Friday, January 19, 2018

Houseplant to Collect: Cocoon Plant, Senecio haworthii

The new year is well underway, but spring is still months away. The bleak winter weather has me craving something, absolutely anything, green! 

This seems to happen to me every winter. About this time last year, I bought a whole bunch of cute little succulents and did up a mini terrarium

Making up the terrarium was fun and it made me see the attraction of these popular plants. They're so easy going! Miss the occasional watering and its no big deal.

Perhaps that explains why, on my most recent nursery visit, I made a beeline for the table of succulent plants. What I came home with however, wasn't green at all!

Isn't this the strangest looking plant? If you didn't know better, you'd think it was fake.

Senecio haworthii or Wooly Senecio is a dwarf shrub native to South Africa, so it has traveled a long way to come here to North America.

In its native habitat, it can be found on rocky mountain slopes where it grows to about foot tall (30 cm). Potted up as an indoor plant in my home, it is a mere six inches tall.

The long, tubular, succulent leaves resemble a moth's cocoon (hence the common name) and are covered in fine, silvery-white hairs.

Here are some basic tips on caring for a Cocoon Plant:

Light: Senecio haworthii needs full sun (4-6 hours of sun) or its growth will become leggy.

Water sparingly! These are drought tolerant plants that are used to extremely dry conditions. To avoid overwatering, allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings. When you do water, try to avoid getting water on the leaves. In the winter, the plant's growth slows considerably, so water very sparingly.

Soil: Cocoon Plants like sandy, free-draining soil. They'll rot in damp, soggy soil. To repot my plant, I used Miracle-Gro Cactus, but there are a number of other brands with soil mixes for cactus and succulents.

Care: Plants are best divided and repotted early in the spring when they move into a phase of active growth. Senecio haworthii are quite happy to spend their summers outdoors, but should be brought back into the house well before the first fall frost.

Fertilizer: Because the sandy soil Senecio haworthii prefers is low in nutrients, apply a fertilizer (labeled for cactus and succulent use) just once a year in the spring. Too much fertilizer can cause leggy growth.

This little fellow looks ready to propagate!

Propagation: The best time to start new plants from cuttings is in the spring when the plant is growing actively. Allow your cuttings to callous and dry for two or three days and then root them in sandy, free-draining soil.

Pests: Scale and mealy bugs will occasionally effect a Senecio haworthii, but generally they are pest free.

It brightened my mood considerably to pot up my new Senecio haworthii with a few other succulents. Now if only spring could come a little sooner...

Have a great weekend!

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Visit to Grange Hollow Nursery

The original brick and log farmhouse at Grange Hollow dates from 1875.

While the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside are picturesque, it is not in the most hospitable of places for farming. Winters in Grey County, Ontario can be as long and as they are cold. 

And as well as an unforgiving climate, the farm's extensive series of low stone fences bear witness to the less than ideal nature of the land itself. Under a scant covering of soil, there is gravel and limestone with pockets of clay. 

Looking toward the house from the shade garden in the shadow of one of the barns.
A whimsical arbour in the vegetable garden.

Cleome in the Butterfly Garden

Looking toward the farm's barns.

Colorful pots filled with annuals on the front porch of the house.

"This would not have been a prosperous farm," says owner Katherine Taylor. By the time the Taylors bought the farm in 1972, there was little of the two acre property under cultivation. There were no gardens and not even a lawn. The only sign that this was once a farm was an aging orchard, a little bit of rhubarb, some currants and a single lilac bush.

But in this most unlikely of places, the Taylors saw potential. "We began by by planting 10,000 white pine to the north and erecting rail fencing to keep our livestock from peering in the windows," says Katherine with a smile.

Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria (red flower), Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba (yellow flowers in the centre) and Giant Fleece Flower, Persicaria polymorpha (top right).

Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria and Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba 

"Using a pick-axe, shovel, mulch and a lot of sweat, we started building gardens. The first project, the vegetable garden, was the most important," Katherine says. Providing fresh and healthy home-grown vegetables for the family was a priority. 

After a number of years of hard work, the farm began to take shape. As Katherine's experience with growing plants in a difficult climate and soil increased, the number of perennial gardens on the farm expanded. Starting a few plants from seed quickly grew into starting a few thousand plants for sale at local farmer's markets. 

Asparagus on the right and kale on the left with Verbena bonariensis in the foreground.

Kale growing in the vegetable garden.

The nursery that eventually evolved is a family business. 

Daughter Sarah, who grew up playing in the dirt, is now herself an enthusiastic gardener. Brian, her partner, is the newest member of the team and helps Sarah with the farmer's markets every weekend.

