31 March 2014

The Undead Zombie Plants

A quick walk through the gardens last week showed the extent of winter's damage. Zombie plants are everywhere. They appear dead, but may be undead -- ready to spring up from the earth to grow among the living again.

At a gardening lecture attended Saturday, everyone was wailing in anguish at the slow arrival of spring and the exceptionally harsh winter. One gardener complained that the temperatures dropped below the minimum temperatures of the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, not realizing its numbers are average low temperatures, not lowest. And then it snowed yesterday.

Zombies inhabit the side garden, located on the south side of my brick house and protected from northwest winds.

Come back to life?
The rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) provides fresh herbs for our grilled potatoes in the summer. It survived previous winters nestled in the side garden and was mulched in autumn.

The plant looks dead dead dead. Two semi-green leaves were noticed down inside the base after I took the shears to the plant last week. They did not appear as new sprouts, but as almost dead. The sprigs were plucked off and brought indoors for rooting. Hope is that the roots will rebound with a new plant later.

Rose Campion
It's alive.
This (Lychnis coronaria) was a donation to the dry garden last spring. Winter left it looking deflated. Like a good little zombie, it kept rising out of the ground during the winter, and I kept pushing it back down. Prognosis is good for survival after its first year, and after the frost heave.

Dead or undead?
(Cynara cardunculus) survived for the past three winters. Right now, there is nothing to photograph after the second cold wave turned what was left to mush, blackened and disfigured. Like the rosemary, hope is that a new plant will develop from surviving roots, but I don't know. That looked mighty black with rot down to the core.

Cutting Celery
Will it rise again?
Sprigs of this lived through two winters and came back healthy and spreading each spring, with some plants coming from reseeding. Today I can photograph only dirt, but hope new celery will again grow from last year's seeds.

California Poppy
Come back to life?
Expectations are high for the Schscholzia californica. Those not surviving past winters have prolifically reseeded across the platform steps to the other side of the garden. Today everything looks wiped out.
Belacamda Lily poking up

Belacamda Lily
Among the living.
Two years ago, (Belacamda chinensis) were planted from seed, and one bloomed. And then it died. Last year, more were planted from seed, two survived, and were well-mulched last fall. Expecting the worse after this winter, I was rejoicing at the pair that are among the living. The leaves are rising up, resembling bearded iris.

So today, it's Zombies 4, Living 2.

20 March 2014

Winter Walk Off

Although a little late with this post, it was eventually completed (past the official deadline.) My winter walk-off was started on Monday, but then we were gifted a March snow storm for the record books. I started after the storm, but did not finish the walk or photos until sunny yesterday.

My walk was around Old Town Alexandria. This year, I photographed things that were interesting to me.

When temperatures warm, freeze, warm, and when there is no rain gutter, you get icicle lights.

This is storefront to an interior decorator and furnishings store on the main commercial drag. Although artificial greenery is used, the plastic growies seem organic and tastefully arranged.

Turning back to the residential streets, I always admired this house. It is simple, understated, yet highly elegant probably for its restraint and proportions. Although Alexandria was wealthy and boomed during the 1800s, the extravagance of the Victorian era never caught on. Italianate style (in a row house urban environment) dominates. It is characterized in this house with tall narrow windows, muscular ornamentation used sparingly, simple segmented arch (metal) hood moulds over the windows, and a mansard roof. What's missing is the cresting (metal decorative railing) along the top of the roof.

With row houses along the sidewalk and few if any front yards, a pedestrian scale allows appreciation of details. Door knockers easily seen from sidewalks are one of the ways homeowners distinguish their homes. This one is found on a gate leading to a garden.

This door knocker proudly displays the symbol of the new country immediately after the revolution. Although the knocker is not old, the door itself is. Its panel construction is similar to that used today, but the panels are flush with the rails (horizontal and vertical frames.) Today's doors would have the panels recessed, as in the following photos.

