Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: How Long Can a Dead Lemon Cypress Look Alive?

Yes, really.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

There Are Marigolds and Then There Are Pot Marigolds

These are not your grandma's marigolds. But wait, she probably grew these too! While I love the traditional marigolds and have never had a single year of gardening that didn't include them of one sort or another, there's another "marigold" that I adore even more. The pot marigold.

Calendula officinalis 'Flashback'

Calendula is commonly known as "pot marigold," and while it's classified as a short-lived perennial and sometimes a hardy annual, in my Zone 5b it's definitely an annual. I've never had a single plant survive winter here. They're pretty good at self-seeding though, so there's that.

Photo by H. Zell
And speaking of their seeds, those look like dried up worms to me. Each flower head has an abundance of the short curved seeds, so there will always be plenty for next year. I've not caught any birds eating them, but I don't know why they wouldn't.

Calendulas are one of the edible flowers, giving salads color, and wereoften used as a saffron substitute and in soups and stews, which probably contributed to them being known as "pot marigolds." Calendula has also been used to provide color to some cheeses and can be used as a fabric dye.

Some pharmacological studies have suggested that Calendula has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Because of this, you'll find it as a common ingredient in products used to treat certain skin conditions.

Calendula is also a host plant for several species of moths, meaning you might find caterpillars on the foliage at some point. I've never found them to do much damage in my garden though.

There are several Calendula cultivars available to be grown by seed, including the one I grew last summer - 'Flashback' from Renee's Garden Seeds - as well as the straight species. Some of those include:

Lemon Cream™
'Pacific Beauty'
'Deja Vu'
'Triangle Flashback'
'Orange King'
'Pink Surprise'
'Geisha Girl'
'Ball's Improved Orange'
'Golden Emperor'
'Fiesta Gitana'
'Tangerine Cream'
'Bronzed Beauty'
'Solar Flashback'
'Candyman Orange Dwarf'
'Mandarin Twist'
'Gold Star'
'Bon Bon'
'Strawberry Blonde'
'Indian Prince'
'Orange Porcupine'

You can buy seeds online from these sources:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Burpee Seeds
Renee's Garden Seeds
Botanical Interests
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Eden Brothers
Swallowtail Garden Seeds

I promise this isn't an Osteospermum, even though it strongly resembles it.

Calendula officinalis 'Flashback'

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's Houseplant Appreciation Day! (+ a book giveaway)

Yes, it's pretty, but...
It's the middle of winter and I guarantee you I'm not doing any gardening out there in the frozen tundra right now. I know the entire eastern half of the country is shivering, but with all due respect to those of you in the south that think you've got it bad, I invite you to spend a few days with me.

It will be two more months before I can even begin to think about what I might do in the gardens outside. But I've got more than enough green going on right here in the house. Those who know me know that I live in a jungle during the cold months of the year. I haven't taken a head count of my houseplants, but it's a lot. Trust me.

Today happens to be Houseplant Appreciation Day and whether you've got one houseplant or one hundred, it's always good to be reminded of why it's beneficial to grow plants in your house (whether it's winter OR summer!).

Nothing adds a spot of color to a cold winter's day like amaryllis.
(Hippeastrum 'Temptation')

  • Plants provide oxygen. Remember those oxygen bars that were so popular back in the '90s? You could go in them and breathe super-oxygenated air and it was supposed to provide all sorts of health benefits for us oxygen-deprived humans. Well, plants take your CO₂ and convert it to oxygen, so whether it's beneficial or not, you've got fresh oxygen right from the source when you have living plants in your house. Fresh is better, right? 

  • Bromeliads like it shady when they grow outside, so they make an ideal houseplant.

