Green Thumbs

Passion for growing plants

   Apr 12

Spring Symphony

So, spring has finally sprung. We had a couple of cold rainy days which were followed by glorious sunshine and birdsong. The buds on the lilacs are bursting in slow motion and one can see their tiny flower buds.  Other trees and bushes have bright green buds ready to finally meet warmer weather.
Behind our house there is a small forest where one can find masses of Common Hepaticas, which aren’t really that common in Sweden. Actually they are quite rare which makes it even more precious to get the opportunity to see them. It is a protected species in the whole country, meaning it is prohibited by law to sell the flowers or dig up their roots. In some parts of our contry the protection is even more strict. Best to enjoy them with eyes only.
Speaking of eyes, let’s see what spring looks like!

 

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Remnants of the farm which was once here.

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Looks like ‘Wild Peach’

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Our landlord is wants to sell the apartment and while trying to style it a bit she accidentally broke the flower stalk on one of my oldest Phalaenopsis. As a way to apologize she gifted me the green and pink one above.


   Mar 28

Adenium Obesum, Pretty in Pink Desert Rose

I didn’t get around to posting this piece until now, but the seedlings are already starting to branch out and the mature plant has been heavily pruned to correct uneven growth.
I haven’t posted anything about my Desert Roses, Adenium Obesum. Actually I have in my possession one mature plant and a couple of one-year-old seedlings. The old plant flowers in summer with large pretty pink flowers, the most prevalent colour in Adeniums. But the seedlings, they are going to be surprises! Apparently seedlings do not grow true to type; many times they revert back to pink, which is also nice, but not as exciting as some of the burgundy and double varieties I have seen.
Its native habitats are for example Somalia and the fascinating and isolated island of Socotra, located off the coast of Yemen at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Because of their desert like origins the Adeniums form a large swollen caudex to get them through life on scarce water resources. The caudex grows larger as the plan gets older and often takes interesting otherworldly forms.

Adenium 3

While other plants in more favorable conditions grow large and tall with age, the Adenium doesn’t get much taller than a dwarf tree. Instead it focuses on growing broad and round in order to tolerate the harsh sun, fierce winds and seasonal monsoon rains.
Desert Roses are very easy to grow, but they require a lot of water during spring and summer. To prevent root rot indoor gardeners and dark climates induce dormancy in the autumn by reducing water and letting the plant shed its leaves. If cared for like this and kept in a warm place the Desert Rose is an easy plant, even though it does look a bit odd with its bare branches in the winter.

Adenium 1
Last spring I ordered some Adenium Obesum seeds from the US. to try my hand at. They sprouted rapidly and had a fat caudex from the start. The purpose of growing Desert Roses from seed is to get some variation in the colour of the flowers, and the fact that seedlings often have a more pronounced caudex than cuttings. But oh, are they slow growers! Since sprouting last spring they currently struggle to reach even ten centimeters. This plant requires endless patience.
As of today when I’m writing this piece I pinched my seedlings just a few hours ago to encourage branching. This is important in cultivation to avoid a large caudex with one single spindly stem ending with a couple of sad leaves. Pinching should be done when the plants are in active growth. As I started to water again early February and we are currently fifteen days away from the vernal equinox I hope it’s the right time and not too early.

Adenium 2

It worked!
Some other plant related news; my Amaryllis ‘Aphrodite’ is in full swing right now! One open flower and a bud. I really like the delicate picotee and watercolour-like look of this frilly double. It looks like someone took a paint brush to the flower and gently brushed it with a watery raspberry red. I’m so grateful, my dear mother purchased her for me at the grocery store after I had spent two years looking for this specific bulb.
Also, my pot with two white ‘Jewel’ has started sending up stalks, I think I prefer spring flowering Amaryllises to the ones forced for Christmas. When the light returns the true colours and sparkle in the flowers are easier to see.

Last weekend I went to the garden fair at Älvsjö, this is something I normally look forward to all year but this time I was deeply disappointed. It was very scaled down and nothing was really exciting. Armies of NOID Phalaenopsis orchids stood like soldiers on rows upon rows on the shelves. The fair was littered with cheap garden ornaments and very few unusual or high quality plants, pots or tools. I got a nice pot apparently made in Crete, but that was it.

Vit Phal

Phal NOID

Armies of NOID Phalaenopsis

The highlights were a little specialized orchid boutique, a stall with nice little old ladies selling seeds and the above mentioned Cretan terracotta pot. Let’s hope the next garden fair at Kista in late April is better!

