a beekeeper willing to sell a complete working hive and you are unlikely to find one unless the beekeeper is retiring or has passed. Very few beekeepers want to sell a good, live hive and there must be a compelling reason to do this. However, when you are able to purchase a live hive, you are also purchasing all the existing problems such as small hive beetles, tracheal mite, varroa mites, wax moths or diseases such as nosema, American Foul Brood or European Foul Brood, etc. For small hive beetle controls, go to Small Hive Beetles to see how to combat these pests. Before committing, inspect the combs to see how healthy the colony is with plenty of brood and bee bread present on the frames.

Orange and yellow pollen is deposited into cells, mixed with nectar to make bee bread that is fed to growing honeybee young

Orange and yellow pollen is deposited into cells, mixed with nectar to make bee bread that is fed to growing honeybee young

Close up of pollen

Close up of pollen

Bee bread is pollen brought back to the hive that is mixed with nectar and deposited into cells to feed the developing brood.

Great frame with lots of brood (capped larvae)

Great frame with lots of brood (capped larvae) and pollen or bee bread

2.  Packages- Packages have been the way beekeepers in the North have received bees from the South for over 100 years.  By shaking bees out of different hives, a package is formed which is housed in a screened cage for transport. Sometimes it may take shaking bees out of three different hives to equal three pounds of bees (about 10,000), the standard. Then, a new queen not related to the worker bees is caged to travel with the new bees.

 Queen bee in cage


Queen bee in cage

Some considerations of this method are:

  • Will the queen be healthy and properly mated? 

  • Since they are from the south, could there be a chance of Africanized genetics, making a more aggressive hive?

  • Shipping stresses, such as too much time in the package and excessive temperatures can weaken both the bees and the queen.

Hiving a package of bees

Spraying sugar water on a package of bees to calm them

 So, while this is the “industry standard” and has been for a century, it is not risk free or fail safe. I can attest to this as a good percentage of my packages have failed.

Transferring 5 frames from a Nuc hive into my hive body

Transferring 5 frames from a Nuc hive into my hive body

 

3.  NUC- A nuc is a short expression referring to the nucleus of a live hive. The nucleus, or nuc, usually contains four or five frames from a complete hive.

Carrying 2 Nucs out that have been taped shut

Carrying 2 Nucs out that have been taped shut

The frames include brood in various stages and frames mixed with honey, pollen and brood. The queen has already been accepted and is the mother of all the bees including the brood in the frames. This is a bee hive in miniature – a working and laying queen is included along with her daughter worker bees, brood, pollen, and eggs. I have gotten honey the same year form my Nucs, so I ordered 2 this year. 

Checking in to pick up bee nucs

Checking in to pick up bee nucs

The best way to acquire a Nuc is to join a Bee Club. Mine is the Central MD Beekeepers Association and they order Bee Nucs every spring from a supplier and transport the Nucs to our Maryland Agricultural Center for pickup for $165 each.

Two college students picking up Nucs for their campus

Two college students picking up Nucs for their Goucher College campus

Nucs are the way to go for me, as it is a hive that is ready to go and is already working to bring in nectar during the honey flow. Honey flow is a term used by beekeepers indicating that one or more major nectar sources are in bloom and the weather is favorable for bees to fly and collect the nectar in abundance. For me in the mid-Atlantic, this happens in early to mid-May and can last for a couple of weeks and is always heralded by the blooming of Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. An unassuming tree that spends most of the year in the fringe woods on the side of the road and one late Spring day it throws out a hanging truss of stunning white blossoms. But not just blossoms! The intense fragrance wafts in the breeze and finds you if you are walking down the road and will drift far from the tree.

Black Locust flowers

Black Locust flowers

Springtime time is also the critical time for swarms- May is swarm month for me! Go to Swarming of the Bees  to see how to capture swarms.

