Garden

Plants in Dining Nook: Hoya, Swedish Ivy, small Tradescantia, and Amaryllis

Hello Hoya!

More than 30 years ago, I was given a Hoya plant. Hoya carnosa is the botanical name; it’s also known as porcelain flower or wax plant. These names were likely suggested by the flowers. They do look as though made from porcelain, and have a waxy appearance.

My plants (I have two, both clones of the original) are variegated. Their leaves are mainly green, but with white margins or streaks. An occasional leaf is pure white, and new ones often have pink shadings as well. Until recently, I had never seen a bloom. I assumed something about the situations I gave the plants was not conducive to producing blooms, and simply admired their leaves.

To be honest, the hoyas are awkward plants. They produce incredibly long stems which should have something to twine around. Or they ought to be grown as hanging plants. One of mine sits on a windowsill with its stems taped to the window frame with green painter’s tape. The other one is on top of a filing cabinet. One stem is tied to a bamboo stake, the other is attached to the top of a window frame with (you guessed it) more painter’s tape.

Several weeks ago, I noticed an odd thing on one of the stems. It looked alarmingly like a spider, but on closer inspection turned out to be a cluster of flower buds. Great rejoicing followed on my part, plus daily inspections and more tape applied, to make sure the bud-bearing stem was well supported.

Hoya flower cluster, unopened
This was a couple of weeks after I first noticed the buds. They had grown considerably. Notice what might be another bud near the lowest piece of tape.
Hoya flower cluster, unopened
You can see why it’s called wax plant.

Eventually, the flowers opened, all at once.

Hoya flower cluster

You can see why it’s called porcelain flower. They stayed in good shape for two or three weeks, then suddenly turned brown and dried up, again all at once. Hoyas are said to have a strong scent, and indeed another plant (not variegated) owned by the person who gave me mine had a spicy scent. I couldn’t detect any smell from my plant’s flowers, however, except maybe a faint chocolate aroma. (I was still recovering from covid at the time, though.)

I’ve noticed two tiny proto-buds on this plant. I tell myself they’re getting bigger, so maybe there will be more blooms from this hitherto reluctant bloomer.

Red, orange, and green tomatoes, August 2021

Wednesday Weirdness: Tomato Face

Tomato with blossom end rot that looks like a face
One of the first red tomatoes this year. It has a touch of Blossom End Rot, with a somewhat creepy effect.

The problem is said to be caused by a calcium deficiency and/or insufficient watering. I added lime to the soil for the tomatoes and have been watering assiduously, so the rest of them are mostly okay.

Pink dahlia and blue Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)

Summer’s End

It’s over…

Yes, I know summer doesn’t officially end for another 2.5 weeks. But according to the meteorological reckoning of seasons, as opposed to the astronomical one, summer ended with the month of August.

I am happy to kiss it goodbye. Summer had a late start here, but once it got going, it delivered a moderate heat wave almost every week. Nights were relatively warm too, so cooling the house (no a/c here!) was a bit of a project. It worked like this: first thing in the morning, open every window and door and get fans going to pull in the cool air of dawn. Once the outside temp starts to climb, shut all those windows and doors as well as curtains and blinds. This would keep the house at least 5 (Fahrenheit) degrees cooler than the peak outdoor temp. As soon as the outdoor temp dropped below the indoor one (usually by 7 or 8 p.m.), we opened everything up and got fans going again. Tedious, but fairly effective.

Now, I recognize that temperatures in the low to mid 80s (degrees F) are not considered super hot by many, but our “normal” maximum high temperature is 22C (72F). And most of us lack air conditioning. Hence the whining. And while I’m doing that, I’ll just add that there has been no rain at all since early July, so I’ve been best friends with watering cans, hoses, and sprinklers.

