Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Joy of Passalong Plants

I once read a book by Elizabeth Lawrence in which she lauds the virtues of passalong plants, those lovely surprises that come to you from friends, neighbors, family...

Last year we enjoyed lenten roses, and this year it's autumn crocus from Cousin Kathy

and montauk daisies from friends Kathleen and Byron.

Both of these are brightening up the deck this October.

The crocus is one of those pop-up plants that I tend to forget about until one day they put on their show. I'm more familiar with the ones that bloom in early spring, so it will be fun to become better acquainted with its fall-blooming relative.

Montauk daisies, I've learned, are pretty darned hardy little plants that should stand up to our challenging climate, where summer can be sweltering and fall and spring can bring in a battering nor'easter, and then there is winter with an odd frost every now and then. This plant, I've heard, bushes out, and I'm thinking it will make the perfect filler between the gardenias, which only bloom in late May, early June. Montauk daisies, I believe, will give us blooms from fall to the first freeze.

The leaves look almost like those of a succulent, and true to that resemblance, it apparently has a good reputation for surviving drought.

There's a passalong plant I've known since I was born. My grandmother used to send me a little tissue-wrapped group of seeds along with her letters, and I always wondered why she bothered, since back then I was more interested in surfing, boys, skateboarding, boys... Then when I hit around thirty, so did the gardening bug, and I could not get enough info about flowers, herbs, etc., and I remembered all those seed packets she used to send me, which I never planted. In a way, you could say those plants still took root in me. Here is the plant whose seeds she used to send me.

I have found that this southern coastal area really does not make a good home for most sweetpeas because it's too hot here. But this little guy is from my grandmother's plant that was blooming here, oh, way back, possibly as early as the 1930s. I never thought to wonder where she got the first sweetpea until I was taking a byroad near the Blue Ridge Parkway, and lo and behold, guess what was blooming along the roadsides in the North Carolina mountains. My grandparents used to live in Winston-Salem, and it could be during a jaunt into the mountains, Mom-mom saw these flowers and collected a few of the seed pods.

This sweetpea does not have any fragrance. Nevertheless, it's one of my favorite plants because of its connection to my grandmother and the fact that it has definitely withstood the test of time.

More Posts

Saturday, September 24, 2016

More late September surprises!

The lycoris is the ultimate pop-up plant. For most of the year, you'll be like, "What lycoris?" And then one day, voila! There it is.
Fall-blooming lycoris beside a few remnant blooms of fairy rose

They usually come up during our Indian Summer, those Bermuda highs that hit at the tail-end of our first fall nor-easter, when sargassum seaweed and the biting flies take over the beach and the last of the sulfur butterflies are leaving this area (don't ask me for where, as all the ones I've seen are inexplicably heading north). The lycoris' fiery red petals are especially welcome at this, the season of DYCs (Damn Yellow Composites: tickseed, goldenrod, etc., etc.)
Along the roadsides, you'll see plenty of DYCs along with duck potato, the last of the dotted horsemint, marsh mallows, hot pink meadow beauties, morning glories, and the furry-looking blooms of baccharis.
The sun during this time of year performs some marvelous light-play, especially during the dawn and dusk.

In a few weeks, if it stays sunny and dry, it'll be a good time to collect ripened flower seeds, things like moonflower, clownflower, sweetpea, and horsemint.

Now I'll show you a plant that isn't much of a surprise. You can ignore it, pull it up, trample it, curse at it, and still, about this time of year, you'll have to just respect its tenacity and yield to it.

So here's the latest conversation with this stuff.
Me: I'd love to plant some sweet potato, cilantro, maybe clary sage in this garden.
Ageratum:  Nothing doing. This is my spot.
Me: Tell you what, I'll give you this corner over here to grow up and bloom, plenty of sun and fresh air...whaddaya say?
Ageratum: Sure thing.
Me, months later: What do you think you're DOING?! I gave you THAT corner and that corner, only!
Ageratum: Chillax! You don't have time to tend a veggie garden, anyway.
Ageratum:       Huh? Haaaah?? Come on, call me beautiful. You know you want to.
                       Besides, guess who loves me.

Every year, the ageratum wins until about February when, with the highest of hope and ambition, I clear it to start that dream vegetable garden...again.

More Posts

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The lovely little surprise flower

The other day, I was going up the steps and happened to look a little to the right and got quite the pleasant surprise.

The pink rain lily had decided to bloom.
Zephyranthes Grandiflora
This little fellow just hangs out in a pot or garden, taking some watering here and there and perhaps some food, and just when you've forgotten that you have it, It will send up this delightful bloom.

The pink rain lilies, I've found, are a hair more demanding than the white ones, which you could plant just about anywhere and they'd do just fine with a good chance of naturalizing. But the pink ones are so pretty I think they're worth the extra effort.

