Plants – Mandevilla Trellis

Mandevilla vines have spectacular pink flowers and grow inches by the day. I brought mine indoors when the nights grew cool expecting the plant to slip into a dormant state. The vine surprised me by growing in every direction at a fast pace. Soon, I needed to find a way to support the long tendrils.

I wanted to keep the appearance of the Mandevilla natural and clean, as minimal as possible. An area near me has quite a few wild grapevines hanging from trees. I found a few branches, about four foot in length, clipped them off and brought them home to fashion into a trellis.

Success! The trellis was easy to achieve. I poked the thicker ends into the soil along the pot sides, about three inches down. The springy tips were flexible, but also upright, and rose high above the plant.

Since the grapevine is loaded with large tendrils I twisted these gently around the uppermost stems and the trellis became self-supporting. I didn’t need to do any tying. How easy was that? The finished trellis does a perfect job supporting the vines as they coil up the stems. Problem Solved!

Plants & Photo Challenges – Bald Cypress Tree

When I saw Cee’s Pick a Topic challenge today, my front yard Bald Cypress immediately became my focus. Planted about the time my first grandson was born, it has probably been growing for about fifteen years.

The challenge, November Pick a Topic, included orange, along with other words, vintage, cast iron, etc. Orange is my choice, because it is easily accessible, blazing in the sunlight; my Bald Cypress glows russet orange.

The tree, although an evergreen, is a deciduous evergreen and loses its leaves in the Autumn. The leaves, when they fall, are like velcro and stick to whatever they touch. Small evergreens in my front garden are now wearing a garland of rust. The lawn becomes carpeted, making it fun to mow, turning the grass from orange to green again.

Whenever we drive down our road on the way home from outings, and I spy this majestic tree, I can’t help exclaiming, “What a beautiful tree.” It has grown from a six foot sprig, to a towering giant, and is now beginning to dwarf the house. Bald Cypress trees can grow to 120 feet and can live for 600 years.

In a corner of my garden a small sprig of a Bald Cypress tree is growing. Planted by way of the wind,or a foraging squirrel, it now stands about a foot. In the Spring, I will have to decide what to do with it. It needs to have plenty of space. In twenty years, it might be on its way to becoming a giant too.

This post is part of Skywatch.

Plants – Autumn Superstar – Tithonia/Mexican Sunflower

In my back garden you’ll find a towering plant near eight feet in height. I didn’t know Tithonia (Tithonia diversifolia), often called Mexican Sunflower, could grow so tall. The petals open up for me in late summer and are surprisingly velvety to touch. The seeds were part of a Wildflower Mix by Botanical Interests. The plant grows in a plot of ground once prepared as a square foot garden. The amended soil, vermiculite, mushroom soil, etc., must still have some ‘POW’ remaining; the plants within the confines grew much larger than average.

The size the plant reached in one season amazes me. Unfortunately, Tithonia is an annual and won’t survive my southern NJ winter. I saved mature/ripened seeds and will replant in Spring. The ground hasn’t frozen yet and is still soft and workable; this week, in addition to the seeds I saved, I will also scatter a few Tithonia seeds throughout my garden beds in hopes they will grow when warm weather returns. Seeds overwintered in the earth always grow best.

The flowers blossom at the end of a long stem, perfect additions to floral arrangements. The stems remain sturdy in a vase, the flowers, if picked at peak bloom, stay fresh and lovely for over a week. The stems can be cut short or tall for height.

Requirements for growing Tithonia:

*7-10 days for germination

*Sun for most of the day

*Needs at least three feet of spread room

Will I grow Tithonia again. Oh yes…I am saving many of the seeds and intend to leave the remainder for the birds to nibble through the winter. I will leave the plant in place instead of cutting away. The branches and any leaves that stay on the plant will provide shelter for the birds and also give them a chance to land and check for predators in the area around the bird feeders.

This post is part of Cee’s Flower of the Day and Friday Skywatch challenge.

