Friday, November 28, 2008

11 minutes with Ken and Vicki

I was very excited (and scared to death) when I was invited to be a guest on Ken Druse and Vicki Johnson's radio program/podcast "Real Dirt". The interview was a blur and seemed to go by really fast and all I could think about afterward was what I should have said and what I should not have said! We discussed gardening in Alabama and talked a lot about roses. Ken and Vicki were super nice and if you haven't listened to their program, all past and present episodes can be accessed on their blog. My segment should be on the November 29th episode.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving blooms for you

Happy Thanksgiving! It is a sunny day with temperatures in the 60s here although it is still chilly inside the house (the disadvantage of living in a big old drafty house).

Our Thanksgiving cactus is so beautiful this year that we placed it in the center of our kitchen island. These beautiful plants (Thanksgiving Cactus, Christmas Cactus and Easter cactus) are members of several closely related species in the genus Schlumbergera. Which one do you have? Take a look at the leaves for guidance. Thanksgiving cactus have sharp pointed notches on the edges of the leaves whereas the Christmas cactus has rounded notches. The Easter cactus also has sharp notches but also have tiny hairs as well. They originate from the mountains of Brazil where they grow as epiphytes.

Despite being called "cactus," they are not treated as such. They require regular watering and consistent moisture levels. Good drainage is essential however as they will die from root rot if forced to endure soggy soil. A cactus soil mix is a good medium to use if you are potting up new ones. They will grow happily outdoors in partial shade and should be brought inside during the fall. Weekly fertilizing during the spring and summer months is recommended although not essential.

The changes in temperatures will cause the plant to set blooms. Night temperatures in the upper 50s and lower 60s for 6-8 weeks is needed. Darkness is also a critical factor and if you can't provide the temperature requirements, simply put the cactus in a completely dark environment (like a closet) for 12 hours every night for several weeks. When the plant starts to bloom, place it in a spot with bright indirect light. Avoid full sun and extremely warm areas. Flowers and buds will drop in warm areas or from lack of water. Keep watering the plant until the flowers are gone, then withhold water for six weeks or so and give the plant a rest.

The holiday cactus is a long-lived plant and can easily live for decades. Pruning can be done in June to make the plant bushier and increase bloom count. To do this, cut off two or three segments from each leaf stem. These can be easily rooted by placing them in a light planting medium (1/2 perlite and 1/2 peat moss is a good mixture). Place the cuttings half the depth of the first segment and water lightly. They will wilt but should eventually perk up as the cuttings take root. After that, treat it like you would a mature plant.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dreaming of roses

The bloggers at Gardening Gone Wild have asked their readers to submit their thoughts on roses for the month of November. Since the rose is my favorite flower, I am happy to oblige.

Our first garden was a tiny plot behind a tiny apartment down the street from where we presently live. I’m guessing that it was about forty feet wide and twenty feet deep. It was our first home and my love of gardening began there. Browsing through catalogs, I was always drawn to roses. I made a bold notion to order a selection of ‘Europeana’ and ‘Iceburg’ roses from Wayside Gardens and alternate them around the back porch and patio area. Lo and behold, they lived and were absolutely beautiful the years we lived there. It is odd that I haven’t been able to grow a decent ‘Europeana’ or ‘Iceburg’ in our present garden. Hmmm

I started out with hybrid tea roses because that is what our local nurseries sold. At the time, I knew little about old roses. I was drawn, however, to large displays of roses. I liked seeing climbing roses draping over archways and big billowy shrub roses spilling out onto pathways. I wasn’t very fond of the stark thorny canes of hybrid teas although the blooms were of course very lovely. I liked roses that were so dense that you couldn't see the individual canes. I also soon discovered that hybrid tea roses were very demanding and required constant pruning, fertilization and spraying to keep them looking their best.

Fortunately, I learned that there was an alternative for rose lovers who didn’t want to spend their gardening time behind a face mask roaming the garden with a sprayer in hand. Old roses, or antique roses, were easier to grow and better yet, they had that opulent look that I so loved. Of course they don’t bloom all summer like hybrid tea roses, but I grow so many other plants that I can overlook that discrepancy. I started buying roses from mail order catalogs, like the Antique Rose Emporium and Chamblee’s Nursery, and pretty much went wild over roses.