A swarm of bees from my apiary

A swarm of bees from my apiary

 Advantages of a nuc:

  • The frames are from a proven, successful existing hive

  •  The queen is up and running and has been laying eggs in cells for some time, enough to have quantities of capped brood

  • You receive the existing frames of comb, honey, pollen and brood. You do not have to wait for the bees to draw comb(this is labor intensive)

  •  It is easy to transfer the frames into your own equipment

My nuc is set up in a deep hive body with an empty super on top which contains a feeder

My nuc is set up in a deep hive body with an empty super on top which contains a feeder, as well as entrance feeders

Disadvantages of a nuc:

  • Are not usually available until June (I got 2 recently in early April because of my Beekeepers Association who ordered them from a breeder last year)

  • You receive comb from another beekeeper that could contain pests or diseases

  • More expensive- For example, I paid $165 a piece for 2 nucs and a package costs about $115 a piece

It is really important to remove and install the frames in the exact order that they are in the original box. And the weather should be at least 5o degrees or higher. Today, I was working in sunny 65 degree temperatures which is picture perfect. When you remove the frames, it gives you the opportunity to look for brood, honey storage, and the queen.  Here is a video on installing a nuc into your own hives.

 

Handling Tips on Installing a Nuc

Whenever you work with bees, move smoothly-like you’re doing Tai Chi! Bees will only sting if they feel like you are threatening your hive, and fast and jerky movements will put them into attack mode. Use your smoke sparingly as the only bees that will sting are the guard bees on the periphery at the entrance and at the top of the frames. If bees come at you and give you a “bump” on the face veil, this is their warning prior to trying to sting and it is best to back off before continuing. Move slowly but surely, not clumsily as this can lead to losing your queen and thus your hive.

Lay the Nuc box on its side in front of the hive so the stragglers can enter the hive

Lay the empty Nuc box on its side in front of the hive so the stragglers can enter the hive

Once you move over all your frames to your equipment, there will be stragglers, so I place the Nuc box on its side in front of the hive and by dusk, everyone is tucked up for the night.

Feeding

I feed my hives with sugar water in entrance feeders

I feed my hives with sugar water in entrance feeders

Sugar water, 1 part table sugar to 1 part water, is fed to the bees for the first couple of weeks until they can easily find nectar sources. Supplementary feeding is critical to the success of your colony. There are sparse nectar sources in early April, and I like to feed until I see plenty of flowers out there, probably in about 3 weeks.

A honeybee with plenty of pollen already collected entering a Hyacinth flower for nectar

A honeybee with plenty of pollen already collected entering a Hyacinth flower for nectar

I continue to feed with sugar water and will inspect the entrance to the hives every day to make sure that there is a good traffic flow, both in and out. That tells me that everything is working well. If there isn’t the normal flow, I will inspect the hive to see if there is a laying queen. In about a week, I will open the hive and check the brood pattern and see if the bees are drawing new wax comb. If everything seems OK, I will continue to feed the hive for several more weeks while they are drawing the wax comb and then taper off the feeding. I believe in minimal handling of the hive. Leave it to the bees! And harvest the honey!

Inspecting a frame when transferring it from the Nuc blox to my hive body

Inspecting a frame when transferring it from the Nuc box to my hive body

 

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Black Goes With Everything

Black Iris

Iris ‘Black Suited’

Black is Beautiful

There has been an explosion of black flowers and foliage in the past couple of years in the gardening world.  It started out as a trickle and now is a tsunami of everything black! When I go to the nursery and look at new cultivars of annuals, perennials, and shrubs – all shades of black are represented.

A black foliaged smoke tree sets off the white Alliums

Bat Orchid

The Bat OrchidTacca chantieri  is one of my favorites but needs to be grown in a greenhouse. An exotic plant with flowers that mimic a bat in flight, deep purple to black, with ruffled wings and long, hanging filaments, the flowers last for weeks. Large, attractive leaves surround the bloom.

Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers

Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers

‘Black Magic’ Hollyhocks

These blue-black, tall, stately plants look good in any garden. They should be planted at the back of borders to give a beautiful classic garden look. They flower mid to late summer.

Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls

Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls

 

Black Magic Hollyhock

Black Magic Hollyhock

You have to know how to use black for the best effect. I like to place black flowers or foliage next to very bright intense colors, such as hot pink or lime green to get the biggest impact. The black color gives the eye a rest when you pair it with bright vibrant colors. If you place black plants next to darker hued plants, it just doesn’t work and the black color fades in the background. So use black carefully and site it with some thought.