When they are not blooming, you can tell the pink from the white rain lily by a flatter, lighter leaf, nearly identical to the garlic chives (so you may not want to plant them in the same pot).
Garlic Chives blooming
The white rain lily, on the other hand, has a narrower, darker round leaf. Also known as autumn zephyrlily, white windflower, and Peruvian swamp lily, this flower can be found growing in the wild from the Southern United States to South America.
A white rain lily among the four o'clocks
Zephyranthes is a full sun lover who enjoys a pretty moist soil. The white rain lily will grow pretty prolifically and clump up, so it's a good idea to every so often divide them. They make great passalong plants, as the bulbs are easy to dig up and separate, and the plant weathers a replanting very well.

More Posts

Monday, September 12, 2016

Moonflowers and Hummingbird Moths

Want a perfect deck plant that will be a conversation piece for Saturday night barbeques?

The moonflower is blooming right now, putting on a marvelous show with its heart-shaped leaves a luscious green and its petals nightly unfurling like snowy umbrellas. If you, like me, have a soft spot for plants with a lovely fragrance, you won't believe your luck with the moonflower.
Moonflower in the process of blooming
These are vines, so they need a trellis or post to cling to. However, for us at least, they're well-behaved, nothing like the Sweet Autumn Clematis that likes to subdue everything in its path (more on that plant later).
Moonflower bound like umbrellas about to unfurl
among the garlic chives
Moonflowers do like to be watered, so make sure they're not too far from the spigot. Then sit back and enjoy the show all through September, not just the fabulous way it blooms before your eyes but also look out for its chief visitors: mombo hummingbird moths that are sure to give you a start as they zoom about like Boeings.

Moonflowers are easy to propagate, as once they are all finished blooming, the dried pea-sized seeds take little effort to free from their housings. Just save them over the winter and cast them in a pot in February/March the next year. You could soak them overnight before planting to ensure more successes...or not.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The ultimate stick-em-in-and-forget-em plant

Okay, so my mom reminded me of my secret weapon in the garden, which is her. She does a lot of clearing, etc., of the white ginger and such. NEVERTHELESS, it's worth planting.

So here I'm going to give you a plant that if you manage to kill it, you are not of this world. That's how tough it is. Not only that but it produces a lovely little flower in abundance throughout summer, when most plants around here are like:

It even has a refreshing name: ICE PLANT.

It's my fave succulent (meaning it has those puffy, water-storing leaves). It spreads along the twiggy brown stems (right), which can get leggy, but then whenever you're with a friend, just pull some iceplant off and hand it to them. It's a perfect passalong plant like that, and they can even wait a day or two before sticking it in soil. Iceplant likes things hot and dry as it is here throughout the summer. It doesn't mind the wind of a hurricane too much and would probably put in a noble effort of crawling to higher ground if there's a flood.

Here's one of my mom's cascading from a pot, neighbor to a solar-powered floodlight. This was taken in September.

Writing about them makes me want to tend the ones I've neglected for at least three years, in a little hanging bucket by the steps. They'd be real pretty with just a little TLC.

And the winner is...

I've spent months deliberating on what plant I wanted to first tell you about. There are so many that are such a pleasure for various reasons.

But I have to pick a blue ribbon winner, and goes...

White Ginger
Now just hear me out on this one. This little puppy PRODUCES. She not only puts forth a lovely-looking flower rather prolifically, but she never gives a spot of trouble, come floods and hurricanes, come deep freezes, nor'easters, or sweltering dog days. Whether I think to water and feed her, there she is, all through the summer and much of fall, just blooming away and putting off a divine, I mean DIVINE, scent. Cut a few stems, stick them in a vase and bring them in, and they'll scent the house with something you'd be out of your mind to call unwelcome. Even the foliage is lovely, kinda got that Rousseau thing going on there that makes you think of oddly-drawn large cats.

Persnickety points: Okay, so the foliage gets to looking kinda raggedy and the root system is tenacious, so you had better like where you put this thing.

NEVERTHELESS, if you're a beach bum gardener like me, you can live with the somewhat sadsack look when it's finished blooming and if you've got a minute, just clip here and there to neaten it up.

More Posts

Having the cake and eating it too

I want flowers. I want folks to gasp and say, "OOooo, what is that pretty thing climbing up your post?" Or, "Wow, what's that fragrance on your deck?"

Problem is, I don't wanna have to work for it.

Luckily, there are culprits in the plant kingdom who will let me be just as lazy as I please and still put on a show.

I'm a third generation beach bum gardener, and that's a lot of distillation over the decades. My grandmother managed to keep phlox going and my mother has a rank and file of gardenia bushes that she fusses over. By the time you get to me, however, it's pure stick-it-in-the-ground-and-see-if-it-lives mode.

Here, you will find my and my mother's and grandmother's successes that are especially for southeast coastal North Carolina.

Place is very important and the one big caveat I'll put on this blog. You can try lavender, lilacs, delphinium, and peonies all you want here and get your heart broken time and again, or you can cheat the plant shop and poke little more than a scrawny stem in the sand and watch that sucker take off and wow folks.

...And then take a walk on the beach. :-D

More Posts