Saturday, September 24, 2016

Breezy morning

Breezy morning

Grasses and bananas are so different, but I love the way they both catch even the slightest breeze and dance in the wind.  It's a pleasant morning in Washington, DC and I'm just back from a trip to Atlanta for the GWA Annual Conference & Expo, sorting through the 600+ garden photos I took in 4 days and trying to get back to this blogging thing.  But right now, there's something to be said for just sitting on the roof deck and gazing at the garden while everything looks its very best at the end of the growing season.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vacation care for indoor plants

Indoor plantsIndoor plants, 2016

I'm not a happy traveler; I admit it, I'm one of those people who worries whether I locked the doors or left the stove on.  As a gardener, one of my more realistic worries is coming home to dead and dying plants.  I've been growing plants indoors for over 40 years, originally houseplants, although now I primarily propagate plants from seeds and cuttings for planting outdoors later.  I know exactly how much water each plant needs, and how often.  I examine nearly every plant, nearly every day, and water each one exactly when it needs it.  But what to do when I can't be home to take care of them?  Below are some of the ways I help my plants (and my sanity) survive this perilous time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Isabella had two daddies

Sleepy kitty

Today a piece of my soul is missing, a piece I never knew was there before a skinny, hungry cat, barely more than a kitten, found her way into our garage from the back alley on a September afternoon in 2003.  For not quite 13 years, she became the center of our lives.  Yesterday, I rushed home early from an out-of-town trip to say good-bye to our baby.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Plants and politics

Entrance bed (cropped)

Gardening and politics don't often cross paths, and when they do, it can get unpleasant.  I've avoided political issues in this blog because, first, none ever came up, and secondly, my political opinions weren't the least bit relevant to the subject matter of this blog.  That changed with North Carolina House Bill 2, widely (but inaccurately) portrayed as a "bathroom bill".  In reality, this bill goes far beyond that issue to give a special "screw you" to the entire LGBT community.

Saturday, April 23, 2016



Nothing to say right now, just a few photos of my begonias.  These are all hybrid seedlings from my breeding program, rapidly outgrowing their space under the lights indoors and needing to go out in the garden very soon.  I really like a couple of them, but will any of them prove to be hardy?  Only time will tell!  Click on the photos to go to zoomable originals in Flickr.





Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Beheaded Botanist


Sitting at my computer in my comfortable office, handling herbarium specimens that are often well over a hundred years old, I sometimes forget how dangerous it could be to collect these specimens in the 1800’s, and how many of these collectors came to bad—and sometimes violent—ends.  One such end inspired a story by Rudyard Kipling.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Quick and easy begonia propagation

Begonia hybrid

One reason begonias are so popular is because they're ridiculously easy to propagate.  When I was a kid, I was introduced to begonias when my mother brought home a leaf that a woman in her bridge club had given her.  I already knew how to propagate african violets from leaf cuttings, and this woman told my mother that begonias could be propagated the same way.  It worked, and I was hooked.  I've since discovered that most begonias can be propagated from leaf cuttings.  About the only ones that can't are cane or "angelwing" begonias, which have to be propagated by division or stem cuttings.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

It's okay to kill that plant!

Anybody can stage a photo, but can anybody grow a plant?

I recently had a brief online discussion with my friend Marianne, who blogs at Small Town Gardener.  Marianne took issue with a magazine article describing maidenhair ferns (Adiantum) as an "easy" houseplant to brighten the home.  The picture of a pretty little fern (not the photo above) was captioned, "Living things boost energy in a space.  Maidenhair and Boston ferns (shown) get high marks for their hardiness (read: they're hard to kill) and bring lushness to a bookshelf, console, or entry table. For something a tad daintier, try white allium."

What does "boost energy" even mean?  Moreover, what could possibly be daintier than a maidenhair fern, and what the heck is "white allium"?  But Marianne's takeaway was, "Maidenhair and Boston ferns easy to grow indoors?  What?!?!?  This type of cutesy misinformation makes me absolutely crazy.  Why?  Because when people new to plants try and fail to grow these high-humidity moisture lovers well (and I do stress 'well'), they then think of themselves as failures."

