Monday, March 30, 2009

Holly bush in bloom

Last week took us by surprise.  We had been cruising along at Spring temperatures for a month or so, when a cold front moved through and dropped a bit of snow on us over the weekend.  We can have freezes up until mid-April in central Oklahoma, but the recent warm temperatures had tricked all sorts of plants into sprouting a little earlier than usual.  Saturday morning I took pictures of our tulips topped in snow.  That may happen elsewhere, but it hadn't happened here to my recollection.

Sunday morning was back to usual, with the sun shining and an afternoon high temperature of 65F.  Walking out to the car I noticed a wonderful fragrance of something blooming.  I looked around, trying to figure out what it could be.  The tulips are without scent and nothing else is really blooming right now.  The saucer magnolia was too far from where I was when I smelled the scent.  I mentioned it to my wife and she said she could faintly smell it.

Our red berry holly bush (Ilex cornuta) in the front flowerbed
I walked in and out of the house several more times before I pinpointed the location.  There were bees swarming around me as I walked down the sidewalk by the holly bush.  I must confess that I wasn't a big fan of the holly bush in our front flower bed for quite a while.  I trimmed it up in to a nice shape a couple of years ago and now it is kind of nice, especially with its red berries that seem to be there year-round.  It is an evergreen-and-red bush.  The leaves on this bush are downright vicious, especially once they dry out and turn brown.  You want to wear thick gloves when picking those up.

Bee at work on the holly bush blooms
I had never really paid much attention to the bush as it changes throughout the year.  I really had no idea that it blooms.  It's amazing how many things I miss and how the bees take notice to these same things.

A couple more bees at work
The blooms are not showy, nothing really to look at.  But, man, they really smell good!  I was surprised by this.  And the bush was just covered with bees.  I even saw a couple of flies on several of the clusters of blooms.

Fly at work on the holly blooms
Later in the day, my wife and I noticed that you could smell the bush from our front porch, about 15 feet away.  I'm not surprised that I missed this blooming event in past years, but I can't imagine how I missed the smell as I walked by.  This is definitely an event I will anticipate next year.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Plant Find: Ctenanthe from Australia!

Earlier this week, I wrote about a plant I was expecting in the mail from Australia.  Well, it arrived yesterday!  Here's the story:

Back in December I bought a plant at TLC that appeared to be in the Marantaceae family, but I didn't know the genus.  After doing some research online, I found a match.  My plant was a Ctenanthe lubbersiana (Ctenanthe 'Brazilian Snow').  I really like the Maranta family, as I have mentioned recently in a couple of posts, so I did some image searching for other Ctenanthes.  I came across a couple of Ctenanthes with very light white or gray tone leaves with the usual streakings of green and solid red underneath the leaves.  One particular image caught my attention on Flickr.

Ctenanthe in Australia - photo courtesy of Flickr user imbala
Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' in Australia - photo courtesy of Flickr user imbala

Going out on a limb, I sent a message to the image owner on Flickr and asked if they owned the plant and were willing to make a plant trade.  It turns out the owner lives in Australia and she was willing to trade with me.  Unfortunately, I didn't really have any plants that she was wanting, but I did have access to some plants that are a little harder to find in Australia, apparently.  I bought a package of 10 Caladium bulbs of varying colors and she dug up 5 of her Ctenanthe plants, trimmed away the leaves, wrapped the roots and stems in newspaper and boxed them up.  The trade was ready.

Package from Australia
We both carefully packaged our goods and sent them in the mail.  The Australian package arrived at my house yesterday!

The Ctenanthe plants were sent as roots only with a leaf and a bloom included so that I could see the plant in person before mine grows.

Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' leaf.  The top of the leaf looks almost grey in person.
I looked up the species name "setosa" in my Gardener's Latin book and found that setosa means "bristly or hairy."  I first thought this must be a poor name choice for this plant.  Either that or the word "setosa" must have another meaning.  It turns out the stems of this plant are much furrier than they look in the Flickr picture I had seen.

Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' roots with furry stems
The form of the blooms looks similar to some bromeliad blooms I have seen.  I think other plants in the Marantaceae family have this type of bloom.

Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' dried blooms
I potted three of the five rooted stems in a (unintentionally heavy) hypertufa pot that I made this winter in a mixture of peat moss, rich potting soil and vermiculite.

Three stems of Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star' potted in a hypertufa planter I made this winter
I potted the other two stems in a large round planter that was the former home of my Coconut palm tree.  I used a slightly sandier soil mixture in this pot with more potting soil than peat moss.

Two stems of Ctenenthe setosa 'Grey Star' potted separately
I can't wait to see my stems sprout and produce leaves like the ones in the Flickr picture.