Idéträdgård 3

Phalaenopsis

Randig Phal

Idéträdgård 2 Idéträdgård 1

This is an idea of how a garden inspired by the tales of writer Astrid Lindren could look.

 

 

 

Helleborus blandade Gul Cymbidium Gul CattleyaHönapöna 1

Keeping hens has become popular!

Scilla

At last, spring has finally sprung!


   Jan 04

The Peculiar Pinguicula

The story of the Pinguicula began when I had lived on my own for a mere six months. Being new to doing all the work myself I had more than once found a blackened banana in the fruit bowl, and I think everyone knows what black bananas bring. Fruit flies, in hordes.

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See the flies?
As the plant geek I am, I found this situation to be an excellent excuse to try my hand at carnivorous plants (even though experiments I made as a child never lasted for more than just a few months as the plant inevitably didn’t get enough water.) So one afternoon spent at a plant crazy friend’s house (now with a degree in biology) I was presented to a few curious clumps of bright green rosettes with diminutive roots. My friend also promised me plants of my own if I could supply a pot or two. Of course I could.
It turned out that the rosettes were some kind of tropical Pinguicula, the name of the sub species being long lost. In essence it is a carnivorous plant that catches its prey with a sticky substance that is produced in the leaves. Once stuck the flies cannot escape and will slowly be digested by the plant.
The species exists in many parts of the world, but the one I grow indoors is a tropical one that thrives in swampy conditions. It can take drought but stops producing the sticky coating of the leaves if it gets to dry. The best thing to do is to place a deep saucer under the pot to keep it wet at all times.

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The plant itself is not very flashy but deserves the place on my windowsill anyway. At best it can be described as cute with its bright green leaves. If you take good care of it and are lucky, you might be rewarded with simple bright pink flowers in spring and summer. Flowering will be encouraged if the plant is placed in a bright to sunny location. The rosettes divide themselves freely and can quickly cover the entire surface of the pot and even start to fall out. The plant prefers a shallow pot since the roots are almost non-existent. A deep pot would dry out far too fast. Even though it is not a great idea to do this very often, the plant can be placed in the shower and gently washed with lukewarm water to remove the unsightly dead flies.
All in all, this plant is easy to care for and soon you could find yourself giving away plants because the pot is becoming crowded. This is a must for everyone who from time to time finds themselves with overripe fruit.

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   Oct 15

Words from an Amateaur Amaryllis Connoisseur

A friend recently asked me to write a post about growing Amaryllis bulbs; this one is for you.

The Amaryllis Hippeastrum bulb originates in South America, is developed by the Dutch and in later years refined in South Africa. It is a tender bulb, meaning it can’t tolerate low temperatures or frost. This should be a hint not to buy bulbs at outdoor Christmas markets in northern Europe. The Hippeastrum bulbs are not to be confused with Amaryllis belladonna originating in South Africa; they are two entirely different species.

Basic care

So, let’s start. When you want to buy a bulb, you should look for a nice fat bulb with white fleshy roots, i.e. if you buy it without pot and soil. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see the bud, at this stage you are almost guaranteed to get flowers anyway. If you buy one in a pot it should also be fat. Buy one that sits firmly in the pot, it should not be wobbly. It is an extra plus if you can see roots coming out of the drainage holes, because yes, the pot absolutely has to have drainage holes. We’ll get to that. The bulb you have chosen should be firm, have no red markings or red stripes on the leaves, and at least one third of the bulb should be planted above the soil level to prevent rot and fungus diseases.

As Amaryllis bulbs grow very long and fleshy roots it is important that you find a pot as deep as the bulb is tall, or more, and three to four centimeters’ space from the bulb to the rim of the pot. Remember to pick one with drainage holes. I myself prefer unglazed clay pots as bulbs in full bloom can get quite top heavy.

When you get home pot up the bulb in rich soil with a good bit of drainage. Then water, but don’t let any water get into the nose of the bulb. Place it in a warm position without cold drafts. Wait.

Skip this step if your bulb is already planted.

Now you have to be careful not to overwater, as that is one of the main reasons Amaryllises go to bulb heaven. Overall, all bulbs are sensitive to overwatering, and with too much water comes rot and funguses. If you stick your finger carefully into the soil and it feels cool and damp, hold the water. A bulb can take some drying out without damage, but salvaging a mushy bulb takes some skills and a whole lot of patience. To further prevent rot keep the soil and bulb clean, pluck away any debris like parts of the old tunic that sometimes falls of.