  • Plants clean the air.  Certain plants are known to actually rid the air of toxins. We live with all kinds of artificial chemicals wafting through the air, coming from the carpets on our floors, cleaning solutions, and plastics everywhere. NASA conducted a study to see if plants could help rid the air in an enclosed space of various toxins and found that growing just one plant for every 100 square feet of living space could do just that. There's a long list of plants that help us in this way, but here's a list of just a few that are exceptionally good at it:

    • Peace lily 
    • Snake plant 
    • English ivy 
    • Dracaena spp.  
    • Anthurium 
    • Chrysanthemum 
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum) is a real workhorse when it
comes to cleaning the air.

  • Plants relieve stress. How many of us enjoy taking a walk through a garden, through the woods, through a park, when we're stressed about something? Studies have shown that environments that have live plants help reduce blood pressure and provide a sense of well-being when compared with those that don't have them.

  • This staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) likes it in our bathroom, where the humidity
    levels are naturally higher than in other parts of the house.

  • Plants help people work better.  Again, studies have shown that working in an environment that has live plants will increase your productivity and creativity.

    Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.) in my office, as featured in
    Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants

  • Plants help fight disease.  Plants raise the humidity levels in the air around them, and who can't use a little more humidity during winter? Those of us who have to have our heat on during this time of year know just how dry the air can get. Higher humidity levels lessen your susceptibility to colds.
Orchids are one of the air cleaners and their beautiful blooms can last for several months.

One of my favorite houseplants (and one of the easiest to grow) is the Norfolk Island Pine. I got my biggest one a few years ago when I was participating in a program by Costa Farms. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Costa Farms is the largest houseplant grower and distributor in all of North America. Go to a big box store and you'll find that most of the houseplants offered there come from Costa Farms.

This Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), which isn't a pine at all,
was about two-thirds the size it currently is when I got it just a few years ago.

I was fortunate to get to see their home base in Miami, Fl., a few years ago and seeing all those gorgeous plants being grown in ginormous quantities was amazing. I learned a lot about the company and how they do things, which just served to make me more appreciative of how the majority of my houseplants get from there to here.

Now that you know that houseplants are good for you, doesn't that just make you want to run out and get one? (Or two or three?) And if you aren't really sure just how to display your houseplants, let me offer a suggestion that has lots of ideas for how to do that - my book.

Amazon chose Indoor Plant Décor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants as one of their Top 20 Books of 2013 in its category. I'm not sure exactly what the criteria was for that honor, but co-writer Jenny Peterson and I like to think it's because it's got oodles of ideas for how to use houseplants that enhance your particular home decor style, whether it's Classic Elegance, Cheap Chic, World Beat, Peaceful Zen, Modern Eclectic, Haberdashery, Traditional Mix, or Vintage Vibe.

Enter to win a copy of Indoor Plant Décor

I'd like to give a signed copy to one of my readers, so if you want to enter to win it, here's what you need to do:

1. Leave a comment to this blog post telling me your favorite houseplant


2. Fill out the Rafflecopter form with your contact details so I'll know how to get ahold of you if you're the lucky winner. I'll also use Rafflecopter to randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You have until midnight EST next Sunday night (January 18, 2015) to enter, but do it now so you don't forget! Good luck and go appreciate your houseplants! It's their day!

Instructions for how to make this succulent wreath is one of eight DIY
projects in Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants.


If you would like to purchase a signed copy of my book, just click here. A link for purchasing is also on the right side sidebar on my blog. To purchase an unsigned copy at a discount through Amazon, click here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Got Snow? Ames True Temper Telescoping Roof Rake to the Rescue!

Ever since I've had my conservatory, when winter comes, snow on the roof skylights has been a problem. Because the quality of winter light is lower, that light is even more important for my plants housed inside, in spite of most of them being somewhat dormant at the 50°F we keep it in there.

Snow on the roof, the sun can't melt it...

Snow is a good insulator, but
it blocks the light.
Anything that blocks light isn't a good thing, so when Ames Tools invited me to try some of their tools, I immediately chose their telescoping roof rake - part of their True Temper line - as one of them.