Thanks a bunch Flickr friend! :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Staghorn bark basket

A couple of months ago I revealed my affinity for nice looking pieces of bark.  Recently I noticed that a piece of bark had fallen off of a stump in my backyard.  The stump was one of 8 sitting around our firepit.  During the winter of 2007 we had a really bad ice storm in central Oklahoma.  My wife and I went around town collecting nice stumps from our neighbor's curbs after everyone had done their chainsaw work.

The bark on one of the logs just didn't want to hang on.  This piece was much smaller than the subject of my previous post, though.  The piece measures about 12 inches long and about 6 inches across.  When I picked it up off the ground I thought it was kind of cool how it had held it's shape, curved around the trunk of the tree.  Even though it had fallen away, it was still firm and didn't feel like it was about to crumble.  So I figured I should save it for a project of some sorts.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across a broken plastic hanging pot with a metal hanger.  I pulled off the metal hanger, tossed the broken pot and went to look for my piece of bark.  About 5 minutes later I had punched three holes in the piece of bark and threaded the hanger through it.

Staghorn fern in plastic pot (boring) and bark with hanger threaded through punched holes
I decided my Staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) would be an excellent specimen for this hanging bark basket.  I plucked it out of its boring white plastic pot and stuck it in my new creation.  Then I added some good potting soil around the firm root ball and wrapped the top in Sphagnum moss.  I secured the plant and moss with string.  Maybe over time the Staghorn roots will cling to the bark and the string will be unnecessary.

Staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) hanging in a bark basket I created
What do you think of my creation?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Plants from afar

Someday I'll have grandkids.  That's quite a few years down the road, since I hear you have to have kids first.  Anyway, when I have grandkids I'll be able to say crazy things like "I remember when there wasn't an internet!"  And my grandkids won't even believe me.  They'll think I'm crazy.

The internet has changed so many things.  It has changed the way that most people (in affluent countries) live.  I can take pictures of my plants here in Oklahoma, upload the pictures on my computer, write some notes about them, and mere moments later someone on the other side of the world can read my notes, look at my pictures and comment back to me.

I was just discussing with my parents the other day about how you find deals on the internet on certain objects and pay less for them than you would in any store - even when you include shipping.  And because of the internet, you can read product reviews and feedback from others who have purchased similar items or worked with that seller before.  Certainly the internet falls short in several areas, but it has plenty of functionality that cannot be offered in other ways.

Whenever I have a question - about ANYTHING - I can go to the internet to find answers.  I understand that many times the "answers" are opinions, but it doesn't take long to know the difference.

Where am I going with this post?

Well, because of the internet, there are tropical plants headed my way from all over the world.  And they weren't very expensive.  One day I saw a picture of a cool plant on Flickr.  A couple months later and the Australian owner of the plant has put some offsets of it in the mail to me.  I should have them sometime next week.  In exchange, I mailed some bulbs to my new friend in Australia - and the shipping was less than $10!  There's no way I could find that plant for under $10 here at home.

A fellow plant blogger bought a hard-to-find plant at a local nursery a couple hundred miles away and will be sending it to me for the cost of the plant plus the price of shipping, because he knew that I was trying to find this specific plant.

I have another friend in Massachusetts to whom I will be sending some Aglaonemas as soon as the weather is nicer up in the Northeast US.

And this weekend I bought a plant from someone in Saipan, Mariana Islands on ebay.  Can you believe the shipping is under $6!?!  It's wonderful.  [The Northern Mariana Islands are located in the Western Pacific Ocean, north of Guam, south of Japan.  The Mariana Islands are a commonwealth of The United States.]

I won't reveal what all of these greats plants are yet - You'll just have to wait for pictures.  I should have several new plants in my possession over the next couple of weeks.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Little white firecracker: Bridalwreath Spiraea

I have sort of neglected The Variegated Thumb this week.  This doesn't mean that I wasn't constantly thinking about plants, though.  I was just really busy with work and other things.  But don't fear!  I'm not running out of content; I have plenty more.  The world surrounding me is sprouting green and purple and white and pink and yellow.  Right now the Redbud trees are absolutely gorgeous, at their fullest and deepest purples and pinks.  I'm taking lots of pictures and will be sharing them next month.

Last week I saw a bush in a neighbor's yard that I had never noticed before.  True to form, I started seeing them all over town.  After a little internet research and a tip from someone at the Name That Plant forum, the plant was identified as Spiraea prunifolia (Bridalwreath Spiraea).  In a way it looks a lot like the common flower arrangement supplement, Baby's breath.  The white flowers are small and round, borne on long, dainty stems.

Spiraea prunifolia in bloom
I have planted a small Spiraea planted along my blooming bush fence line.  I am calling it the "little white firecracker."  I like to use botanical names, but I also can't help from giving a plant a good nickname.  [After all, my dogs, named Pee-Wee and Pippa, are usually called Pig and Squeaks!]