In a few weeks a stalk should appear, with or without leaves. However, a mistake many make is to cut off the leaves. That is not a very nice thing to do to your bulb. It will deprive it of energy and should never be done unless the leaves are brown and withered.

When the flowers are spent cut them right behind the little knob, unless you have been doing the work of a bee and want seeds. Seed production is very taxing on the bulb, though.

Now it is vacation time for the bulb. It needs ample light, full sun if you can supply it and lots of fertilizer and water (but remember what I said about overwatering). If you do this it will produce several long thin leaves. Just let it do its thing and if you are lucky you might get a second scape, or even a third.

Forcing again

Speed ahead to autumn and many people start to think about forcing their bulbs for next Christmas. They stop watering and put their bulb, pot and all in a dark location and let the leaves wither. They let the bulb sit like that until mid to late November and then put it into the light and start watering again.

I don’t do this anymore, I find the bulb loses too much volume and it might not even have enough energy to flower this Christmas again. I prefer to let my bulbs remain in the green and flower when they want. I find they are much happier that way. This mindset requires you not to be fussy about when the bulbs flower.

If you very much want to have flowers at Christmas time buy a forced bulb from a nursery.

 

Varieties

Now we can get to the fun part about different varieties!

There are the large Dutch hybrids; they are the most common ones. In recent years the South African bulbs have become very popular. They are naturally smaller (and thus even more sensitive to drying out while resting I have found) and often sport much daintier flowers. In my experience they are also more willing to flower and it is not uncommon to get three flower scapes from one.

One perk with the South African bulbs is that they are also a good deal cheaper. While a Dutch jumbo bulb around Christmas time might set you back about 150 SEK, an African might cost 70 or even 50 SEK. The smaller size, good performance and attractive price have made them my favorite bulbs.

The Amaryllis has seen a rise in popularity even in the last five years. Now you can find hundreds of different cultivars, you aren’t limited to red, white and bicoloured like you were earlier.

Take care of your bulb and you can enjoy it for several years to come with countless flowers. There is absolutely no reason to throw away a healthy bulb just because the fireworks of New Year’s Eve have passed!

 

Here is a list of my favorite bulbs:

‘Papilio’ – a species with lime green flowers and burgundy stripes. I don’t have this one, yet.

‘Jewel’ – a pure white flower with a dark red eye, semi double and a wonderful scent. I have several of this one! Always lovely, one cannot have too many jewels right?

‘Alfresco’- white frilly meringue look. Double, I have two bulbs.

‘Exotic Star’ -it has a pronounced ‘Papilio’ parentage. It is less burgundy, leaning more at raspberry red with green/cream back. It’s so gorgeous, maybe my number one favorite. There are also two of them in my collection. It is a vigorous grower which likes to set bulblets.

‘Cherry nymph’- Christmas red but double. I have the only one I need.

‘Aphrodite’- frilly, double and pastel pink. What more can a girl ask? This one can be hard to get, but can be replaced with ‘Elvas’ which might in fact be even prettier. I would love to buy ‘Elvas’

‘Trentino’ – I have this one in my bedroom waiting for a scape. I’m pretty sure it will soon be among my favorites. It is a small flowering South African hybrid with soft pink flowers hinting at green.

See a pattern here? I’m very fond of small delicate flowers in white and pastel colours. I try to avoid the Christmas red jumbo bulbs that are so common.

 

Propagation

Amaryllis bulbs are very easy to propagate. The least time-consuming way is to separate a bulblet from the mother bulb. Another way is to set seeds, a most time-consuming way, but the only one to get new hybrids. If you have the patience you can get amazing results though.

We’ll get to a more intricate post about bulblets when it is time to repot my bulbs.

In short, getting bulblets is an asexual way to propagate and the bulblets are clones of the mother bulb. Making seedlings is the sexual way, and they become brand new individuals.

There are two sites I can recommend for further reading: Hadeco, which also has an online shop though I’m not sure if they ship to Sweden. Then there is Eamaryllis, which is a privately run site with an extensive photo gallery of named hybrids.

http://hadeco.co.za/hadeco-amaryllis

http://www.emaryllis.com/

Trentino knopp

Here is ‘Trentino’ with a bulblet and a bud. As you can be seen it already has a few leaves.


   Oct 06

Project Biosphere

Remember I mentioned my biosphere in my last post? Well, this one is about it! A biosphere can be as large as a greenhouse or as small as a jar, but the most important thing is that it is sealed off from the rest of the world. The only thing coming from the outer world is light; oxygen, carbon dioxide and everything else circulate in a self-contained area with its own cycle.