Perspective and Plants – It Is Well.

My new rose garden is in a full flush of bloom. The roses thrived from the start, but the warm days of summer, and a season of good rain and fertilizer, bumped up the amount of Autumnal blooms. Also a help was the waning of the pest attacks that decimated the foliage in early Spring. My Mother loved asking about the rose garden throughout the Spring and Summer months. She frequently called me in the early morning to chat a bit and often asked about the roses.

Mom is no longer with us. You might have noticed I have not posted for months. During that time my Mother struggled with injury and failing health, and she went to heaven in early September. When she passed into the presence of Jesus, a small bouquet of my roses lay upon the tray near her bed. My sister and I were with her at the end. It was peaceful, yet so hard; we were aware by her deteriorating condition there was no coming back from the strokes she suffered in the last three days of her life.

When we left her, we took the elevator up two floors to where my Father was also a patient. Yes, both of my parents were in the hospital at the same time. The nursing staff allowed Dad to be brought down in a wheelchair to visit with Mom, and he sang to her the old beloved hymn, ‘It Is Well.’ My Dad is recovering. I am grateful for that, and we hope with some Physical Therapy he will continue to improve.

The photograph above is how I remember her in appearance when I was a little girl. I am in the middle. I believe from my size this photo was taken in the early 60’s, and I would have been between four and five years old. She was beautiful until the end of her life.

The photo was taken on my back porch this summer on the Fourth of July. We had no idea at the time it would be the last Fourth we celebrated together? My Mom is on the left, my Mother-in-law on the right. They became good friends over the years.

In the early years of this century my mother fought breast cancer twice. God healed her and gave her twenty more years to live and spend with family. During that hard time of chemotherapy and radiation she was encouraged by Jeremiah 29:11. The verse is engraved on the cross I took from her desktop and placed amid the roses. 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~Jeremiah 29:11

While I was packing up her devotional corner, near her chair, one of those faith-boosting divine mysteries occurred. The devotional she had been reading had a bookmark inside. It wasn’t at the date she would have stopped reading, instead it was on the date July 17th. I read the words, wanting to connect with the place she had marked, these words were at the top of the page. “It Is Well.” A devotion based on the the hymn my father sang to her. It is well! I know I will see her again one day.

 

Plants – Garden Volunteers & Garden Tools

Each year I delight in finding plant ‘volunteers’ in my garden beds. I often have unexpected bare spots in the early Summer due to the foliage of daffodils and other bulb plants dying back. These volunteers perfectly fill the empty spaces. I’m so grateful for my garden volunteers.

Nicotiana sylvestris (flowering tobacco)
Coleus Sprout and Browallia
Blue Lobelia and Balsam
Balsam Flower from a Volunteer Plant – I have dozens of these beauties in many colors in the garden beds…most are volunteers.
Bird feeder seed volunteers – This Sunflower hid among other weedy volunteers and didn’t fall victim to the hungry rabbits.
Yellow Thistle – This is invasive in some parts of the country, but it is the first time I have seen the plant in my garden. It has grown in the ground beneath the winter bird feeder. I think it probably was part of a Wild Finch Bird Seed I bought this past year.
Moving a Balsam volunteer for replanting.

I’ve mentioned this tip before, but for newcomers to the blog it’s worth repeating. One of my favorite tools for transplanting volunteer plants is a putty knife. It slides right down between sidewalk cracks and lifts the small plantlets roots and all. It also digs deep and severs the roots of Dandelions, evening Primrose, and Plantain, all good weeds, but sometimes too exuberant in their growth.

Balsam root ball intact using putty knife removal.

Plants & Preserving the Good – Scents of Summer 2020

Summer of 2020 was a strange time, but I was still able to garden, swim at our local pool, and find time to try out a few new ideas. One of those projects was creating scented alcohol.