I would be lying though if I said that all of the older roses are easy and carefree to grow. A lot of them are, but I have found quite a few duds over the years as well. I’ve learned that the best thing to do is try one and if it doesn’t perform, shovel prune it and replace it. I can always find another rose variety that I want to try.

There are different types of old roses and some do better than others in our southeastern climate. As a general rule, the Gallica and Centifolia roses do not perform well here and get blackspot as bad as hybrid tea roses. They are better suited to cooler climates. I have found that Noisettes, Hybrid Musks, Polyanthas and the old Tea Roses perform the best in our garden.

A garden is ever changing. We started out with tons of sun, which roses love, but over the years the trees that we have planted have grown significantly and the garden is shadier. As a result, many of the roses have suffered. I am constantly moving roses here and there so that they get the sunniest exposures. This factor has also led me to grow more hybrid musk roses, which are more tolerant of shade than other roses.

Beginning in late April and extending through May, the roses are at their peak. The scent is overwhelming and it is the first thing that visitors comment on. It is truly a magical time. Walking through the fragrant garden with cascades of colorful blossoms surrounding me is my ideal of paradise.

Someone just reminded me that I didn't mention any of the roses that I've shown. Sorry about that! The top photo is "Veilchenblau" one of my all-time favorites. It only blooms once a year but when it does, it is magnificent. The second photo of the rose behind the urn is another of my favorites - "Buff Beauty". The buds start out a deep apricot and open to lemon yellow before fading to a pale blush color. The color range is incredible and since the buds open at different times, you can see all the color variations at once. This is a big rose and one of the few in the garden that has an open spot to grow to its full potential. It is about 8 feet wide and 6 feet tall.

The third photo shows the pergola on the left which is covered with various roses. It is hard to see the details here but in view are "New Dawn," "Reve D'Or," and "Francois Juranville." The rose next to the bench in the fourth photo is "Robin Hood". This easy-to-grow and trouble-free rose is one that I frequently recommend to beginning rose gardeners.

The fifth photo of the pink rose growing on the arch is "Climbing American Beauty." Again, it only blooms once per year but when it does, watch out! In the next photo, you can get a glimpse of "Buff Beauty" again. The huge rose next to the bench in the sixth photo is "Moonlight" which is a hybrid musk rose. The final photo features "Buff Beauty" again as well as "Rambling Rector" growing on top of the pergola. You may recall my previous post about my battle with this monster rose! It is one of few roses that I've regretted planting.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Last blooms

The growing season is drawing to a close here in north Alabama. The temperatures have been dipping near the freezing mark all week and a frost is sure to come this week. Yesterday seemed like a January or February day with dark skies, wind and rain. Heavy black clouds made me think that it could snow.

Today though was sunny but cold. We took advantage of the day to get the leaves up (we are amazed at how many there are), put away the fountain pumps and disconnect the urn fountain. A few flowers and bright autumn colors are still lingering -

A shasta daisy (above) still looks fresh, oblivious of the cold weather.

Hydrange blooms can take on interesting hues in cooler temperatures. This is "Charm" and "Blushing Bride" -

The leaves of the oakleaf hydrangea are always spectacular in the fall months -

The Japanese maples are still beautiful. I don't know the name of this one. It is only about two feet tall.

This aster, named for garden designer Ryan Gainey, wasn't as pretty as it usually it this year. The color was all washed out and the blooms were somewhat puny.

There are other flowers, like roses, salvia and camellias that are blooming but I didn't have time to photograph them but most of those were featured in last month's bloom day post.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Napping under maples

Someone once expressed a lack of appreciation for Japanese Maples to garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence to which she replied, "Then you have never crawled underneath one on an October day."

Try this sometime - I think she has a valid point.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The colors of autumn

Reds, yellows and oranges are blazing throughout the garden. The fall color seemed to arrive suddenly this year. I just wish it could last longer. It won't be long before colder temperatures will rip away this colorful tapestry.