Blue Lacecap Hydrangea August 2022
This hydrangea now has its own soaker hose, so performed beautifully this summer.
Blue Lacecap Hydrangea August 2022

The Scarlet Bishop

Red Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff"
Dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff”

One of my two dahlias (the other is the pink one in the featured image at the top of the post) is this scarlet variety called “Bishop of Llandaff.” It’s named after an actual person, and has been cultivated in gardens since 1924. The contrast between the bright flowers and the dark foliage adds to its appeal.

I have several plants. Three are planted in the ground, and have survived the winters. The ones in pots winter in the basement. They grow much better than the ones in the ground; this year the tallest branches exceeded 5 feet (pot included).

Red Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" closeup
Red Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" closeup with bee
Bees like the Bishop too!

I know there will likely be more warm days, but the sun sets earlier and rises later. The fog bank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is swelling and drifts onto the land at times. Autumn is on the doorstep, and I’m ready to welcome it.

botanical books with illustrations of plants, old camera, old map

Stress on Which Syllable? Pronouncing Botanical Latin

There is a small scene in my novel Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey, in which two characters are talking about plants they’ve seen on a recent walk around the (fictitious) island on which the story is set. One of them rattles off several botanical names and asks whether he has pronounced them correctly. The other character (who is the narrator) responds by saying, “I must admit, I sometimes hesitate to say the Latin out loud. So often, there’s someone eager to jump in and correct one’s pronunciation. ‘No, my dear, the accent should fall on the first syllable.’ That sort of thing.”

That sort of thing probably occurs regularly in gatherings of serious gardeners, such as garden clubs and exhibitions. Most of my communication about plants happens on this blog, where all I have to worry about is spelling those sometimes lumpy botanical names. And italicizing them, of course.

Nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wondering about pronunciation. Like language in general, botanical Latin has its quirks. For example, many genus names are based on people’s surnames. Botanists’ names, I assume. Bergenia, Dahlia, Fuchsia, Mahonia. Lurking behind these pseudo-Latin monikers are dudes named Karl August von Bergen, Anders Dahl, Leonhart Fuchs, and Bernard McMahon.

But consider how those Latin genus names are usually pronounced: BerJEENia, DAYlia, FYOOshia. To be honest, I’m not sure whether the last one is MaHOnia or MahoNEEia, but I do know that Bernard’s surname was likely pronounced in a way that could be rendered as McMaan.

Maybe my suggested genus name pronunciations are not official, but only the way garden variety gardeners pronounce them. Maybe serious botanists simply add “-ia” to the correctly pronounced surnames? Somehow I doubt it, even though I don’t frequent gatherings of such individuals.

A few weeks ago, I attended an event at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. There was a plant sale. Even though my garden is full to bursting, I actually bought two plants. One of them was labelled Tweedia caerulea. Wikipedia tells me the correct name is actually Oxypetalum coeruleum. I think I’ll stick to Tweedia, as it’s easier to pronounce. Now all I have to worry about is making sure the little plant survives the winter, as its native region is southern Brazil to Uruguay. Its flowers are an unusual shade of blue, and of course I’m a sucker for blue flowers.

Oxypetalum caeruleum, Tweedia caerulea
From Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

For those who fret about pronunciation, this article is somewhat reassuring: Pronouncing Botanical and Latin Names from the University of Washington.

Featured image from Pexels.

Blue delphinium flowers in bowl

In a Vase By Accident

Pretty much the only way a flower ends up in a vase at my place is if it’s cut or broken by accident. I’d rather see them in their outside spots than in the house.

This delphinium, for example. We had a nice summer rain shortly after they started blooming. Rain here is almost always followed by brisk westerly winds as the low pressure system exits to the east. That was too much for the rain-soaked flower spike. The next day it was bent down at an acute angle that means only one thing–broken. So I brought it inside.

Blue delphinium, accidental cut flower, near pink African violets

I must admit, this allowed for a close-up view of the gorgeous translucent blue flowers.