I received it last summer, but of course snow on the skylights isn't a problem then, but now it's January and the weather we're having had me searching the garage for that roof rake. It was easily found, just as easily assembled, and I got out there and used it.

I didn't need to extend the roof rake to its maximum length in order to remove
the snow from the skylights.

The angle at the far end of the pole is crucial for its ease of use, allowing you to be fairly close to the roof while using it. It's made of aluminum, making it pretty lightweight, and the pole's unique elliptical shape makes it 50% stronger than traditional round-handled versions.

That's better!
It didn't take me long to scrape the snow off the skylights, which then allowed more of that valuable light to shine in on all the plants. We had gotten some freezing rain before the snow came, so there was still some ice left on the windows, but the roof rake made short work of the snow. This was exactly what we needed.

It has push-buttons that make extending the pole all the way to its maximum length of 17 feet very easy to do, but it has a collapsible length of just six feet, making it better for storage. The 24" blade is made of temperature resistant polycarbonate.

One of the things I like about the Ames company is their attention to detail and to their customers. I visited their headquarters in Camp Hill, Penn., last spring and soon found out why they've been in business since 1774 - before the United States WAS the United States! I've promised to share details of that visit with you and I will - soon.

The telescoping roof rake is widely available at independent home improvement centers as well as the major outlets, with a selling price of around $49.95.

Ames Tools provided me with the telescoping roof rake in order for me to try it out and give my honest opinion. This blog post expresses my own opinion on their product and no other compensation was given.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Memorable 1st Visit to the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory (Ft. Wayne, IN)

The weeping spruce trees on the east side of
the conservatory always look like they're
celebrating something.
Each winter, just as the gray, cold days start to wear on me, I start wanting to pay our local botanical conservatory in Ft. Wayne, Ind., a visit. For many of the past years, we made it a family affair, inviting our girls and their spouses to join us for a couple of hours of lush, tropical goodness. It's a way to spend some family time and forget about the weather.

About a month ago, we joined younger daughter Jenna and oldest grandchild Hannah at the conservatory for a bit of Christmas cheer and hopefully some nice photos of Hannah for their Christmas card.

The theme is always different each year, but always full of beautiful flowers and unique decorations. Poinsettias are usually part of the display and this year was no different. There were lots and lots of poinsettias...

Tree branches painted gold add a bit of glitz to this holiday display.

The waterfall in the rainforest is a popular photo spot.

Winter? Where?

Paperwhites were dotted throughout a sea of blood red poinsettias.

There are always orchids in bloom, no matter what the season.
Mini ruffled poinsettias decorate this holiday "cake."

Several lush poinsettia standards were placed here and there throughout the display.

Santa was clearly having fun this afternoon as kids waited in a long line to see him.

There were live reindeer outside for the kids to see and be photographed with. I'd never seen a real reindeer before and I was surprised at how small they are. I had expected something along the lines of a moose in size.

Hannah wasn't too sure about the reindeer, but I was impressed with their pedicures.

The conservatory was a busy place and as Hannah is one of those people who gathers energy from those around her, her mommy wasn't too pleased with the photographs she took (or attempted to take) while we were there. Jenna pretty much gave up on the idea, but I took a few photos of my own and I think they turned out just perfect. Two-year-olds always take the best holiday photos, no matter what. :-)

Be a joiner!

One of the many benefits of being a member of the American Horticultural Society is their Reciprocal Admissions Program. Regular admission to the conservatory is $5, but I can go as often as I want at no charge, thanks to the AHS. If you haven't become a member, you really should, because it's one of the best deals out there for gardeners. just $35 a year, you get free admission to over 300 public gardens and arboreta in North America, discounted or free admission to select flower and garden shows, a subscription to The American Gardener magazine (excellent!), and can participate in their seed sharing program.

