Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gryphon Begonia: Grow it for its beautiful leaves.

If you have a fascination with begonia flowers, you may have wondered about what the flowers look like on a Gryphon Begonia. I've been asked a number of times about getting the Gryphon Begonia to bloom. The flowers of this plant are not showy. I am finally satisfied with knowing that this plant is gorgeous in leaf. I brought all four of my plants in over winter to see if I could carry them over to this growing season. Success! As the days have gotten warmer, my Gryphon Begonias began to bloom. Long, lanky, white flowers that didn't stand above the foliage. Still the flowers were very recognizably begonia flowers. Grow it for its beautiful leaves.

Gryphon Begonia flowers
Gryphon Begonia flowers

Update: April 6, 2012
If I hadn't seen this transformation myself, I would not have believed this was the same plant. It was very interesting to watch these flowers mature. The entire inflorescence is light and airy. The ovary on individual florets are rosy colored and winged. As the plant matures, the petiole (flower stem), and those wings become deeper red. Still not quite showy on the scale of what Begonia can be, up close these flowers are fascinating.

Read more about the Gryphon Begonia.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What's Growing on at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show

Agapanthus sculpture by Jenny Pickford
If you are planning on attending the Chicago Flower and Garden Show this year, you had better get a move on. There is just a few days left and the displays are inspirational. You will be greeted by an etched stone sign and a large sculpture of an Agapanthus made from steel and blown glass by Jenny Pickford, a U.K. artist and blacksmith, with a large green vertical wall as a backdrop. It is gorgeous and welcoming. With 26 gardens there are demonstrations for just about everybody.

Walk around and start looking at the details, and you'll see a lot of up-cycled materials like canning jars turned outdoor lighting. There are large brightly-colored containers used as accent pieces, and vertical gardens too. Outdoor seating displays are always big at the garden shows.

If you're not paying attention, you may be tempted to walk right past Garden 19, but make a point of stopping. It is a small two-part display. The section that really thrilled me, "Celebration of Succulents" by Craig Bergmann, shows a cascading quilt of succulents. A fantastic sight. One of the big trends this year will be increased use of succulents like Echeveria in gardens and containers.

For me, Garden 22 "Made for the Shade" is my kind of plant display. As a residential gardener with large old trees (with all of the shade that they can offer), I want ideas that I can bring home. This garden contained a mix of shade-loving evergreens, perennials, and bulbs that gave endless ideas for an attainable garden. Stop by and you will likely be able to talk to Todd Mohr or Rich Eyre of Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery Inc.

Garden 16 - Ribbon of Dancing Waters. Large silver maple trunks were used to build the pergola.

Days of Our Lives, Wedding
Dress of Chloe (Nadia Bjorlin)
In the center of the show room floor, is Garden 16, "A Ribbon of Dancing Waters." This was the best outdoor wooded setting. This demonstration garden had nine ponds, a rain harvesting system collecting and circulating that water, nice use of plants, and huge structures made from maple tree trunks.

If daytime soap operas are what really get you excited, you're in luck. The "Homestyle Drama from Days of Our Lives" is an interpretation of rooms from the show and the wedding gowns worn by your favorite starlets are on display for the duration of the show. Along similar lines were the collection of designs at "Design Over the Tabletop" of Garden 12. Many gorgeous vignettes of place settings, flowers, and vases from 12 different participants.

Shade garden showing a hemlock
Tsuga canadensis 'Pendula' in Garden 22
Table top place setting
Place setting from Garden 12: DotT: Design Over the Top
Kitchen setting with vertical garden over the sink. Garden 15
Vertical Gardens with upcycled palettes and Wooly Pockets
Up-cycled palettes into a living fence with Woolly Pockets.
Outdoor lighting made with mason jars
Up-cycled mason jars into chic outdoor lighting.
A cascade of succulents at Garden 19.

Go to the flower show and get some great ideas, attend the seminars, or pick up some deals from the vendors on the floor.  It's a good day for all.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Easy indoor plants: Agave

Spring will soon be on us, and I like to give the indoor plants a little freshening up before the garden calls. One of my favorite indoor plants is an agave. Agave, I've always loved them, but never thought I could take care of one. I was given the gift of an agave when I completed my Master's degree years ago.

Every year since then I give the plant a soak and a haircut. The rest of the year I let it go and grow with the occasional watering.

An unintentional diet plan. If you place the candy dish under the
spines of an Agave, you'll never want that candy again.

Why do I soak the plant? Agave really like arid soil or dry soil. The problem is that they still need water. Most of the soil sold for household plants holds too much water. You can over water pretty quickly.

In an effort to not over water, we water less. This causes the soil to dry out. Once this type of soil dries out, it begins to shed water instead of absorbing it. It becomes hydrophobic.

If you've ever watered a plant and watched the water roll right off the top of the soil, straight to the sides of the pot, and down into the pan (and probably all over your hardwood cabinet), then you understand how water resistant soil can become if it dries out too much. If you let the root system dry out too much the plant dies. Alternatively, if you over water a succulent, like an agave, it dies.

The real solution, the best solution, is to use a sandy soil that allows water to penetrate the roots, while not sticking around too long. Then, occasionally soak the roots. Give it a sunny location too.

To soak the plant, I take the whole plant out of the pot and stick it directly into a bucket (or the sink when no one is looking) of water and let the water fully saturate the soil. This process really helps revive the roots, and let the soil regain its water retention properties.

Agaves and other succulents are great. There are minimal pest problems. They have lots of different textures, lending themselves to great displays. Right now, succulents are super popular and therefore much easier to find a type that you really enjoy. The only caveat is many succulents can get much bigger than expected. Another tip, agave and other cacti can capture your attention while you are trying to handle them with their sharp spines or needles. Handle with care.

I don't have a full sun location in my house, and that's okay. My agave seems to tolerate moderate sun. It will flourish in full sun and an occasional watering, but it does well in my house, and life can be a bit harsher here than the natural environment for a plant. I really enjoy the plants that can endure without lots of TLC.
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