I will be mostly absent from the blogosphere for the next week or so, due to summertime fun. Wishing good weather (cool or warm but not extreme) to all, along with happy reading and/or writing!

Pond bench, hostas, with Athyrium niponicum var. pictum (Japanese painted fern) in foreground

May Into June

I looked through the garden photos I took in the past few weeks. These are the ones I liked best.

Blue Siberian irises
Siberian irises. I think they’re purple, but the camera sees them as blue.
Blue Siberian irises closeup
Woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum) with wallflower Erysimum "Bowles Mauve"
Woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum) and wallflower (Erysimum) “Bowles Mauve”
Columbines, yellow and pale red, heuchera "Green Spice" in background
A frolic of columbines; Heuchera “Green Spice” in background
Single columbine, yellow and pale red, long-spurred
Swimming through the green…
Four big pots for tomatoes full of prepared soil

Making Dirt

I grow tomatoes in pots. That’s the only way to succeed with them in my garden. I wrote a series of posts about that last year.

This year, I bought six new, larger pots for tomato plants (which are still ridiculously small, due to our cool spring).

My usual practice is to refresh last year’s soil by dumping each pot (which has been sitting by the garden shed since last fall) into a wheelbarrow. I add bagged manure (which purports to be from cattle, steer, sheep, or mushrooms–haha, that’s a joke; I know mushrooms don’t actually produce it!) and my own compost, along with extras such as lime and fertilizer. Then I stir up the mixture with a spade, and when it’s uniformly mixed, I refill the pots.

The new pots, of course, were empty. And this year I have twelve tomato plants instead of the usual eight or nine. I needed more soil.

Digging up the garden wasn’t an option, so I had to make more dirt.

I used my established technique of enhancing the soil from last year’s tomato pots, but I also rounded up a few extra pots whose occupants had died or been dispatched, and incorporated that soil as well. But, some will ask, what about evil fungi or other toxins that may have killed those plants? Yes, that dirt might harbour such things, but I was going to dilute it with other stuff, so the risk was worth taking.

The “other stuff” was large amounts of compost and several bags of manure. Sheep manure this time. (To be honest, the stuff I dump out of those bags into the wheelbarrow has only a passing resemblance to actual poop expelled by whatever creature is named on the bag. Okay, it’s also labelled “composted” and “deodorized.” I suspect that really means the manure has been mixed with a good deal of other material, such as straw or sawdust. No matter, though, it refreshes and enhances the old soil from the pots.)

Prepping soil for tomatoes, wheelbarrow, compost and sheep manure

Amazingly enough, after filling the six new pots, I still had soil from six of last year’s tomato pots and two sacks of sheep manure, not to mention a good supply of compost. More than enough. The garden gods’ equivalent of loaves and fishes?

Of course the soil is fluffed up in the enhancement process, so I will probably have to top up the pots at planting time.

With luck, by late summer there will be tomatoes!

Perennials in the front garden, notably Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)

Pull Up, Cut Down, Snip Off: Deadheading

Some plants absolutely must be deadheaded, or there will be way too many of them. What is deadheading? Removal of spent flowers before seeds ripen.

I’m already well into deadheading mode. It starts with hellebores and continues through the summer and into fall. I spent a couple of hours this week pulling up spent bluebell stalks by the armload.

Here is a list, in chronological order, of the plants in my garden for which this treatment is not optional:

  • Hellebores: April and May
  • Bluebells: May
  • Forget-me-nots: May and June
  • *Meconopsis cambrica (Welsh poppy): May until fall
  • Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii: May and June
  • Lychnis coronaria (Rose campion): June until fall
  • Linaria purpurea (Toadflax): June until fall
  • Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s ears): July until fall
  • Campanula persicifolia (Peach-leaved bellflower): July until fall, intermittently
  • Echinops ritro (Globe thistle): August
  • Verbascum olympicum (Olympic mullein): August and September

It’s helpful to know the plants’ seeding habits. Euphorbias, for example, pop their seed pods on hot days, shooting seeds for several feet. That’s why my next door neighbour has a couple of euphorbias, and why I started with one plant but now have half a dozen. Now I know the importance of cutting down the flowering stalks long before the pods pop. Toadflax and rose campion produce billions of tiny seeds, so if I get behind on the deadheading, or miss a few plants, it’s impossible to cut down stalks that carry ripe seeds without peppering the immediate vicinity.