Most of the articles I read spoke of creating your own perfume, but I only wanted to preserve the scent of summer to remind me of my gardens. I used moonflowers and nicotiana in my white-flowered blend. In another blend, I used anything and everything that smelled good without looking up information first to see if they were toxic. Smelling a fragrance is usually not dangerous, but rubbing an alcohol with an essential oil infused into it onto your skin could be life-threatening if the plant or flower is toxic. If I was hoping to create something I could put on my skin, I would make sure I used only flowers and leaves that were both fragrant and edible.

The project was simple. I bought some vodka, a very inexpensive blend, which although it had no fragrance of its own, was so cheap, it assaulted my nose every time I smelled it. The harshness did eventually disappear, but when I try my scent-making again, I will use a better quality vodka.

I used mason jars. The plastic lids I have for them create a great seal. I filled the jar with some vodka, added clean flowers, and let them sit. In fact, the flowers in the photograph are still in the vodka. The alcohol helps preserve their form and color. Eventually, the nose-wrinkling properties of the vodka disappeared and a slight scent was present. I strained the first batch of flowers out after a week or so, and added more. I kept this up over a period of several weeks. Now, in mid-winter, I enjoy smelling the perfumed vodka (called an absolute) created from summer’s flowers and foliage.

Now is the time to plan out flowers and plants to place in your garden if you want to create a scented alcohol  (absolute) of your own. A few I used were: moonflowers, nicotiana, scented geranium leaves, pansies, alyssum, lemon balm, lemon verbena, rose petals and others. A few of these are non-toxic, but some are poisonous. This year I will create a non-toxic blend and see if it will work as a perfume.

Plants – Moringa Update

My Moringa trees grew from seed, in dollar store buckets, to about four feet in height throughout last summer. I loved the look of the leaves, and even better than just being beautiful on the tree, they pressed perfectly between the pages of books.

In the Autumn, I waited too long to bring them indoors. They endured a bit of cold weather. When I brought them into the house, and put them in their winter resting place in the basement, they immediately dropped all their leaves.

I cut the branches way back with hopes they might send out some shoots, and I’ve been rewarded with a bit of green. The foliage is rather sad in appearance in comparison to what grew outdoors, but I have hopes all it will take is a few hot days on the back patio to bring them back lush growth once more.

Plants – Gardener’s Wish Book

It arrived about two weeks ago…Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog, 497 pages of great articles and photographs of plants. I pre-ordered and purchased this catalog, they also offer a free catalog.

It’s gorgeous. The stuff a gardener’s dreams are based upon.

I’m a bit disappointed though, the Moringa seeds I purchased last year are already sold out, but I’m on their email notification list if they get more in stock.

The catalog reminds me of the old Sears Wish Book Catalog my boys used to pore over years ago.They would circle toys in red marker in hopes Santa would bring them down the chimney on Christmas morning.

This is a great seed catalog, and in my experience a great and very reliable company. I’ve never been disappointed with their product. Take a look at their site if you love to grow plants from seed:Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Plants – Coleus Harvest & Sampler

I am in the midst of harvesting and packaging my coleus seeds from 2020 to offer at The Flower Ark Etsy Shop.

I’ve enjoyed watching the plants develop from small seeds into 12 -30 inch plants. There have been many new patterns, colors, and edge variations to observe and cherish. I haven’t been disappointed!

This beauty growing in the side yard produced an abundance of colorful leaves and flower stalks. It was the first to produce seed this year.

For some reason I loved the simplicity of this green and ecru plant. Surrounded by impatiens and other coleus, the gently swirling leaves were finely marked and scalloped.

 

To create my samplers I photograph the leaves and insert them in Ribbet’s collage maker. This is a very easy application to use.

As I gather and package the seeds, I am already dreaming of next year’s crop. Coleus seeds will sprout and grow through the winter and make amazing and easy to grow houseplants. Indoors give them your sunniest window to prevent leggy growth. Pinch out the tips and you will soon have a bushy, colorful addition to your plant menagerie.