I have had a question, which is a funny one: “Won’t the plants suffocate in there without air?”. Remember biology classes? Plants produce oxygen and need carbon dioxide for their photosynthesis.

Last weekend I went to a nursery to buy one of their mini plants as my sphere is a spaghetti jar from IKEA. I bought an Asparagus fern and took an ivy cutting from a plant I already had. Then I placed some smooth stones on the bottom of the jar for drainage and added soil, planted the fern and the ivy. I gave the sphere some water and waited for excess water to evaporate.

The theory is that the jar should be sealed off and I won’t have to take care of anything. However, I found out that overwatering is very easy, so I have had to open the lid sometimes to let a bit more water out. Hopefully in a week or two things should settle down and I can seal the jar. If successful, I can keep it for several years. This one might be too small though, and I will probably have to upgrade to a small demijohn or similar later on.

This is a fun and low-maintenance project. One important step to keep in mind, though, is that an absolutely sparkling clean jar is a must and of course the plants have to be healthy, and preferably non-flowering.

Here are some pictures of the biosphere and my new Ficus ‘Ginseng’

Biosfär

inuti

Murgröna i burk

Ficus 'Ginseng'


   Oct 04

September in retroperspective, an unusually warm month

We have had a great summer and an Indian summer too. September really was a split personality month, the early half was almost like summer while the second half changed to chilly autumn almost within hours.
Wise of my previous autumns where I have waited a bit too long to bring in my frost tender plants I started early to bring one or two indoors each day. It was hard though to bring myself to do it with this wonderful weather we have had. The fear of the first frost is like having a deadline, only you don’t know when it is coming! It is easy to be fooled by warm daytime temperatures. Almost all of my plants are indoors now as we have had a few light frosts.
After I moved my Amaryllis bulbs one of them sent up two wonderful flower stalks and put on a huge display. An Amaryllis in September! I hope some of my other bulbs will get the message soon, especially the Papillio descendant ‘Exotic Star’
The Poinsettia previously presented here on the blog has been repotted for the fouth time since I bought it last Novemver, it is getting huge but keeps sending up side shoots all the time when I want it to produce a single sturdy trunk. The plan is to let it do it’s thing and when it least expects it, prune it and bring up a new leader. That should set it straight.
In other news I got a Ficus retusa ‘Ginseng’ last week. I don’t know how they do it, but from time to time a plant just decides to follow me home and then I walk to the cashier like a zombie and before I have reacted I have pulled up my Visa card and payed for a new plant. At least this one is an air cleanser.
It has a large bulbous root system that has been brought up from the soil level to mimic a fat swirling trunk. Then it sports a small crown of fresh dark green leaves. This guy has also had a brand new pot with lots of yummy rich soil.
One of the plants I brought indoors is a small mystery Hibiscus with three lobed fuzzy leaves, it flowers with small pink flowers that have dark pink stripes. I bought it from former Weibulls at Sveavägen as a small rooted cutting early this spring. It was labeled as Hibiscus ‘Carolina breeze’ but obviously that is not correct. Still I enjoy it more than I think I would have liked the Carolina one. It has a spicy scent reminiscent of Geranium and always bounces back when pruned, blooms profusely and is a vigorous grower. Internet hasn’t been much of a help in identification, the closest I get is Hibiscus Pedunculatus.
The only plants remaining on the balcony are my two meter high olive tree, a Ginkgo, some peppers and a large tub of Mirabilis tubers. I will have to move those indoors soon.
Oh, and then I have my little project the biosphere, more of that in the next post!
Cattleya NOID

Cattleya NOID

Amaryllis NOID

Old Amaryllis bulb

 

 

Hibiscus p.

Unknown Hibiscus

Hibiscus rosa sinensis

Peach Hibiscus rosa sinensis

Mirabilis jalapa

Mirabilis jalapa

Sophora prostrata

Sophora prostrata


   Aug 12

The Amaryllis Algorithm

I confess I’m a sucker for Amaryllis bulbs. Every year, just when I’m as most vulnerable for their siren song and starved of greenery in the middle of winter, I buy one or two at full price without fail because they seduce me with their tall, fresh green stalks with promises of gorgeous, extravagant flowers. Then when the holidays are over I always pick up one or two (or more!) perky healthy looking bulbs for next to nothing.