Anvil of Darkness Iris

'Anvil of Darkness' Iris

‘Anvil of Darkness’ Iris

The bearded black Iris’s are particularly showy with the velvety falls of  black draped against the foliage.

Black and White Iris

Iris ‘Full Figure’

How to Use Black Well

Black plants can also echo other plants that have black stems, black venation or black undertones. I find that if you have a boring or blah border/container, black instantaneously ramps up the visual interest. It can become a focal point if you have a particularly beautiful black plant and enhances nearby plants.

Black in a container makes it stand out

The black foliage of ‘Purple Knight’ Alternanthera picks up the black venation of the petunias

There are all different hues and variations on black and sometimes the amount of sunlight a plant receives will affect the coloration. Also, juvenile foliage will generally be a darker, more intense, shade. In the plant trade describing many of the black plants, you hear adjectives such as chocolate, deep burgundy, midnight, dark purple, or coffee.

The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out

The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out and picks up the venation of the larger leaf

Jack in the Pulpits

Arisaema sikokanum with chocolate coloration

The Japanese Cobra Lily, Arisaema sikokanum, is an elegant cousin to our native Jack In The Pulpit. The spadix is a pure marshmallow white which gives the flower such great contrast.  It looks like a flower all decked out in black tie ready for a party. And the scarlet berries make this expensive plant worth the money for their multi-season interest.

An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit

An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit

Petunias

Black petunias don’t seem natural. But I really like their velvety texture and tones and the Black Phantom one is a stunner and has real ‘wow’ impact .  Many black flowers are black wannabees because they are more a dark purple, but the black petunias are closest to the true black color.

‘Black Phantom’ petunia

black Petunias

Black Petunia playing off of the black Phormium

Black Elephant Ears

Black Elephant Ears

 

Chocolate Ajuga used in a container

Black Sempervivum ‘Dark Beauty’

Black Parrot Tulip

Black Parrot Tulip

Black Hellebore

Black Hellebore

There are even black tomatoes

There are even black tomatoes

Posted in art in the garden, color in the garden, Plant portraits, plant profile | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Rotten Botany-Stinky Wonders of the Plant World

Corpse Flower in full bloom

Corpse Flower in full bloom

Blooming flowers brings to mind sweet-smelling blooms, not repulsive odors, but there are quite a few flowers that fall into the later category. Carrion flowers, also known as corpse flowers or stinking flowers, emit odors that smell like rotting flesh. The blossoms attract mostly scavenging flies and beetle as pollinators. So even the pollinators are odd and different. The flowers may even trap the insects temporarily to ensure the transfer of pollen. Attracting beetles, flies, and other pollinators is the purpose of the decaying flesh odor and without fail, the flowers are interesting and beautiful in their own unique way.

Bud of the Titan Arum

Bud of the Titan Arum

Titan Arum

The Titan Arum, Amorphophalus titanum, has a massive bell-shaped flower almost 9 feet in height, on record as the tallest flower in the world.   During bloom, the tip of the spadix which is the long structure emerging from the center, is around 98 degrees F, which helps the perfume disperse, which in turns attracts carcass-eating insects. According to Wikipedia, “Analyses of chemicals released by the spadix show the “stench” includes dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), trimethylamine (rotting fish), isovaleric acid(sweaty socks), benzyl alcohol(sweet floral scent), phenol (like Chloraseptic), and indole (like human feces)”. Quite a mix!

Titan Arum, from Wikipedia

Titan Arum, from Wikipedia

After flowering, a single shoot emerges in the place of the blossom, which is the size of a small tree, standing up to 30 feet tall and 15 feet across. The plant grows from a corm (like a bulb) which weighs up to 150 pounds and is native to the equatorial rain forests of  Sumatra. Imagine encountering this plant in the wild!

