February 26, 2012

Plant of the month: Astilbe

It’s almost the end of the month and I haven’t picked a plant of the month yet. This is a tough one because I have a touch of that nasty flu that’s going around. And most of my plants are covered with snow.

So in this situation, I decided to focus on a favorite plant that doesn’t bloom until early summer. Thinking about warm-weather plants seems therapeutic when winter has come late and then lingered too long. And the last thing I want to do is be outside in it for extended periods of time.

This particular plant disappeared from my garden a couple of years ago.

Astilbe, sometimes called False Spirea or Feather Flower was growing in my main perennial bed when we first moved here. But over time it was crowded out by other plants. It’s time to reintroduce it this year!

Astilbe prefers partial to full shade, according to Ohio State University. But honestly, in my experience it has grown better in dappled sunlight. I had a garden bed full of Astilbes at my previous garden, in a sunny bed of plants against the house. And here, in the deep shade part of my garden, it just didn’t thrive as well. When I plant it again, I’ll go with a spot that gets a little more sun.

Here’s what I like about Astilbe:

  • It blooms for several weeks during the summer months, but even when it’s not in flower, the foliage is among the most interesting of perennials.
  • Its blossoms are among the longer-lasting and interesting of cut flowers. If you clip it just before the blooms fully form, the flowers will last in an arrangement for more than a week.
  • Its distinctive feathery foliage provides interesting contrast to other plants around it.
  • Planted in the right spot, the plant can thrive for years with minimal care.
  • It fills a perennial bed with one- to five-foot vertical spikes of color and character.
  • It grows well in zones 4 to 9, in moist, well-drained soil but it tolerates some drought.
I’ve always loved Astilbe. Now I just need to find a better spot for it here.

February 23, 2012

Night shots of marshmallow snow

I wish I could post about Crocuses, Snowdrops, and Daffodils. But this is the scene in my garden tonight.

It's actually quite entrancing, and I'm sure it will be breathtaking tomorrow morning in the daylight. But I thought these night shots provided an interesting black and white, sepia-tinged contrast. I honestly didn't edit them much. They were shot at a slow shutter speed with backyard floodlights.

It's hard to believe the Redbud and Burning Bush that look like this tonight...

Will look like this come May...

February 21, 2012

A wedding planner’s dream

What did we do before iPads, Facebook, and Pinterest? Before that, how did we get by without email and the Internet? Seriously!

I didn’t “get” Pinterest until a few weeks ago. I’ve had an account for several months since Hanni’s (Sweet Bean Gardening) great review and invitation to join the fun. But I didn’t “get” it. I thought, “Wow, this is fun but I don’t have time for another social media site.”

Then one day I started thinking about floral arrangements—one of my other hobbies. And I realized Pinterest would be a fun place to look for inspiration. Boy, was it ever! In just one trip to Pinterest I found unique combinations of flowers and foliage in fascinating color schemes and creative arrangements.

That got me thinking about my own wedding bouquet—a lovely arrangement of Cymbidium and Dendrobium Orchids, delicate dusty pink Roses, and a touch of Asparagus Fern foliage.

We all have aspects of our weddings that fall a bit short of expectations (my cake), and others that exceed expectations (my bouquet).

With Pinterest, though—gosh, with the Internet in general—wedding planning would have been so much easier. The old-fashioned method was to call the florist (the church, the baker, the hall, etc.), arrange for a visit, look at pages and pages of pictures in sample albums, make choices, and then have faith that the flowers (and everything else) would match the vision.

Now, using Pinterest, you can line up dozens of bouquets side by side on a screen in the comfort of your own home—no paper images or printed photos required!

Pinterest has its issues, and we’re all trying to figure out how to use it ethically. But I think it’s here to stay. It’s an especially excellent tool for those of us visual people who like to really “see” things before we make decisions..and before we buy things.

OK, I admit I didn’t need Pinterest to have a perfect wedding bouquet…and a pretty decent wedding and marriage. But if anyone (kids? grandkids? friends?) ever asks me for help planning a wedding, I know where I’ll be spending a lot of time…

February 14, 2012

A change of plans in the terrarium

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my new terrarium, which still appears to be a healthy little ecosystem. But I had to make a slight change. After reading up on Phalaenopsis Orchids, I realized mine would be much happier outside the terrarium with more air circulation. The challenge: once again, keeping the cats away from the plant. The solution: a cage I'd been using to keep the cats away from my candles.

Removing the Orchid from the terrarium meant I needed a focal point to take its place. After plenty of "research" on Pinterest, I decided to go with a small gazing ball. (Actually, it's a repurposed Easter egg decoration, but you'd never know, right?) In any case, it fills the spot quite well.




Plus, now the Orchid is free and I can have a closed terrarium!

But now I need another cage or terrarium for my new Cyclamen plant. I don't want the cats to eat this beauty.

(Happy Valentine's Day and Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! And thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting the bloom day theme.)

February 11, 2012

To attract a gardener, grab a rake

I must have garden water features on my mind. After attending this weekend's Wisconsin Garden Expo, I came home to download my photos and a definite theme became apparent:

That last one even had koi fish in it.

The hubby spent a lot of time looking at ponds and fish tanks, so I'm thinking a water feature is definitely in our future. But one of these smaller ones might be more our speed.

