Neon continued!

I’ll follow Bert’s highly informative, thought-inducing post with something not statistically significant. Hey, it’s summer.

My last post on ultra-bright “neon” plants had a comment from Sarah…

“I saw some iresine in a local garden center the other day, sun coming
through it at just the right angle, and the shade of blazing pink that
came through was basically every Barbie accessory I ever had. It just
seemed wrong somehow. Took a picture of it with my phone.” 

Aside from a hilarious (and insightful) comment, she included a URL to her photo.

It’s so good I had to post it. The pink plastic-y glow is amazing.

Fab photo by Commenter Sarah of Iresine herbstii – chicken gizzard plant

I had to greatly lower the resolution so that the system would let me post it. At full size and resolution, it almost hurts to look at it.

Incidentally, I’ve always thought “chicken gizzard plant” was a bit of a misnomer. I’ve seen really fresh chicken gizzards, and Barbie would NOT want accessories in that particular shade.


Neon for your garden

Was wandering through Target on Monday for the first time in months.

Helloooo!? The 80’s called and wants its neon crap back.

Didn’t care for it then and certainly don’t care for it now. Though there is the increased safety factor of being highly visible at all times, whether in sunglasses or underwear.

But never mind my lack of style.

It made me think about a few plants that, if the light is right, certainly display that glowing, saturated color, found in the “Astro-Brite” pack of copy paper usually reserved for yard sales and such.

Close to dusk, the Kniphofia uvaria ‘Echo Mango’ in our garden stands out from 100 yards away.  Bred and selected by Richard Saul of Atlanta’s ItSaul Plants Inc., it is one tough perennial, taking heat and humidity with aplomb.

My experience has been one big early summer flush of blooms, with some significant reblooming until frost.  Best in full sun, it’s also drought tolerant and cold hardy to USDA Zone 5. It doesn’t get whopping huge like some other Kniphofia do – stays a nice manageble size, topping out at 3′ to 4′ tall.  ‘Echo Mango’ (or any other Red Hot Poker) adds a terrific bit of vertical interest to an otherwise mound-y mixed border.  Best with fellow warm colors. Pink, not so much.

‘Echo Mango’ = glowsticks!
Achillea ‘Paprika’ doesn’t go so well with it.  Mental note to relocate it in fall.

You can almost hear the sound of space lasers…
Eeee-yoooooo-eeeee-yoooooo…or maybe that’s just me.



Sheep-eating flowers?!

I was planning to follow up on Jeff’s phosphorus post with a bit more “phun with phosphorous.” However, I was completely derailed by Ray Eckhart’s message and link left for me on our GP facebook page with this headline:

RHS ‘sheep-eating’ plant about to bloom in Surrey

“The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) at Wisley said the Puya
, a native of Chile, would bloom in the next few days and last
about a week.

In the Andes it uses its sharp spines to snare and trap sheep and other animals, which slowly starve to death.”

“The animals then decay at the base of the plant, acting as a fertiliser.”

[Dear BBC News: “Snare” and “Eat” are not really interchangeable]

How…have I not heard of this before.

I’ve posted previously on my Puya fixation. I asked readers to bet on how long it would take for me to kill my wee Puya bertoniana, mail-ordered from Annie’s Annuals.  I am happy to report that it made through the winter (greenhouse) and is now sunning itself on our deck.

Now this really ups the ante – it captures sheep!  Maybe P. bertoniana isn’t as robust as P. chilensis though. Perhaps…a vole or rabbit?


Mosses are soft, green, and tough as nails, as shown in a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (prestigious, high impact journal with a rather unfortunate acronym).

Dr. Catherine La Farge and associates, from the University of Alberta, visited a remote glacier on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut while studying the wild, wide world of arctic bryophyte systematics. Bryophytes are ancient, non-vascular, non-flowering plants – mosses and liverworts, mostly.

Long story short, they harvested bits of moss that had been trapped in ice for about 400 years and were now exposed. Several species were collected, taken back to the lab, ground up, placed on growing media in a growth chamber, and they soon had mosses galore. 