Plants & Praise – Job’s Tears

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. Job 19:25 (NIV)

This nondescript plant, resembling miniature corn, yields an interesting grain that makes perfect beads. Job’s Tears are a novelty item in my garden this year. I have grown it in 2.5 gallon containers in a spot that gets afternoon sun. The plant has grown well for me and I am now harvesting the colorful seeds.

Although the seeds, purchased through Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds, were mostly tan in color when I opened the packet, they have produced seeds/beads of many colors. I’ve harvested them when they easily pop off the plant.

Dave’s Garden has a great article on the plant and how to use the seeds to make a rosary or necklace. I’m hoping to save enough seeds for projects and also plenty to plant next year.

Plants – Coleus Week/Creating a Topiary Tree- Part II

This is my coleus topiary, in the works for two, maybe three years; I’ve lost track of time. Started from a spindly specimen, it has grown into a beauty.

Since the lush growth makes it top-heavy, I have added a whole bag of river rock to the potting soil. The extra weight keeps the plant stable in the wind that sometimes whistles through the porch screens during summer storms. In the winter I don’t have to worry so much about it toppling over, but I like the look of the stones and will leave them in place when I bring the plant indoors before cool weather begins.

The leaves of this coleus are a perfect example of how light affects the color. You can see the changes in saturation and design. There must be half a dozen variations on this one plant. I love the mosaic look of the newer leaves at the top, but also enjoy the deep pinks and maroons of the earlier leaves. It’s fun to move a coleus around from window to window, and outdoors too, to see what kind of rainbows the light will create.

Plants – Coleus Week/Creating a Topiary Tree- Part I

Creating a coleus topiary causes me to garden contrary to my usual standards. When I grow plants from seed, or from cuttings, I want them to bush out and develop branches. To grow a topiary I need them to grow tall and leggy. The best way I’ve found to accomplish this is to put the plants in a shady area where they must grow upwards to reach the brighter light.

Recently, I dug up and transplanted into potting soil several of the coleus volunteers from the front garden. Now they are growing in a shady nook of my outdoor porch, below the screened window. The coleus get enough light to live, but nothing direct, this causes them to shoot upwards toward the light. At this point their colors fade, and the growth becomes leggy, but this is exactly what I want from them.

As they grow upwards, I clip off their side shoots with small manicure scissors, leaving only a set of leaves at the top and the growing tip. The coleus will continue to grow toward the light, and I will continue to clip until each reaches a height I want. Even as small as they are I might have to begin staking to support the stem. At this point, because of their size, I would use a coffee stirrer, or another small slender support.

Plants – Coleus Week/Volunteers

It’s a hot, hot, hot day here in the Mid-Atlantic State of New Jersey. Heat-loving plants and people are doing well, those who dislike the temperature hovering near 100 degrees are not so good. If kept well-watered, coleus plants do well in July; they love high temperatures. Not only do they thrive in the heat, they also offer up volunteer sprouts in surprising nooks and crannies courtesy of last year’s seed stalks.

They are not particular about soil, many come up in between the rocks bordering the garden. It sometimes makes for crowded conditions, but it also gives me some interesting color combinations.

The plants will continue growing throughout the late fall. I have stopped pinching them, and now they will begin to bloom, sending up seed stalks for me to gather in mid-autumn. I have even dug a few up for special projects…a bit of a teaser for tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned!

Plants – Moringa Update

In early May I posted a few words about my attempts to grow a Moringa plant. Moringa is a powerhouse plant, full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
You can read my first post here: How to grow and use Moringa. A few days afterwards I posted a guest article by SusieShy on her Moringa Tree.

Here are two of my Moringa plants, started from seeds in the Spring, and planted in containers. They have thrived, and are growing at an astonishing rate. Soon I will begin to harvest and use their leaves. I can’t wait to see if they will bloom and create the drumsticks. If they do another update will be sure to follow.