Visitors to the Grange Hollow Nursery are welcome to stroll around the property and find ideas in the many display gardens. My husband and I visited on a warm, overcast day in late August. 

One of my favourite parts of the garden was the small terrace known as the "Checkerboard Garden". In it, I saw a great idea I'd like to replicate in my own garden.

Birds, insects, butterflies and other creatures often come and go in a garden unobserved. This is a bit of a shame. One of the most rewarding things about gardening is reconnecting with nature. What better way to observe the creatures that share our outdoors spaces than to place a couple of chairs in front of a planting designed specifically to attract them? 

Imagine sitting here with a cold drink on a hot day and watching the bees, the birds and the butterflies. It would be your own personal wildlife theatre!

"My partner Brian is a photographer, and often sets up on the patio and waits for the butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and hummingbird moths to come to him," says Sarah, "There are also bird feeders which attract a huge number of songbirds. It is fun to watch from indoors, especially in winter, when we have more time."

"The songbirds in turn attract Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks, and the odd Northern Shrike. Also popular is the cement birdbath (with a heater in winter). Birds are hilarious when bathing. Other garden regulars include rabbits, red and black squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons and the occasional skunk or deer. The wild turkeys have not been brave enough to come to the feeders (though they do at my house and consume birdseed at an alarming rate)."

"During the warmer months, we have feeders out for the ruby-throated hummingbirds and orioles, and the birdhouses are occupied by chickadees, wrens, bluebirds and tree swallows. Really, we should count the number of bird species which have turned up in the yard! It is a busy place!"

1. Thyme 2. Sedum 'Dazzleberry' 3. Yellow Moonflower, Oenothera acaulis var aurea 4. Barberry 5. Sunflower 6. Heliopsis helianthoides  7. Hydrangea paniculata 'Pink Diamond'

"The patio does get very hot in summer as it is on the south side of the house, and so we have tried a few different ground covers over the years," continues Sarah, "Some of the original plants that have done very well include the thymes ('Minus', 'Orange', and 'Magic Carpet'), and the sedums (Sedum floriferum 'Weihenstephaner Gold' and Sedum album), as well as Campanula poscharskyana and Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana'. 

"The hydrangea is a paniculata cultivar called 'Pink Diamond'. Verbena bonariensis has seeded itself everywhere (it has been planted in the gardens numerous times but really loves the patio best). This plant is a pollinator magnet."

Verbena bonariensis

Here are a few ideas to help you create a wildlife theatre in your own garden:

• Plant for continuous bloom, so there is always a source of nectar in your garden.

• Provide a source of fresh water for insects and birds. At Grange Hollow there is a birdbath with a heater in the winter months.

• Butterflies don't like to take fight the wind, so it is also a good idea to choose a sheltered site or create some shelter, as the Taylor's have done at Grange Hollow, by planting some small trees and shrubs.

• Butterflies prefer to feed in the sun, so locate your garden accordingly.

• Don't be too tidy. Allow plants, like sunflowers, to go to seed. The seeds will provide an important food source for birds in the fall and winter.

• You need not feel you have to provide an all-you-can-eat buffet, but be willing to share your garden knowing that some plants will be nibbled by creatures that visit. 

• Swear-off using all insecticides. They are lethal to butterflies, bees and other insects.

Plants that attract Hummingbirds:

• Columbine
• Bee Balm, Monarda
• Cardinal Flower, Lobelia
• Penstemon
• Hybiscus
• Coral Bells, Heuchera
• Foxglove

Plants that attract Hummingbird Moths:

• Lilac
• Bee Balm, Monarda
• Thistle, Stachys
• Phlox
• Nicotiana
• Butterfly bush, Buddleia
• Red Valerian

Plants that Attract Butterflies:

• Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium      • PeeGee Hydrangea
• Russian Sage, Perovskia          • Goldenrod
• Bee Balm, Monarda                 • Zinnia
• Aster                                         • Sunflower
• Coneflower, Echinacea             • Verbena bonariensis
• Ironweed, Vernonia
• Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa
• Sweet Rocket
• Sweet William
• Alyssum
• Yarrow
• Sweet Woodruff

Hydrangea paniculata 'Pink Diamond'

There is more to see of the Grange Hollow Nursery in upcoming part 2.

More Information and Links:

Grange Hollow Nursery is located in picturesque Grey Bruce County just south of Owen Sound. The nursery offers a extensive collection of hardy perennials, annual flowers, herbs, heirloom tomatoes and a wide range of vegetable transplants. For hours and directions to the nursery, please click the link.

And the Winner is...