This is fascinating on several levels, as pointed out by the authors.  One is the power of totipotency – the ability of a cell to “de-differentiate into a meristematic state that can then reprogram the cell for development of the organism”  a la stem cells.  Another is the mosses’ ability to “shut down” when dry and “revive when conditions are favorable” (like not frozen in ice for 400 years?!)

The article also graphs the disturbingly accelerating rate of retreat of the Teardrop Glacier, where the mosses were collected. Aargh. The window of favorable conditions may not be open long for these little wonders.

Valentine’s in May

Lamprocapnos spectabilis (the species formally known as Dicentra
) is an easy, tough, arctic-hardy, spring-blooming perennial
that always makes me happy. I’ve posted previously about the wonders of
‘Gold Heart’ – all the screaming yellow foliage you can stand, topped
with magenta flowers.

Last fall, I’d finally gotten my mitts on a hard-to-find one named ‘Valentine’.  Already dormant in the pot, I planted it with hopes that it would somewhat resemble the tag photo (and hype) as I’d not seen it in person. What a treat when it finally unfurled last week…woo hoo!

Pride of Place Plants is the introduction and marketing firm (“plant sports agents” as I call companies like this. Pun intended).   According to Pride of Place, ‘Valentine’ (USPP22739,COPF etc.) arose as a chance seedling in the garden of Phyllis and Lyle Sarrazin, Prince George British Columbia, Canada.

This is a true “color break” for the species.  The heart-shaped flowers glow fluorescent red, and the dark red stems really pop against the rest of springtime’s green. Keep it away from pink stuff, though. Yeek.

Possibly available at a fine independent garden center near you; or through mail-order – I know Plant Delights Nursery carries it.

A Real, Live, Learning Experience

What a crazy spring! But it finally, finally came here to the Blue Ridge Mountains (Linda Chalker-Scott refers to them “speed bumps”).

My Ornamental Plants Production & Marketing class has been at work since early February, growing plants and marketing them at the Hort Club Plant Sale as part of their lab experience.  Of course, they are completely at my mercy as to what they get to grow (bwuhh ha ha *evil hand wringing*).  And due to their professor being a complete plant dork, they wouldn’t know a potted mum if it hit them upside the head. Not that there’s anything wrong with mums.  But with so much fabulous stuff to choose from – they can just look that mum crop protocol up in a book if the need arises.  They do get to experience a few zonal geraniums, but that’s only because the University’s past-President buys 50 red ones from us every year.

So what do they grow? Fabulous goodies you could never, ever find at a garden center in SW Virginia.  Variegated Manihot esculenta. Dr. Cho’s newest Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ (gloss black with deep blue veins).  Awesome landscape begonias such as ‘Gryphon’ and ‘Santa Cruz Sunset’. Fun annuals like Torenia and Osteospermum. Fifty-two different things – fairly ambitious, considering there are only 11 students.  We fill a 40′ x 80′ house plus two “research” greenhouse sections that I commandeer the moment they come available.

My production students always start out the semester rather tentative, and then get more engaged as time goes on.  We do a 2.5 day field trip across the state to visit top greenhouses, nurseries, and garden centers in early April.  My gang comes home with a real appreciation of the hard work and long hours required to be successful; more important, perhaps, is their exposure to the tremendous passion and enthusiasm of the people in the business, many of who are alumni of our department.

SO…thirteen weeks later, we have greenhouses crammed full of really great plants,a bunch more ordered in from top area nurseries, an enthusiastic mob of customers with pent-up plant lust, and some very proud students.

And that’s the best part – the students get to/have to work with (gasp) the PUBLIC.  Very disconcerting for some of them. The Plant Sale Chair for the club, who is also in my class, is a terrific student but a bit shy.  Of course, he got the loudest customer of the day. She hollered  “Hey, boo boo! Tell me about this plant! Sez here you grew it!”  Ten shades of red later… I thought he was going to faint. But he did regain his composure and helped her with some other things.  He also made me promise to never, ever tell his classmates what she called him.

But you’re not in my class 😉

Here comes “boo boo” with his very nice Cissus discolor (Rex Begonia Vine).
Names withheld to protect the totally embarrassed.

Scientists Put the Dog in Dogwood

(special guest post by/with permission of good friend Mr. John Friel, marketing manager for Emerald Coast Growers – Holly Scoggins)

How do you recognize a dogwood? By its bark.