The trees have branched out in every direction and send out new shoots at a steady pace.

Unfortunately, the Moringa I planted in my garden plot has not thrived. In our area the added warmth of the black containers helped the patio Moringas grow better. They are, after all, a plant of the tropics. I am hoping to continue growing the plants and will try to bring them in to the house in the Autumn.

Plants – Coleus & Betty Grable

Betty Grable 20th Century Fox.jpg
By Frank Powolny – 20th Century Fox studio promo portrait [1], Public Domain, Link

What do Betty Grable, famous pin-up for World War II enlisted men, and coleus, famous rainbow-hued plants, have in common?

Legs! Well, not really legs where the coleus are concerned, but definitely a bit of legginess can develop as my young coleus sprouts grow.

Coleus, left side, before pinching, right side, after pinching out growing stem. 

When my coleus sprouts begin to shoot up and become leggy I know it’s time to pinch out the middle top leaves. Before I do this, I make sure the plant has at least six true leaves. Using my hand as a garden tool, I carefully grasp the last set of leaves between thumb and forefinger, and pinch the topmost leaves away. This will allow the top to branch out into two separate stems. I continue pinching throughout the summer months, helping the coleus to become bushy rather than tall and leggy. On August 1st, I stop pinching and let the flowers develop. Another plus to growing coleus is helping out the pollinators who make use of their flowers; at this point bees happily cross-pollinate the plants for me.

The coleus in the foreground has already been pinched. At this stage I can judge which sprouts are going to be tall and large-leafed, and which will be small with interesting swirled, fringed leaves.

Here’s a look at a sample of my sprouts. I have between 150 and 200 growing in the house. Our weather has been very cool and I want these babies to have the best start possible. Coleus cannot tolerate cold weather.

I’m thrilled with these babies since I know they will only improve, deepen in color, begin to swirl and turn, develop scalloped edges or stay straight, as they begin to grow outdoors under the pine.

 

Plants – Moringa oleifera ( Part 2 )

I am so honored to have a guest author write a post for my blog. SusieShy45, another WordPress blogger, has been a friend of mine for years through our contact on WordPress Blogs. She has grown Moringa trees from fallen stems into large trees. She has written to me of her experience and has given her consent for me to present it here. Thanks so much Susie. You can read more about Susie and follow her posts here: Susie Shy 45.

Moringa trees are a favorite tree of Indians- particularly South Indians- it can grow in warm dry rainless climates like in the Middle Eastern desert where a large number of the population has emigrated from South India. In a storm about 5 years ago, I got the watchman of our compound to get me fallen stems from moringa trees to plant in my backyard. This was in the heart of summer. Constant watering during the summer kept the plants alive, until they established roots. And then they survived on their own through the desert summer. By winter of that year, the leaves were green and the tree had started flowering. The flowers are creamy in colour and grow in bunches. They are used for cooking too- of course after removal of the stamens and pistils. Flowers are washed thoroughly to remove insects as they are a major source of nectar. The moringa tree loves the sun and direct sunlight, explaining why they are doing so well in the Middle East. And it is classified as a drought resistant plant, so does not require much watering. The tree grows tall in order to capture the sunlight.

Later the flowers turn to the moringa fruit, which is a delicacy and is used in many curries and sautes. The pulp from inside the fruit is what is edible, though the fruit is cut into small pieces and cooked – skin and all- only the soft part inside the fruit is eaten after they are cooked.

The leaves can be eaten any time, they are a good source of iron, folic acid, vitamin C. For us,eating moringa leaves in various sautees and curries, is supposedly responsible for the long, thick, black hair of many south Indians.

Here are some more photographs of Susie’s Moringa trees.

Drumstick Fruit

The flowers are edible.

Doves and other birds live on the tree.

Thanks Susie for the article and the great photographs.