Thank you to everyone that entered the latest book draw on Facebook, by email and by leaving comments on the blog. 

Thanks also to Thomas Allen & Sons for giving me a copy of Pretty Tough Plants for the giveaway.

I had my husband help me draw a name. And the winner is...

Congratulations Karen Redmond Ellis who entered via Facebook! I will be in touch shortly Karen to get your mailing address.

Another book draw coming up shortly!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Christmas always seems like the final stop at the end of a long trip through the fall. On the other hand, New Year's Day feels more like a precipice. The end of the year is a long way off and the journey is full of unknowns. Anything could happen in 2018...

Time marches on so efficiently on the internet! Bloggers, who focus on decorating and had their trees up in early November, already had their decorations down and packed away by the end of Boxing Day. Food and recipe sites seemed to have switched overnight from appetizers, party drinks and decadent desserts to detox salads and healthy, low-carb meals. For lifestyle websites and blogs, the new year is all about getting organized, setting goals and making resolutions.

To me, this all feels a bit too fast. It's a little a bit like sitting down to an amazing meal and then rushing to the bathroom to brush your teeth. I find that I want to savour the holidays just a wee bit longer. I prefer to linger at the dinner table and have a second cup of coffee after my meal.

Our Christmas tree is still up and won't come down until next weekend.

But I am slowly shifting my mindset to the new year. This week I will start to rough in an editorial calendar for the blog. 

Part of determining a direction to move this blog forward is taking a critical look back at the journey already taken. What worked? What didn't and fell flat with readers? 

Here's a quick look at some of the posts readers seemed to enjoy the most.

Candace's vibrant blue house and charming cottage garden was a huge reader favourite. The first of two posts featured the shady area toward the front of the property with a small waterfall and pond. 

Coming in second is this amazing garden in Mississauga. 

Years ago when Jamie first set out as a novice gardener to create the front garden of her dreams an old-growth forrest, which were once part of a large estate, made the task seem daunting. Foot by foot she transformed the space. Now over a decade later, Jamie's front yard is a fabulous example of the many possibilities for gardening in shade.

Two gardens tie for third place. The Little Stonehouse Garden had plenty of container magic and flowerbeds that mixed perennials with an abundance of annuals. 

Equally popular was a the garden of a regular reader. Teresa is a passionate gardener who has managed to fit a wide array of plants, trees and shrubs in a very modest sized urban garden. She invited me over to see her garden last July.  Filled with pretty vignettes, it was a pleasure to spend the morning with Teresa and photograph her garden.

In the "how-to" category, this post on eliminating goutweed attracted a big audience. So many gardeners, myself included, have unwittingly invited a plant home that spreads aggressively. 

Getting rid of a problem plant can be a Herculean task. In the third in the series of posts I wrote on invasive plants, I shared the method I used to eliminate goutweed from my front flowerbed. Here are the three posts in order: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3: How I Eliminated Goutweed from my Front Garden.

I am proud to report that the little fairy garden I did for a post on Creating an Ornamental Herb Garden held up really well all summer. Count on more herb-themed posts in the new year.

Posts on specific plants also did very well, so I plan to do more plant profiles in 2018. This post on Echinacea was a bit too long (even by my standards), but it certainly covered the subject well. 

A post on hardy hibiscus performed equally well.

To be honest, the popularity of this next blog post took me a bit by surprise. 

Swimming pools are a nice luxury, but it can be a challenge to incorporate them tastefully into a garden.  So I took a look at some of the many ways a pool can be integrated nicely into a backyard space. 

The positive response was much appreciated. It took me literally years to find enough good examples for a post.

In terms of public gardens, the blog post on the redesign of the Lucy Maud Montgomery garden in Norval, Ontario had lots of readers interested. 

It usually comes as a surprise to many fans of the classic Anne of Green Gables books that the author herself had rather a difficult, lonely life. Somehow out of hardship the beloved character of Anne Shirley was born.

I don't often get a chance to visit specialist nurseries, but this August my husband and I took a weekend and drove up to Willow Farm Grasses. I came away inspired by all the different ornamental grasses and I think readers did as well.

In the fall of 2017 my husband and I tackled a number of new projects. We laid out the foundation for a new stream and pond, added a big, new flowerbed and even did some preliminary work on a small thyme lawn. 

From here on in the garden won't get any bigger, but there are still lots of refinements I wish to make. I hope readers will continue to stick with me and follow along with my garden's evolution.

Sometimes I am a little slow in replying to comments, but I read and value every one. Positive feedback keeps me going. 