I've grown several different kinds of maidenhair fern indoors and I have found them to be quite easy.  Heck, a couple of them are even greenhouse weeds.  I grabbed the plant for the photo at the top from this group on my light stand, where they're growing in the middle of winter without any supplemental humidity:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Strength in numbers

Begonia seedlings
Begonia grandis seedlings, early January

This blog post was inspired by plant breeder Joseph Tychonievich, writing for The Garden Professors blog a few weeks ago.  In "Blast from my petunia past", Joseph showed the wide range of seedlings he got in the F2 generations of two different interspecific crosses he had made in the genus Petunia.  In reply to my comment about the importance of growing out large numbers of seedlings he said, "I totally agree — I selected the 9 flowers in each image as the most extreme forms from populations of several hundred seedlings. If you just grew a couple dozen seedling from each of these crosses you’d miss out on a lot of cool things. Breeding is, a lot of the time, a numbers game. The more you can grow, the more cool things you’ll find."

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Report from the apocalypse

Jeanne d'Arc
Jeanne d'Arc awaits the snow on Friday afternoon, Meridian Hill Park

After days of dire warnings, the snow finally began to fall yesterday afternoon.  A day later, the winter storm dubbed "Snowzilla" by my favorite local weather forecasters, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang (I refuse to use the Weather Channel's "Jonas") has unfolded about as predicted.  This morning I measured between 16 and 18 inches of snow.  By Buffalo standards (where I grew up) that's not so bad, but for a city like Washington, DC it's a disaster.  Ironically, I was supposed to be flying to Buffalo today to visit with my family; needless to say all airports are closed and all flights are cancelled.  And we're not done yet; it's supposed to snow some more later today and into tonight so we may well get the two feet or more they've been warning.  I don't have much more to say so here's my video report (you'll need to click on the image to go to the video in Flickr):

Report from the apocalypse

For comparison, here's the same view of my garden as of November; last year wasn't my garden's best, but it looked a whole lot better than right now!


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What's in a name?

Huperzia squarrosa
What's the botanical name of this tassel fern?

While preparing a blog post about the United States Botanic Garden, I had a bit of a quandary with an interesting plant I photographed there.  The plant is sometime known as "tassel fern", but I had forgotten to note its botanical name so I posted it on my Facebook page and shared it with a few fern groups to get the proper identification.  What I got back were 3 different names: Lycopodium squarrosum, Huperzia squarrosa, and Phlegmariurus squarrosus.  Which one is right?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Winter doldrums

Edgeworthia chrysantha
Edgeworthia chrysantha, blooming in January

I've been taking a break from blogging, originally because of the usual holiday craziness, but then because I just can't seem to motivate myself to write or even think about gardening.  The days are far too short, and the garden far too brown.  The last two winters wiped out much of my garden, and I'm just not looking forward to another one.  I shouldn't complain because after our two coldest winters in 20 years, we're now experiencing one of our warmest.  Although we had a few light frosts in November and December, DC didn't experience its first hard freeze until early January and we've only recently seen a few scarce flakes of snow.  Daffodils and crocuses are popping up all over my garden, and the silver-haired buds on Edgeworthia chrysantha (above), which normally blooms sometime in March, are swelling and opening.  (I should note that I took the photos in this blog post with my new 6s iPhone; the photos may not be publication quality, but I'm pretty impressed with its camera function.)

Edgeworthia chrysantha
Edgeworthia chrysantha in a friend's garden, showing the silver-haired clusters of buds

On the bright side (quite literally), days are getting longer and spring doesn't seem quite as far off.  Indoors, seedlings are beginning to demand my attention.  I made several begonias crosses last year, including a couple that I think are going to produce some very cool (and almost certainly hardy) hybrids.  I spent today sowing the last few batches of seeds, and potting up some of the seedlings that have already gotten too crowded in their pots.  Some of them are already hinting at the colors and patterns I can expect from them.  Once the seedlings have their second set of true leaves they really take off, so I guess it's time to get off my butt, stop feeling sorry for myself, and get back to gardening.

Begonia seedlings
Begonia seedlings