On top of that I’m a mushy weakling who can’t throw out plants just because the flourish is over. I know that with proper care I can bring the flowers back.

That leads me to the summer problem, plump bulbs with extensive foliage looking for a place in the sun at my tiny balcony (every balcony I ever have had or will have in the future will always be too tiny, no matter the size). As of right now I have an unknown number of bulbs in the wardrobe, on my balcony and indoors. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were twenty of them.

The thing is they look quite boring, and when not in bloom they are a problem. However, in a month or two I will have to start taking all my plants indoors and unfortunately my windowsills aren’t endless.

Many people let the bulbs go dormant, but I don’t like doing that because for me they always lose volume, and the roots can be hard to get growing again. In the worst case scenario the roots will shrivel and die. If that happens I can be sure the bulb is going to rot if I plant it. Thus I keep them growing all year long.

What do I do with all these bulbs? My plan of action is to take one of my largest pots and plant every single one of them in the same pot. It might work, or it might not but I have nothing to lose. I wish I lived in a frost free climate where I could put all my bulbs out in a flower bed like we do with daffodils when Easter has come to an end.

Or I might end up as Sheldon Cooper, only trying to solve a definite space problem instead.


   Jul 24

Christmas in July!

I don’t like it when I’m told that something is impossible; it gives me the itch to prove otherwise. Take for example the widely believed fact that you can’t save and grow Christmas plants longer than Easter, and that’s a stretch.
Well, I can! I have had several Amaryllis bulbs flowering again, in fact I have many Amaryllises and other Christmas plants out on my balcony. Basking in the sun right now are about ten Amaryllis bulbs, two Narcissus Tazetta bulbs (Paperwhites) and one pink Poinsettia (it will be pink when I get it to flower again), all of them healthy and thriving.
The Poinsettia has been babied since I bought it with regular lukewarm showers, repotting in good compost, a large sunny window and is now enjoying the great outdoors. The Amaryllis bulbs, on the other hand, have been a bit mistreated. I had them in a dark, warm and moisture-zapping room for months. But the Paperwhites suffered the most. I forgot about them and was then reminded of their existence when the sprouts started to yellow and fade. I remembered them but just as soon forgot about them again. However, when it was time to replant my big olive tree they found a permanent home as under-vegetation to the tree. Now they are the healthiest Christmas bulbs I have ever seen in July. I don’t expect them to flower right away, but maybe later when they have had time to photosynthesize some more. It is with pride I can look at two healthy, thriving Paperwhites under an olive tree, where they belong!

Paperwhites need a lot of fertilizer if they are to be grown after Christmas. Here they are, healthy and green together with Lavender and Lemon balm.

Tazetter sommar Tazetter

The Poinsettia needs to be damp, but not wet. That can sometimes be hard to achieve, an old soda bottle filled with water helps with that.

Julstjärna stam Julstjärna, hel


   Jul 23

Hawaii flower, Frangipani or Plumeria

Sometime in the beginning of the year I ordered Plumeria seeds from a Danish site. I googled like mad to see how the seeds should be planted and read that Plumerias aren’t true to seed. That made me order two packages of mixed colours. I planted them with the chubby part down in the earth and the wing up in the air as I had read. Time went by and I just gave them a little bit water now and then, I think I even let them dry out once or twice since we had a cold winter and the radiators were on full blast.

Then, lo and behold, one gloomy Sunday I saw a tiny hint of green in the pot. Eagerly I took a closer look and against all odds the seeds had started to germinate! After searching the Internet some more I came to the conclusion that I had to remove the seed coating to ease the growth of the cytoledons. That very afternoon I saw the first tiny leaves of my Plumerias’ develop.

Now many months later I have replanted some of them once and others twice and they are coming along nicely.
I am well aware that it might take many years before I see them flower in my harsh climate and that they also may be nothing special to others. But to me they will always remain prized plants and my private escape to Hawaii!
Name: Plumeria, Frangipani
Where: Pacific Islands, Southern US, Mexico, Central America
Uses: Ornamental, famous for its use in Hawaiian flower leis
Warnings: Frost tender

Here is a picture from when they just had shed their seed coats. And one later on outside.

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   Jul 11

The flower power of a Calamondin

My little Calamondin tree is covered in small white star-shaped flowers right now! They have a wonderful fragrance, the scent is more pronounced in the evening but I can even sniff it during the day in full sunshine.

On a different note, my seeds from Passiflora incarnata are soaking in water right now and are soon ready to be planted!

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