But there were other highlights, too. We also took in the sights and smells of spring bloomers...

Giant Coleus plants with leaves the size of my hand...

Decorative garden leaf impressions...

And some pretty hanging vases...

But the funniest thing happened when we were just about to leave. We ran into a friend holding a high-quality rake, which spurred a discussion about the great prices on rakes. We ended up buying two rakes, ourselves, and then at least four or five people stopped to talk to us and ask about our rakes. "Why did you buy them?" they asked, or "What's with the rakes?" The hubby called them "chick magnets." But the truth is, guys were asking about them, too. Seems all you have to do to attract gardeners at a garden expo is hold a rake!

February 08, 2012

Nearly wordless: unprepared!

(I could have photographed this hoar frost for hours, but I was unprepared!  All I had with me during a brief lunch break was my late-model camera phone. Time to upgrade!)

February 03, 2012

A terrarium for every room

I planted a terrarium last weekend and the plants are still alive!

In fact, they appear to be thriving. Apparently everyone in the Madison area is doing the same thing—at least that’s what the sales clerk at the greenhouse told me.

And terrariums are making a resurgence nationwide, according to Better Homes and Gardens. Some of the benefits mentioned by various sources include their low maintenance needs, the fun of creating a micro tropical forest, and the low cost of the materials.

But one of the main reasons I decided to start one is my cats. Sorry to be gross, but one cat eats plants, and the other one eats the soil and uses it for certain unmentionable purposes.

Last winter, I longingly viewed pictures of beautiful houseplants on my favorite blogs, but I had to look the other way...because of my cats. Sure, I could put the plants up on a high shelf or a ledge. But that is so inconvenient for watering purposes, so over the years I’ve pretty much given up on houseplants.

Then about midwinter 2011, I watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about terrariums, and I started noticing them on blogs. A light bulb clicked on in my head and I thought:  “I can have my cats and houseplants, too! A closed terrarium will keep the cats out of the plants!” The idea percolated in my mind until spring, when I got busy with other things, and the list of excuses went on and on. Until last weekend, when I decided to just do it!

Before I describe the materials and the steps I followed to create the terrarium—which you can find very easily by Googling “terrarium” and “steps” or other similar words—I should share a few mistakes I made. Because most “how to” lists don’t mention those things, but they’re good to know.

First, plan in advance where you’ll get your plants. Shop around for a greenhouse or a florist that carries very tiny tropical plants. Or wait until spring or summer when annual seedlings are plentiful at garden centers. I stopped at four retailers before I found plants that would fit and thrive in a terrarium.

Next, make sure you have all the materials ready, or plan to spend a day or so shopping for them. Even though we had many of the items on hand, I still had to make a few extra trips for supplies.

Don’t plant a Phalaenopsis Orchid in a closed terrarium. The more I read about Orchids, the more I’m realizing they have different habitat needs than other terrarium plants. Phals need more air circulation, and the whole point of a closed terrarium is that you mist it at the beginning and then neglect it. No need to water a closed terrarium—for weeks on end!

Now here’s what went right for me, and here’s how it came together:


A large glass container with a lid. My hubby bought these for me, but you can use just about any glass container.

Small rocks and/or pebbles. Gather these from your yard or buy decorative ones from a craft shop. But don’t use beach rocks—apparently the salt kills the plants.

Activated charcoal. You can use acquarium charcoal from a pet supply store or borrow it from a spouse or friend who already has a supply on hand. Charcoal filters the terrarium air, and keeps the air and the soil fresh.

Potting soil. Any basic, quality potting soil will do. Most of us already have bags of it, right?

Sphagnum moss. I had a bag of it from a previous craft project, but you can buy it at greenhouses and craft stores.

Decorative rocks and figurines for the top of the terrarium. Again, craft stores should have plenty of these in stock.

The plants. Research this part in advance and, as I mentioned before, check around for suppliers.

A reliable water mister. As the terrarium gets established, it will need light misting a few times a week. If it’s an open terrarium it will probably need a weekly light misting. A closed one rarely needs it.

To pull it all together:

1. Select a location with bright, indirect light for your terrarium. We have an egress window that’s the perfect spot for a terrarium—lots of bright southern light, but it doesn’t shine directly on the spot.

2. Place small pebbles and rocks in the bottom of the container to a depth of about one to two inches.

3. Sprinkle a light layer of charcoal on top of the pebbles.

4. Add a layer of Sphagnum Moss to prevent the soil from settling into the rocks.

5. Add potting soil. It will settle a bit, but don’t fill the terrarium too close to the top—especially if you want to close the lid.

6. Place your plants in the terrarium! I planted Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum)…

English Ivy (Hedera helix)…

Tropical Yew (Podocarpus)…

Moon Valley (Pilea involucrate)…

Button Fern (Pellaea rotundifolia)…

and Miniature Phalaenopsis Orchid (Phalaenopsis sogo gotris ‘flora ark’).

7. Mist the works, place the top on, and enjoy! I've been misting mine daily because I have to leave the lid ajar for the Orchid.

But I’m thinking of pulling out the Orchid and placing it in its own open-air terrarium. Then I’ll have room for a Cyclamen! Maybe I should add a terrarium to the dining room, and the living room, and the family room…

(For more advice on starting terrariums, visit Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings. She’s a pro, and has a large collection of unique terrariums.)