That old joke might not be a joke anymore, if the innovative folks at Metamorphic Agriculture Developers (MAD) get USDA approval for a new line of ornamental and functional shrubs that blur the line between the animal and vegetable kingdoms.

MAD scientists claim to have successfully introduced genes from Canis familiaris into a cultivar of Cornus canadensis. In other words, they’ve crossed a creeping groundcover dogwood with … a dog. Specifically, a dachshund.

“Imagine a guard dog that you never have to feed, license, or walk,” enthused Dr. Horace Sass. “Imagine a shrub that not only beautifies your home but guards it when you’re away,” adds his colleague, Dr. Ariel Sturgeon. The two bring a unique perspective to their work: Dr. Sturgeon is a mermaid, while Dr. Sass is a centaur.

After considerable trial and error, the team believes its Canis /Cornus combination is the best of both kingdoms. The first hurdle was finding the right plant.

“We tried Physocarpus first,” said Dr. Sturgeon, “but every one that grew to maturity would bark nine times when approached. Our focus group said that was too many.”

Crosses involving Cornus alba succumbed to a fungal disorder that afflicts that species. Said Sturgeon, “The blight was worse than their bark.”

Once they’d settled on Cornus canadensis, the next step was to find the right canine breed. “The pit bull shrubs were tough and sturdy, but their bite was worse than their bark,” said Sass, gingerly rubbing his right foreleg.

While they hope for widespread acceptance of their remarkable new hybrids, the team admits there are challenges, In winter, the plant/pet eventually goes dormant, but not before trying stubbornly to get into the house.

“The whining may be a turn-off for some homeowners,” Dr. Sturgeon admits. “In those cases, we recommend large containers, overwintered in the garage.”

Final Exam of 2012?

Actually, just a pop quiz.

Continuing the "flowers that look like Christmas ornaments" bit as started on our Facebook page…here’s another, as seen a couple of days ago in our visit to the conservatory at the Biltmore Estate, Ashevegas, N.C.

You can probably guess the family by the leaf shape

Nice dangly peduncle, no?

Let’s have some guesses, temperate-zone readers! This had me stumped, and I’m not unfamiliar with tropicals. And yes, I want one.

(Zone 9-10 west-coasters: please sit on your hands for a bit, then you can tell us how common it is and "I pull this weedy thing out of my garden by the handful." Ha!!!)

The eternal [gardening] optimist

I’ve gotten better, actually.  After slaying hundreds of dollars worth of mail-order and/or inappropriate plants, I’ve learned to curb my urges a bit.

But not this time.

I was overcome by a sale at “Annies Annuals and Perennials” –  the most decadent, irresistible, West Coast, Zone 9 catalog ever.

Behold! The impossible-to-grow and majestic Puya*

Mine! Mine! Mine!
It will reside in my greenhouse over the winter.

Packing peanut left in pot for scale.

Now taking bets as to how many years ’till bloom. Side action on years/months until I kill it.

*Can one of you familiar with the genus inform me as to pronunciation? I’m pretty sure my current “rhymes with booyah” isn’t it.


The secret of immortality

Last Sunday’s New York Times had a story about immortal jellyfish.  It was interesting, and given my previous life as a marine biologist, it was also a topic that was comfortably familiar. But really, I wasn’t that impressed.  Because plants do the same thing, yet no one bats an eye.

Gardeners and other plant aficionados have exploited the plant kingdom’s ability to remain forever young.  How many of us have taken cuttings of mature plants, rooted them, and started new ones?  I have a couple of miniature African violets whose leaves I can place on damp soil in pots, cover, and ignore.  New plantlets emerge from the base within a few weeks. I pot these up and give them away as gifts, but always keep a few for later propagation.

Some of the horticultural oddities we love exist because of plant immortality.  The Camperdown elm (Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’) has been perpetuated for almost 200 years from a single original cutting from a tree in Scotland.  Particularly pernicious weeds do this on their own thanks to runners and rhizomes. Sure, we call it “vegetative propagation,” but really, it’s plant immortality.

So you’ll have to forgive me for not getting all torqued about immortal jellyfish.  I’ve seen immortality, and it’s growing in my garden.