Upcoming exhibit

Today was the last day to see the "High Style Holidays" exhibit, but this week, the conservatory will be installing a new one featuring internationally known artist Sakaya Ganz. "Changing Tides" will run from January 10th through April 5th and will feature an imaginative seascape using recycled materials.

The Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory is located in downtown Ft. Wayne (Ind.) at 1100 South Calhoun Street.

Tuesday-Saturday 10 am to 5 pm
Thursday 10:00 am to 8:00 pm
Sunday 12 Noon to 4 pm
Closed Mondays, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day
Discount Admission with Bagel Station Café Purchase
Receive $1 off Conservatory admission with the same-day purchase from the Bagel Station café (minimum $5 purchase)
Show your café receipt at the admissions desk to receive your discount.
Admission Rates 
$5 Adults
$3 Children (ages 3-17)
Free ~ Children age 2 & under
Members free 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Visit With Debra Lee Baldwin (and a giveaway!)

In March of 2012, I had the good fortune of being able to travel to the west coast to attend Spring Trials, courtesy of Proven Winners. It was my first trip to California and there were many things that made it memorable.

Debra and her sweet Lily in her garden in 2012.
One of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to see Debra Lee Baldwin, whom I call "Queen of the Succulents."

Debra was one of our mentors when Jenny and I wrote our book, Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants. As a veteran author, she provided all kinds of encouragement and challenged us with ideas, all of which proved valuable to us as first-time authors. (Thank you, Debra!)

While I was at the Proven Winners location near Bonsall, Debra stopped by to see their plants and extended an invitation to me to come and visit her garden on my way back to the airport to return home. The chance to see Debra in her garden was too good to pass up.

If you're a fan of succulents at all, I probably don't need to tell you who Debra is, but just in case you haven't heard of her, she's the author of three bestselling books on the subject: Designing With SucculentsSucculent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Even if you never grew a single succulent (unthinkable!), these books are full of beautiful images making them enjoyable just to look through, but they are also jam-packed with ideas and information on growing this unique group of plants.

Debra gardens on a rather steep hillside in her neighborhood in Escondido and because of the way she has paths crisscrossing in tiers, you can almost imagine that you're exploring a trail far away from the city. As with most gardens, Debra's is in a constant state of change and she's told me that hers doesn't look like this anymore, but I can bet that it's just as beautiful now as it was in 2012.

I pretty much drool over agaves, large and small, but this one was really LARGE.
It was taller than me.

Imagine stepping out your front door and having to look at this. Such a travesty.

Doesn't this just make you want to hop, skip and jump to see what's at the other end?

I love the pottery and the aloes.

I'll take my morning tea right here, please.

Debra has this rainbow of succulents potted up on her balcony. Yummy!

Not only does Debra walk the walk as a succulent expert, she's an artist too. She creates beautiful watercolors of the succulents she grows. She sent me a calendar for 2015 that features a dozen gorgeous images of her paintings.

Image from Debra Lee Baldwin

I've done one watercolor in my life and that was several years ago. I found it to be a daunting task, but when Debra did a blog post explaining her process of painting watercolors of her succulents, she made it sound much easier than I remembered. I might just try again, this time painting some of the flowers from my garden.

Debra has offered to send one of her 2015 Succulent Watercolors Calendars to one lucky reader! Just imagine getting to display this artwork on your wall all year long. All you need to do is this:

1. Leave a comment to this blog post, telling me which month's painting from the calendar is your favorite (mine's November - I think)


2. Fill out the Rafflecopter form with your contact information. I will be using Rafflecopter to pick a random winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway will end at midnight EST on Friday night, January 9, 2015, and all entries must be received by that time. A random winner will be chosen and the winner will be notified by email.

If you can't wait to see if you're the winner, you can purchase one of Debra's calendars here. Debra blogs at Gardening Gone Wild and on her own website, which has a wealth of information for succulent lovers.

From Debra Lee Baldwin's garden, 2012

I was given a complimentary calendar from Debra as well as being able to offer one for a giveaway. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

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