Titan Arum at Bayreuth University, Germany, June 6, 2015

Titan Arum at Bayreuth University, Germany, June 6, 2015

Growing for 7 to 10 years, before blooming for just 3 days, the flower will open quickly when it is ready, about 3 inches per half hour. Sought after by botanical gardens around the world because of the numbers of visitors flocking to see it, the flower is incredible in person. I had the opportunity to see it first hand at the Floral Showcase in Niagara Falls last summer and was blown away by the sheer size of the bud.

Closed bud of Arum Titan at Toronto Floral Showcase

Closed bud of Arum Titan at Toronto Floral Showcase

Stapelia

Stapelias are also known as carrion flowers and are small, spineless, cactus-like succulent plants. Usually grown as potted plants, the flowers are hairy and generate the odor of rotten flesh. The color of the flowers also mimics rotting meat, which again attracts flies and beetles-no surprise there! The flowers in some species are quite large, notably Stapelia gigantea which can reach 12 inches in diameter.

Stapelia gigantia

Stapelia gigantea

I have grown these for years as houseplants and the flies flock to the flowers when open and they really do stink with a foul odor.

Stinky Stapelia is a succulent

Stinky Stapelia is a succulent

Dutchman’s Pipe

Dutchman's Pipe

Dutchman’s Pipe

If you are looking for a striking vining plant, try a Dutchman’s Pipe or Pelican Flower (Aristolochia macrophylla) or Pipe Vine. The plant is a woody vine that produces flowers shaped like curved pipes and large heart-shaped leaves hardy to zones 8 to 10. Again, the flowers attract pollinating flies with their foul odor and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Usually growing 10 to 15 feet long, you need a trellis or other support. The large heart-shaped leaves alternate along a woody stem. Tinged a plum color with speckles, the flowers appear in late spring and early summer.

The flower uses an ingenious way for pollinators, usually flies, to enter and prevents the flies from exiting until the pollen actually has been released within the base of the flower. See this great video by Janet Draper, Smithsonian horticulturist explaining the mechanism.

Once used as an aid to childbirth because of its resemblance to a human fetus the appearance has led to another of the vine’s names, birthwort. Aristolochia  is a potent carcinogen and kidney toxin, so the plant is very toxic. But because of this property, the pipe vine is a host plant for many butterfly species, including the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, thus making themselves unpalatable to most predators.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail from Wikipedia

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Dutchman’s Pipe growing in greenhouse

Posted in Garden Oddities, Insects and butterflies, plant profile, Pollination | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Springtime Viola Basket

 springtime basket

Violas are my springtime favorite flower. Fragrant, happy faces gaze up at you and tell you that spring has sprung. These budget blooms come in a rainbow of hues, the usual blues, violets, and yellow- but also, browns, reds and burnt orange. Ease of growing in cool weather means that violas will pair well  with other cool season flowers, such as diascia, lobularia, lettuce, parsley, verbenas, succulents, and other early blooming annuals.

Violas and pansies in the greenhouse

Violas and pansies in the greenhouse

And fragrance! Most people don’t realize the perfume of lots of pansies and violas grouped together in mass. But the fragrance  is phenomenal.

A single variety of violas filling a pot can be beautiful

A single variety of violas filling a pot can be beautiful and fragrant

Violas play well with other plants

Violas play well with other plants

Pansies vs Violas

Many people get confused with the differences between these two very similar flowers. Pansies have a distinctive blotching that resembles a face. They also have more compact growth than violets and larger leaves with fewer and larger flowers.

Pink Pansy

Pink Pansy

Violas, often called “Johnny-Jump-Ups”, are more winter hardy and durable in the landscape, and I prefer them for their versatility. The flowers are smaller but more prolific and can cover the plant with color.  Many Violas have transitioned from the smaller Violas over the years to the beautiful large-flowered Pansy varieties through the efforts of gardeners and hybridizers. But I still love the Violas for their sheer number of blooms per plant.

Violas come in brown shades

Violas come in brown shades

Beautifully marked viola

Beautifully marked Viola

Viola Etain

Viola Etain

Violas

Unnamed Violas

Edible leaves and flowers high in Vitamin A and C, the Pansy and Viola flowers impart a strong flavor and are used to make syrups, flavored honey and as a garnish for salads. Go to my post on Edible Flowers for more information on how to use them.