Other plants need deadheading too, not so much to prevent seeding, but to spare them from expending energy on futile seed production. These include tulips, daffodils, irises, delphiniums, lilies, and roses. Civilized plants, in other words. Unlike their tough and seedy companions, deadheading protects them, rather than the gardener’s temper.

And much as I complain about the tough, seedy plants, I rely on them to do well in this garden in which fussier plants struggle. Some of them are short-lived, so it’s just as well that volunteers pop up to replace the ones that fizzle out.

This isn’t my first post about deadheading. I wrote one early in my blogging career, so early that it has languished unread and unliked. Anyone who wants to give the poor thing some attention may find it HERE.

Bluebells

*Update, June 16, 2022: A gardener who lives in Wales pointed out that Meconopsis cambrica is actually the Welsh poppy, not the Cambridge poppy. Duly corrected!

White chairs near bird bath with dog fence and gate

Those Hoses, Those Chairs!

I don’t know if anyone has noticed this, but many of my garden photos include parts of green hoses or white chairs. Like the chairs in the featured image. They’re cheap plastic items we bought 30 years ago. Since then, one has perished, but I inherited another, fancier one from my mom.

Chairs are useful in the garden, for setting down things like tools, watering cans, and balls of string. There’s less chance of those items getting lost if they’re on a chair. And occasionally, the gardener sits on one to rest for a few minutes, until the sight of a weed or leaning plant demands action.

Back garden, spring, bird bath, ugly white chairs

The chairs, although cheap, are adequate for the purposes described. But they become a problem when I take photos of the garden. Not in close-ups of individual plants, but in shots of larger areas, there is often the suspicion of an incongruous white object, which turns out to be a chair leg. White is an uncompromising colour that jumps out from surrounding shades. It contrasts splendidly with green.

In this case, the late Zeke Cat was the star of the show.

Then there are the hoses. Two of them connect rain barrels to the pond, so overflow rainwater can help to top it up, rather than soaking into the ground near the barrels. The hoses run alongside two paths, and want to be in as many pictures as possible.

Part of back garden path showing part of green hose, foliage of Geranium sanguineum and lamb's lettuce in bloom
I took this picture because of the contrast between the dark green foliage of Geranium sanguineum and the light green and white of blooming lamb’s lettuce. But there’s the artificial green of the hose adding its rather incongruous note.

Hoses used to be uniformly this shade of green that is rare or nonexistent in nature. I guess the idea was they would blend in among the greens of the garden. They don’t. Recently, hose makers seem to have realized that and now colour their products so as to be visible. Lime green, blue, turquoise, and even purple hoses are available. Maybe too many of the green ones were blamed for causing people to trip, or were mangled by lawnmowers whose operators failed to see them.

The path behind the pond, with hose.

Some of you may be wondering why I don’t crop out the chair legs from the photos, or fiddle with filters to disguise the hoses. The truth is, I’m too lazy to bother, and even if a hose’s colour were modified, the shape is pretty uncompromising. My garden photo sessions are unplanned. I see something beautiful or interesting and run inside to grab the camera. If I see a piece of chair anatomy edging into the scene, or a hose intruding itself, I reposition myself so as to eliminate the offending item from the field of view. But that isn’t always possible. Later, when I’m reviewing photos for use in blog posts, I avoid the ones with the worst intrusions.

Pacific Coast Iris, white
This Pacific Coast Iris is blooming just like this right now (photo from 2021). And not a hose nor a chair in sight!