 

Plants – How to Grow and Use Moringa oleifera/Drumstick Tree

This year, as I was browsing information on heirloom seeds, my interest was piqued by an amazing plant/tree, native to India, known by the name of Moringa, or Drumstick Tree. After reading through the health benefits found in this plant, I searched out seeds and located a source. I almost felt I was in possession of Jack-in-the-Beanstalk’s magic beans when I opened the packet; large, amazing seeds lay in the palm of my hand, dark brown/black with papery wings. I was thankful for the instructions: soak in very warm water for three days, changing the water frequently. I followed the instructions and was amazed at how fast they sprouted.

Because I started several seeds, I have half a dozen sprouts, and they are plant-like already; their growth rate is phenomenal, I am able to grow them in several different conditions to see what suits them best.

I’ll grow one in the house. I’ll need to pot it up soon as I’ve read they develop a long tap root and I want it to have room to expand.

One is planted in a container on my patio. I have two more to plant in my outdoor gardens. I’m excited about growing these and the harvests of leaves and seeds I hope to gather from them.

In the meantime, I am enjoying this amazing tea. It’s delicious and it gives me double satisfaction in knowing I am doing my body good.

The video below is excellent with tips on the health benefits of the plant and how to grow them best.  Beneath the video is an excellent link with information on Moringa.

Benefits and Side Effects of Moringa

Plants – The Big Coleus Transplant – Hooray! (Tips for Etsy Seed Purchases)

I’ve been growing this year’s coleus crop in recycled chicken rotisserie containers since mid-winter. They have grown well, and it’s time to transplant them. Before I begin I gently move the larger plants aside; the coleus are already showing different colors, sizes, and leaf shapes. Years ago, and I have no idea where the advice came from, I read that often the best coleus are the last ones to sprout and grow large. I have found this to have a modicum of truth, beneath the larger coleus sprouts are often the best plants.

I transplant into small cups with a drainage hole cut into the bottom. A light potting soil is best, I add a bit of vermiculite to lighten it further, but it’s not necessary if the soil drains well.

The best method to remove the seedling from the surrounding sprouts is to use a fork. The fork lifts without cutting through the roots.

At this time I closely examine each plantlet and take note of those that have the most potential. I was impressed by this small sprout. Although it it is tiny it is loaded with color and sass. I like the spots and it reminds me a bit of a leopard.

Here’s my first tray of seedlings potted up and ready to grow on for a few weeks. Coleus cannot tolerate cold temperatures. I will grow them on in the trays until after the full moon on May 7th. At that time they can be placed in their permanent pots outside.

I love coleus. They can be sown and planted at any time throughout the year. They make an amazing houseplant. I’ve included a photograph of a coleus I’ve grown into a topiary.

The Flower Ark Etsy Shop Coleus Seeds

Phlowers – Coleus Sprouts/Leaves of Many Colors

This is a leaf from one of my favorite indoor coleus. Have I  mentioned that in late summer, I choose a few favorites, take cuttings, and then grow the rooted coleus all winter? This gives me many pots of colorful plants and a good head start on summer color. The one above is a favorite. The leaf is large enough to cover my palm. The colors are a great mix, Kelly green, lemon yellow with touches of chartreuse green, and purest pink. I enjoy the textured growth of this leaf, and also the fringed edges. The leaf has a slight downward curve, giving it a graceful swoop as it grows from a strong stem.

Twelve months ago, the large coleus looked much the same as this year’s sprouts. Perhaps a few of them are offspring of this particular plant. The sprouts are just beginning to color and even display different shapes and sizes. I see one in the front that shows promise of interesting texture and color. I planted these coleus using my small seed technique. They are well-spaced, giving each one plenty of room to grow and giving the soil adequate airflow to combat damping-off disease.

The good news is these sprouts are only beginning to develop. They will become prettier, fringed, and deeper textured with each passing day. In about six weeks they will ready to plant into their final pots to wow the borders of the yard with their colors.

 2020 Coleus Seeds available for purchase at The Flower Ark Etsy Shop.