An array of edible flowers

An array of edible flowers

Edible flowers garnishing a salad

Edible flowers garnishing a salad

Easy to grow in sun or partial shade with plenty of moisture, the plants will fade when the days get hot, so I enjoy them from March to June. In containers when they fade, I replace them with heat lovers, like lantanas and petunias.

Violas planted with lettuce

Violas and pansies planted with lettuce

Violas adding color to a planted table

Violas adding color to a Planted table

Centerpiece Magic

Using Violas or Pansies in centerpieces or as a hostess gift is easy. Start with a low tray; I used a narrow tin tray with shallow sides.

Long tin container

Long tin container

Once you remove your Violas from the market pack, slice off half of the root ball and remove some of the soil clinging to the root ball. This makes the task of fitting lots of plants for maximum color into the container easier.

Slice off half of the root ball

Slice off half of the root ball

Start filling the tin container with the Violas and pack them in tightly for maximum impact.

Start filling up the container with as many violas as will fit

Start filling up the container with as many Violas as will fit

Using green sheet moss, tuck this into all the nooks and crannies and moisten everything with a mister. Don’t water too much as there are no drainage holes and you don’t want the flowers to sit in a puddle of water. Start adding your accessories. For my basket handle, I cut some pussy willow and bent it into a handle shape and stuck the ends into the soil at each side of the container.

I used a rabbit wine stopper, fake wired butterfly, fake mushrooms, and a birds nest. For the handle I used pussy willow.

I used a rabbit wine stopper, fake wired butterfly, fake mushrooms, and a bird’s nest. For the handle I used pussy willow

Keep the planting medium moist- not sopping wet- and this centerpiece will last for 6 weeks or more.

Fill in with your accessories. I added the bunny last

Fill in with your accessories. I added the bunny last

Centerpiece done!

Centerpiece done!

Posted in Container gardening, gardening, Gardening crafts, Plant portraits | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Blue Poppy Envy

  Blue poppy

Only on display at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for two to three weeks, the Himalayan Blue Poppies are stunners and considered a rare garden treasure. Sporting deep sky blue crepey petals with mauve highlights and a ring of golden stamens and anthers, the plant is much sought after to add to gardens.

blue poppy

Unfortunately, in North America it can only be grown in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and parts of New England successfully. Meconopsis grandis is the national flower of Bhutan, a country high up in the Himalayas, above 10,000 feet, and wants cool, cool temperatures, like 45 to 50 degrees F. The conservatory at Longwood Gardens is certainly warmer than this so the flower is fleeting in its beauty.

One last petal hanging on

One last petal hanging on

Once considered a myth and brought back to the west by plant hunters, the Blue Poppy is a challenge to grow for the most experienced gardeners and a mark of distinction for any gardener succeeding in its cultivation.

On the cusp of opening

On the cusp of opening

Requiring moist and cool conditions, Longwood Gardens, one of the few places to see them, forces the variety Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ into bloom every March and increases their number each year because of their popularity.

blue poppy

Drawing large numbers of people, especially photographers getting that perfect shot, the colors are unbelievable-saturated blues with streaks of mauve plum tones on a large 4 inch flower.

Showing mauve highlights is a sign of stress

Showing mauve highlights is a sign of stress

A shade of blue rarely seen in other flowers,  the foliage is also stunning with grass-green hairy stems and leaves. Longwood Gardens gets their Blue Poppy plants shipped to them from an Alaska grower in the fall and they grow them in perfectly controlled greenhouse conditions to force them into bloom for display in the spring. Longwood has two different batches that it refreshes the flowers with so they can extend the brief bloom time for visitors.

Blue poppy

Growing in the warm clime of the conservatory, the mauve highlights were evident as a sign of stress. The ephemeral quality of their blooms is part of their attraction and charm and visitors flock to see them.

blue poppy

Demanding a rich loamy well draining soil in partial sun in cool conditions is the primary ingredient to successfully growing this garden gem. Way to hot in my mid-Atlantic climate, I get to photograph them and enjoy them at Longwood Gardens in the spring. For more information on how to grow them if you are in a better suited climate than mine, go to Himalayan Blue Poppy Care.

blue poppy

I would love to arrange with these flowers! Here is an arrangement of poppies-just not the coveted blue ones. For my post on growing cool season poppies, go to Cool Season Plants.