I'd love to hear if there is a subject or plant you'd like to know more about. Perhaps there is a style of garden you want to see more of? Is there a challenge or a problem you're struggling with? I appreciate any help you can give me with making this blog better in 2018.

Thanks again for following along. I wish you all the best for the new year!

P. S. I am extending the deadline for a chance to win a copy of Pretty Tough Plants so people who were busy over the holidays have a chance to win. Draw closes this Sunday, Jan7th.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Solving the Mystery of Cyclamen Care

I will be honest– despite their reputation as easy-care houseplants, Cyclamen confound me. They seem to wilt the second they get too dry, and when I try to compensate for my neglect by overwatering them, their ungrateful leaves turn yellow.

I have to concede that cyclamen have lots of great pluses. The flowers float like butterflies over their deep green foliage. Even the heart-shaped leaves, with their silvery-green markings, are beautiful.

I'd like to do better by my cyclamen. It's not just a gardener's pride on the line. They're cheerful houseplants to have around in the dead of winter. They don't mind bright, indirect light and that makes them the perfect choice for my kitchen windowsill.

So I used this post as an excuse to learn a bit more about cyclamen care and will share some of the tips I've discovered along the way.

Cyclamen that are sold as houseplants at this time of year are often referred to as "florist's cyclamen".

In their Mediterranean homeland, Cyclamen persicum are a winter flowering plant. They come into growth in the autumn and bloom through the winter and early spring. Then they go dormant as the dry summer months approach.

Here are a few basics:

Light: Cyclamen like bright, indirect sunlight.

Temperature: Too much sunlight and heat will only serve to encourage your cyclamen into early dormancy. They prefer cool conditions, but they are not frost-hardy. An indoor daytime temperature of 65-70 degrees (18-22 Celsius) is perfect. Most homes are a little cooler at night and that's their preference too.

Water: Watering is where most people, myself included, go wrong. As I have discovered the hard way, cyclamen are very sensitive to soil moisture levels. When you do water, soak the soil throughly and let the excess water drain out of the pot. Then allow your cyclamen to dry out somewhat. More cyclamen die from overwatering than they do from drought. Water only when the soil just below the surface is dry to the touch.

One way to improve your success with cyclamen is to water from the bottom. That way you are assured that the moisture will reach right down to the bottom of the plant's roots. To water from the bottom, find a deep saucer or a container large enough to accommodate your cyclamen's pot and fill it halfway with water. Place your cyclamen into the container of water and wait until the soil in the cyclamen's pot is evenly moist (about 20 minutes).

If you opt to water from above, water the soil directly and avoid the foliage and central tuber. Water can rot the crown of the plant (particularly when the plant is in a dormant state).

However you choose to water, make sure you allow excess water to drain away completely. Like so many plants, cyclamen don't like soggy soil.

Dead leaves or flowers can be removed by simply giving them a sharp tug.

Humidity: Cyclamen like high humidity. If your house is as dry as mine, this can be a challenge. Setting the plant down on a shallow tray of water filled with pebbles can help keep the air around your plant moist.

Soil: A good quality all-purpose potting mix is best. If you peek through the leaves, you can see that cyclamen are planted with the tuber just slightly above the soil line.

Fertilizer: Fertilizing once a month with a water soluble fertilizer is plenty. Too much fertilizer and your cyclamen will not rebloom.

Common problems:

Yellow leaves: Overwatering and too much heat will cause the leaves of your cyclamen to yellow. Yellow foliage in late winter/spring may also be a sign that your cyclamen is going into dormancy.

Wilted leaves and flowers: Wilted flowers and foliage are a sign of improper watering. The sudden onset of wilting may be an indication that the soil is too dry. Water your plant throughly and pinch off any leaves or flowers that do not respond.

Faded Foliage: Cyclamen are pretty resistant to indoor houseplant pests, but foliage that looks faded may be a sign of a spider mite problem. Look for fine webbing and check the undersides of the leaves for these tiny insects. If your cyclamen is infected, check your other houseplants as well. Spider mites often spread from one houseplant to another.

Depending on the severity of the infection, I'd consider disposing of the plant.

If you've caught things early, gently rinse or wipe the foliage clean. Isolate the cyclamen from other houseplants until you have the infestation under control.

Dormancy: After a cyclamen blooms, it will transition slowly into a dormant state. The leaves will begin to yellow and wither. At this point, you should stop watering your plant, and allow the leaves to die back. Then place your cyclamen in a cool, dry place for 8-10 weeks.

To bring a rested plant out of dormancy in the fall, move it back into the light and resume your normal watering regime.

I think what I need to do now is focus on getting my watering right.  

How about you? What's your experience with cyclamen? If you have any great tips, please share!