My small Spiraea prunifolia along the blooming bush fence line
Soon this fence line will be a long row of pink quince, pink almond and white Spiraea.  I might even add a yellow Forsythia to the mix.

Spirea is in the botanical family of Rosaceae, which also includes my flowering quince bush (Chaenomeles speciosa), flowering almond bush (Prunus glandulosa), and flowering peach tree (Prunus persica).  There are 100-160 genera in the Rosaceae family with as many as 4,000 total species.  Of course, the most famous genus from this family is Rosa - commonly called the Rose.

FYI: Spiraea is sometimes (mis)spelled Spirea, but those two spellings refer to the same plant.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Funny quote from Planthropology

I have been reading a new book by Ken Druse called Planthropology: The Myths, Mysteries and Miracles of My Garden Favorites.  It's a fun read if you're a plant-aholic, like I am.  The book is a well-written hodge-podge of information and fascinating little stories about plants and how we, as humans, relate to them.  Tonight I was reading a section on medicinal plants and their potential lethality in large doses.  Ken writes that many plants with medicinal uses are fatal in large amounts.  Here's a passage that I particularly enjoyed:

By now, you are probably thinking about never venturing out into the garden again.  It's true that some plants make one sick if eaten, others cause a rash if touched, and several may even cause immediate and drastic results; I've heard, for example, that the first symptom of yew poisoning is death.

I thought that was an eloquent way of putting it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gardening preparation

This weekend the weather was beautiful.  Christie and I spent several hours outside, cleaning up our yard and preparing our side flowerbed to be a vegetable garden.  The flowerbed runs the length of the side of our house - about 2' by 20'.  It has been filled with daylilies for years, and since the flowerbed is not full sun, the daylilies have not been blooming, only multiplying.  We dug up about a third of the daylilies last year and tackled about half this time around.  So now there is just a small remnant of daylilies on the other side of the Nandina bush.

The side flower (soon-to-be-vegetable) bed after having the daylilies removed
We have been transplanting the daylilies to a very sunny location at my wife's parents' business - the Thunderbird wedding chapel.

The Daylilies ready to be transplanted
Our vegetable gardening plans for this year consist of potatoes in this side bed with a self-pollinating kiwi vine growing up trellis mounted on the wall.  We are also going to plant tomatoes in pots so they can be moved to the sunniest locations.  And I think I will try growing broccoli in pots this year, too.  I might try making the plantings ornamental, with some flowers around the broccoli plants.

We bought our first seed potatoes, but decided not to plant them yet since there are more freezing nights in this week's forecast.  The two potatoes I bought are Red La Soda and Red Norland.  I think I would like to buy a large white potato variety as well, but there weren't any available this weekend.  I had planned on ordering my seed potatoes, but when I saw these in the store, I realized I could save a heck of a lot of money by buying them here.  I spent 93 cents on my two seed potatoes.

Red Morland and Red La Soda seed potatoes
I've got lots of cooking plans for my potatoes, so I hope they produce well for me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Everything in bloom

I walked, I cycled, I drove - all over town this weekend.  Everywhere I went I saw trees and bushes covered in white, yellow, pink and purple blooms.

Here at my house there are quite a few sights to see.  In the front yard our Saucer Magnolia and Peach Tree are blooming.  The Saucer Magnolia looks about the same as last year, so I won't post any new pictures.  The Peach tree has grown a lot since last year, though.

Flowering Peach tree - Prunus persica
I love the two different bloom colors on this one tree.  One is a solid magenta and the other is a very light pink with occasional streaks of magenta.

Peach blossoms
In the backyard, our quince and daffodils are still blooming.  Also, the Redbud trees have just started to open.  [I have plans to post more about our Oklahoma Redbuds next month - on Arbor Day.]

Last year I dug up several offshoots from our huge flowering quince bush and planted them along one of our fence lines, with the hope that someday we will have a solid pink hedge along that fence.  The transplanted offshoots are putting out new leaves, but no blooms this year.

Along the same fence I planted a short stem of a flowering Almond bush that my mother-in-law gave me from her bush that was damaged last year.  I was shocked this weekend to see that not only did it survive the transplant and the winter, the tiny stem is blooming!

Pee-Wee volunteered to pose next to the Almond bush (Prunus glandulosa) for size comparison. Note: Pee-Wee is tiny. Inside the tomato cage is a tinier bush.  See the next image.
Buds on my tiny Flowering Almond bush - Prunus glandulosa
Apparently this little bush is happy, since it is putting out blooms at such as small state.  I'm looking forward to seeing this bush grow over the summer.