Poppies in container

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Bee Catnip-Mountain Mint

Bringing bugs into the garden is the new norm, not spraying with insecticides every insect that alights on a leaf. A sea change in how gardeners operate is in motion and most gardeners are embracing it with gusto. Seeing the Monarch numbers plummet recently has brought home the importance of home gardeners taking charge and embracing this change for the better.

Mountain Mint flower

Mountain Mint flower

Wildlife Value

Not all plants are equal in their ability to support pollinators with nectar and pollen. Penn State has conducted a series of trials on different pollinator plants that evaluated plants for their numbers of insect visitation as well as for their vigor and blooming. Go to their site at Penn State trials to check it out. Not only the number of insect visitors is important, but also the diversity.

I will be profiling a series of plants in the next year that are really important to pollinators- be it honeybee, native bee, hummingbird, beetles, butterflies, or flies. Top of the list is a little-known mint, called Mountain Mint which blooms for 15 to 16 weeks.

Early growth of Mountain Mint in the spring

Early growth of Mountain Mint in the spring

According to Penn State trials, overall, the single best plant in both 2012 and 2013 and 2014 for attracting both pollinators and total insects was Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum). A 30-inch-tall, wood’s-edge native perennial with grayish-green leaves and pale-pink summer flower clusters, it is hardy in zones 4 to 8. Originally discovered in Pennsylvania in 1790, this plant increasingly is being rediscovered by savvy gardeners and added to landscapes.

The sheer number of insects that you see on Mountain Mint is amazing; The entire plant buzzes

The sheer number of insects that you see on Mountain Mint is amazing; The entire plant buzzes

Uses

Mountain Mint is both edible and medicinal. Raw or cooked, the flower buds and leaves are edible and have a hot, spicy, mint-like flavor that makes a great spice or seasoning for meat.

An aromatic herb used in potpourri and as a bath additive, Mountain Mint will freshen laundry in the dryer. Thrown into a drawer, it will keep clothes fresh and moths away. Said to be a good natural insecticide, the dried plant repels insects but the growing plant attracts them! Containing pulegone, the same insect repellent found in pennyroyal, it repels mosquitoes when rubbed into the skin.

Mountain Mint positively dances with all the pollinators that are attracted to it.

How To Grow

Mountain Mint grows up to 2 to 3 ft. tall, usually branched on the upper half, growing from slender rhizomes (underground stems) usually in clusters. The lance -shaped leaves are 1-2 inches long and light green turning to almost white as the plant matures. Blooming in late summer to early fall, flat clustered flowers top the plant with 1/2 inch long pale lavender blooms. Gather tops and leaves when flowers bloom and dry for later herb use.

Not attractive to deer, Mountain Mint will also grow in tough dry shade conditions. Being a typical mint member, this mint travels! So, place it in an out-of-the-way place that it can run free.

Mountain Mint is one of the best nectar sources for native butterflies, and is a nectar filled landing pad for all pollinators.

Mountain Mint label at Heartwood Nursery

Mountain Mint label at Heartwood Nursery

Sources

Many good nurseries will carry this plant. Locally, you can find it at Heartwood Nursery , a great native plant nursery in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania. I found the plants on-line at The Monticello Shop in Charlottesville, Virginia, and even on Etsy and Ebay.

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Winter Aconites-The Bulb That Keeps Giving

Winter Aconites will push up through snow

Winter Aconites will push up through snow

Sunny yellow blooms fringed with a green ruff green poking through snow is my first sign that spring has sprung. Eranthis hyamalis, in the buttercup family, is a spring ephemeral, which means that it is a short-lived plant above ground with a burst of blooms, and then disappears, remaining under ground until next winter. The plant takes advantage of the deciduous woodland canopy, flowering at the time of maximum sunlight reaching the forest floor, then completely dying back to its underground tuber after flowering. So, for about 8 weeks starting in late February, I see the plant above ground, celebrate its arrival and the bees devour it! Flowering when little else is in bloom, the blossom is a very important nectar and pollen source for my honeybees. On a nice sunny day above 45 degrees in late winter, the bees are darting in and out of the blossoms, quickly taking advantage of the brief show of color.