The crepe myrtles are lovely this time of year. This one, "Muskogee", is at the entrance to our driveway. It was a foggy morning when I took this photo.

That same afternoon, the sun was setting and lit up the tree like it was on fire. I ran to grab the camera to get this shot -

Another colorful crepe myrtle is "Natchez" which is right outside the bedroom window.

Chinese Pistache is a small tree that seems to be gaining popularity. They are planted alongside one of our major roads here in Florence. Ours grows by the patio.

What would autumn be like without maple trees? These leaves are from 'Autumn Blaze' which lives up to its' name.

The Japanese Maple 'Sango-Kaku'

A trio of colorful trees - Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus), Dogwood and Crepe Myrtle.

The most colorful grass in our garden is Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi' hasn't been as floriferous this year but still commands a lot of attention.

A few mums still holding on

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” - Stanley Horowitz

Monday, November 3, 2008

Home again

We are back home from a weeks' vacation in sunny Florida. This year there were no cloudy days. It was a tad cold in the evenings and mornings but the temperatures quickly warmed up in the lower 70s - perfect for lying out in the sun. The above photo is of the sunset on the first day we arrived.

And here is sunrise on the first morning.

Unfortunately we didn't have a good view of the sunrise this year because there were buildings in the way. I'm usually still asleep anyway at sunrise but Michael said he missed it watching it.

This was our sixth year to visit the Florida panhandle. We always stay in the same general location but not the exact same place. This year we were near Rosemary Beach and the Seacrest area. For the first time, we rented a little house instead of a condo. The furnishings and decor may not have been as nice as a condo but the privacy and location were absolutely wonderful. It ended up being our favorite place so far. Here is a side view of the house, a pathway leading to the patio overlooking the beach.

The house sat on a bluff. We couldn't see the beach unless we walked to the edge. Instead, there were uninterrupted views of the sea. The sky was crystal clear with no clouds at all. In fact, we didn't see a cloud until the middle of the week and it was just a small cirrus cloud.

The house was surrounded by hedges which I loved. They were a bit unkempt as you can see below. This is the driveway entrance.

Michael was making fun of me and rolling his eyes because on the first day I was pulling out weeds along the boardwalk leading to the beach. I just couldn't help myself! Most of the plants in the area were palms, grasses, sea oats, and holly. This yellow flower was all over the place - a goldenrod? I wasn't sure. I would sit on the patio and daydream about how I would landscape the place if it were mine.

We walked down the beach where the houses got bigger and bigger.

We wanted to get a closer look at this one. The photos do not do it justice - it was massive and mostly glass. We imagined who might live here - a record executive maybe or perhaps the guy who owned the land that became the Seaside community?

October is always a good time to go to Florida if you like peace and quiet. There are not many kids around and this year, it seemed especially quiet. We practically saw no one and often had the beach to ourselves.

Someone had propped up this dead tree and when we did see people, they were usually sitting by it.

One of our favorite places to visit is Eden State Park. This was a former estate owned by a timber farming family. They donated the house and grounds to the state of Florida. There is a large collection of camellias here but unfortunately, I didn't see any blooming on this trip.

The Spanish moss was beautiful -

We saw dolphins Thursday afternoon -

I also enjoy watching the cranes -

We didn't have plans for Saturday, our final day, so we decided on the spur of the moment to drive to Niceville (about 10 miles away) to visit the Rocky Bayou State Park. When we got there, we discovered that they were having something called Pioneer Day (this kind of thing always happens to us!) We did manage to escape that excitement though and walk one of the trails. One thing I've discovered about Florida's state parks is that they all pretty much look the same. The only trees you see are pine trees and the undergrowth consists of palm type plants and grasses. This park though was covered by reindeer moss. They were all over the ground and resembled Spanish moss that had been wadded up.

The bayou was very pretty -

Ah yes, another pine tree -

Look at the roots!

Back to the beach for one last sunset -

Goodbye palm tree! Until next year -

It is back to the real world! I'm a little browner and a little bigger (there are lots of good chocolate shops down there!). So it is time to hit the gym and start the diet.

We returned to see some fall color in Alabama! It was cold here while we were gone and there was a slight frost. I will photograph some fall color in the garden for my next post.