Stay tuned for more blooming updates.  I have some Redbud pictures and an unidentified white bush to show.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rudbeckias on the mind

I don't mean for this post to be an advertisement (for any particular magazine or plant vendor).  I'm just excited because I received my first issue of Fine Gardening today and already found something of infinite worth in it - a plant for my corner garden.  My wife got me the Fine Gardening subscription as a Valentine's gift after I devoured a free issue that I received.  The first issue of my annual subscription arrived today.

Just a couple pages into the magazine I was stopped dead in my tracks by a photograph of a flower unlike any I had seen before.  It had the common Daisy/Gallardia-type look to it, but the color... that was a different story.  Anything but ordinary, the center of the flower was a purplish blue.  The petals faded from almost black at the center to a glowing amber at the tips.

I quickly went to my computer and found the website of the grower - Bluestone Perennials.  But it took some time before I discovered the name of the flower that had caught my attention.  There are thousands of plants for sale on Bluestone's website, but nothing was going to stop me from finding the gem I had seen in the magazine.  [Can you believe they didn't mention the name in the advertisement?  Maybe that is their way of getting you to spend time on their website and find other plants you want to buy.  That's actually a pretty good marketing scheme.  It worked on me.]

After seeing a flower with similar form and a dark center, like the one I had seen in the magazine, I was pretty sure that the plant was from the Rudbeckia genus.  Doing a search for Rudbeckias brought up all sorts of flowers that I wanted to plant - including the one for which I had been searching.

Rudbeckia hirta Moreno - Gloriosa Daisy, Coneflower
Rudbeckia hirta 'Moreno' - Gloriosa Daisy, Coneflower - courtesy of Bluestone Perennials.
I was very excited to see that not only is my zone listed in the plant's description, my zone is in the middle of the pack.  That's good news.  I didn't want to be on the cusp of being able to keep these flowers.  I would like them to flourish.

My mom used to grow some cornflowers that were very pretty and came back each year from seed.  Apparently there are four related genera of plants that use the common name of coneflower, and who knows how many species for each of those genera.

I think the plants my mom grew were from the genus Echinacea and are generally much taller (around 3-4 feet in height).  On average, Rudbeckias tend to be 1-2 feet in height.  At least that is what I am seeing in my preliminary research.

The particular plant that I am interested in is a color cultivar of Rudbeckia hirta.  The common Rudbeckia hirta is known as the Black-eyed Susan - a well known, and rather ordinary-looking, yellow flower.  They are pretty, but I want something in my garden that pops - something that stands out - something that people have not seen before.

I have never seen any flower with this coloring before.  I'm hooked.  I'm already trying to figure out how many of these I can afford to purchase.  Here is another color variety that caught my eye:

Rudbeckia hirta Cherry Brandy
Rudbeckia hirta 'Cherry Brandy' - Gloriosa Daisy, Coneflower - courtesy of Bluestone Perennials.

This variety is a little bit taller, reaching as much as 2 feet in height.  As I noted in my new year's resolutions post, my corner garden needs some attention this year.  I would like to plant both of these in that garden, adding a splash of red and purple and a splash of orange and purple.

What do you think?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Plant Find: Calathea, Marantas, and Stromanthe

I am fond of plants from the Marantaceae family.  This family includes several genera that are common houseplants, including Calathea (peacock plants) and Maranta (prayer plants), as well as the less common Ctenanthe and Stromanthe.  There are actually about 30 genera in this family, but those 4 are the only ones with which I am familiar.

Generally, plants from this family are grown for their striking colors.  One of the features I enjoy is watching how all of the new leaves unfurl.  Also, mature leaves will retract whenever they dry out.  Marantas tend to fold in half (like praying hands), while Calatheas roll into a scroll.

Last week I added 3 new plants from this family to my collection.  I found a Calathea at Lowe's for $5 and it was a color variety that I had never seen before.  I figured I should snatch it up in case I never saw it again.  You know how that goes.

Peacock plant - Calathea roseopicta 'Saturn'
When I found myself driving through north Oklahoma City last Tuesday, I decided I should probably stop by my favorite plant nursery, TLC Florist and Greenhouses.  As usual, they had a couple of great plants for a mere $2!  I bought 2 different Marantas.

Prayer plant - Maranta leuconeura
Marantas have a wonderful, delicate feel.  They are fairly sensitive to soil moisture levels.  I try to not let the soil ever dry out.

Red-veined Prayer plant - Maranta leuconeura erythroneuro
Back in January, I added 2 other plants to my Marantaceae collection.  One is Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar', which I found for a very reasonable price at Lowe's.  It is a beautiful tri-colored plant that I saw in bloom at the Myriad Gardens last week.

Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar'
The other plant is a Ctenanthe, which I got at TLC Florist and Greenhouses.  In case you missed my post about TLC, you can see the post here and the photo album here.

Ctenanthe lubbersiana
I will probably post a more thorough guide to plants from the Marantaceae family in the next couple of months.