Winter Aconites have a pretty green ruff surrounding the flower

Winter Aconites have a pretty green ruff surrounding the flower

Hard to start with dried corms which are a form of bulb, the plant is much easier to establish with “green” transplants. Know someone with a nice spread of these flowers? Then, bring your friend a gift and take some home for your own starters. I have often transplanted my plants to new locations so that the sunny yellow flowers are popping up all over my property.

Bees flock to the early offerings of nectar and pollen

Bees flock to the early offerings of nectar and pollen

I started my Winter Aconites with the tubers which resemble a dried pea by planting them one to two inches deep and waiting to see how many emerged. Only about 25% of the corms sprouted but that was enough to start my stock going for years to come as they will seed in. I have read that the little flowers can become invasive by reseeding in odd places, but I welcome all comers!  Such a cheerful little flower that is attractive to all pollinators is welcome in my garden anytime. A good companion to Snowdrops, Winter Aconites will live for years without any disturbance. The flowers push up through a stand of Germander and other thick ground covers and stick around for weeks, opening when the sun comes out, and closing when nightfall comes.

Snowdrops are good companion plantings

Snowdrops are good companion plantings

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Cool Flowers-Early Spring Bloomers

Nigella damascena or "Love-in-the-Mist"

Nigella or “Love in the Mist”

Beautiful poppy, photographed by Pam Corckran

Beautiful poppy, photographed by Pam Corckran

Early March is the time to sow your Cool Season Annuals as soon as the soil can be “worked”. This term is gardening slang for soil with a texture that is neither mud nor frozen! After determining that my soil was ready by drawing a rake through it, I gathered my cool season annual seeds together with plant stakes, sharpie for marking, and my favorite multi-bladed sowing rake. On the menu for sowing was Poppies, Bells of Ireland, Love-in-the-Mist, Calendula, Clarkia, and Larkspur.

Bells of Ireland are the green spikes in this floral arrangement

Bells of Ireland are the green spikes in this floral arrangement

Calendula seed packet on wooden stake

Calendula seed packet on wooden stake

Cool Season Annuals differ from annuals that you sow after the danger of frost is past because the seeds need cold temperatures to germinate and cool temps to grow well in the garden. When hot weather hits, they are history and I pull them out to make way for annuals that relish the hot weather.

Poppy

Poppy

An annual poppy blooming in June

An annual poppy blooming in June

Growing quickly in the cool temperatures of late winter and early spring, the cool season annuals are old-fashioned flowers that you would find scattered in an English cottage garden. Best sown outdoors, these flowers are frost tolerant and grow quickly to give you a much-needed dose of color after the long winter.

Clarkia, seen at Annie's Annuals in San Francisco

Clarkia, seen at Annie’s Annuals in San Francisco

Raking the soil with my sowing rake is the only preparation needed. I broadcast sprinkle the seeds as evenly as possible, using dry hands, then tamp down the soil firmly with the rake. Sprinkling the surface with bits of straw or leaves helps keep the soil moist and hopefully hides the seed from wandering birds. I spray a light mist of water on top to moisten the surface and wait with anticipation.

Sowing seeds with my favorite rake

Sowing seeds with my favorite rake

Popping up quickly through the leaf litter, weeding and sprinkling with water is necessary if we hit a dry spell. Then it is time for the color show! Cutting flowers from these early blooms make great arrangements in the house.

Calendula Simplicity Mix, from National Garden Bureau

Calendula Simplicity Mix, from National Garden Bureau

Poppy seed heads are great dried and used in arrangements

Poppy seed heads are great dried and used in arrangements

Nigella or Love-in-the-Mist seed pods are beautiful

Nigella or Love-in-the-Mist seed pods are beautiful

Double fringed peony

Double fringed poppy

I love the fringed poppies

I love the fringed poppies

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