And this newer home decided to go with the edible route. Pineapples would never do.

Another way of personalizing your abode is with a unique wreath. Staying with the fruit theme, if life serves you lemons, make a door wreath.

Nothing says spring like a wreath of bird nests full of eggs on a pink door.

If you can't have a watchdog guarding your house, how about a watchgargoyle at the front door to scare off intruders?

Take a good look at the brick on this house. To think all this decoration, from projections, patterns, and double negative corners, is from the same size 4" by 8" (10cm by 20cm) brick.

Old Town is not all stuffy and staid. Teddy, Ben, Abe, Ronnie, and a redhead I don't recognize beckon for some southern barbecue.

This is known as a spite house. There are a handful in Alexandria, but this is the smallest. They were originally built by the owners of alleys (back in the day I guess alleys were privately owned.) This owner got fed up with people using his alley for shortcuts to their backyards (where horses, wagons, etc. were stored) so, he built a 7-foot wide (2m) house on it for spite.

Hope you enjoyed your walk around. Visit other walk-offs at A Tidewater Gardener.

09 March 2014

Time To Wake Up

For the past three years or so, I have saved a few plants from the annual winter kill in order to replant in the spring. This is done either by keeping the plants going, or putting them into hibernation. I try out a new technique or two each year in the hope of having a better preservation success rate. The new tricks I am testing this year follow.

Here's how they roll. About three Pretoria canna tubers are planted in the garden in the spring. They easily grow and multiply during the summer, (not large enough to bloom until July) loving the hot humid weather we are noted for. The three turn into about a dozen. They are lifted after the first frost and those tubers large enough to save are stored until the spring. I end up losing all but two or three over the winter to rot or desiccation. The remaining are planted in the ground again after the soil warms, about two weeks after the last front date.

I began dusting the tubers with copper dust before storing them, maybe preventing the rot. This past fall, I bagged them in peat moss, hoping for a better save success rate. They all dried out except for about five. I'll take that as an improvement.

Canna Experiment #2 - try to get them growing before putting them in the ground. They are now in moist peat/soil, barely below the surface. And, they have begun to swell with some pink coloration on the tubers, a clear sign that they are beginning to wake up and maybe have a head start this year (although there are no roots.)

I read about doing this to the Persian Shield. In the fall, I take cuttings of the freshest stem tips. After about a month in water, they root. These are planted in yogurt cups and placed on an eastern facing window sill in a cool unused bedroom for the winter. They are watered, and (at this time) start to produce flowers.

This has worked well for the past four years, and all plants make it through to be planted in the spring. Although not growing much in the winter, they stay green (they are purple in the hot summer) until ready to resume their lives out in the wild. This year, as with the cannas, I am giving some a head start by transplanting to larger pots before going outdoors, in hopes they will be large.

I first saw these plants at the Atlanta Botanical Garden at a whopping 5-6 feet (1.5 m) tall. There was probably a greenhouse involved in this somewhere.

This is my first experience with these beauties. A friend asked me how to overwinter them, because after digging them up, his all rot in winter. I explained my procedure with the cannas and suggested peat moss storage. He was overjoyed that about all of his Colocasia came through the winter, and thanked me with five plants, and some bulbs I will write about in the coming months.

I dug them up, dusted them, and placed them in peat. But they did not fare well, and most shriveled up. I will attribute this to their small underdeveloped size in the fall. Three were solid, so they were cleaned and wet. In a few days, all grew one or two clear, protruding gelatinous wormy things about 1/8-inch long (3 mm). I am hoping these are the beginning roots and not a fungus. I placed them in a damp peat medium, so stay tuned.

The Red Cordyline is the center of a pot on the deck, and has been brought indoors, pot and all, for three winters. It is placed at an east-facing french door, and watered less frequently through winter. It looks great now, and is beginning to develop a stem/trunk as the lower leaves are shed through the years.

Let's hear what you keep over the winter, and the methods you use.