February 2016

Tips for cut flowers on Valentine’s Day or any day

Favor your loved one with red tulips on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. © Neirfy/

Favor your loved one with red tulips on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.
© Neirfy/

The day we profess our romantic love is fast approaching and, of course, I recommend flowers for the occasion. And in the year 2016, Valentine’s Day flowers can be given to men as an expression of love, as well as to women.

Here are some tips for caring for cut flowers any time of year:

  • At the florist, select stems with flower buds that are still tight, or barely open. In season, morning is the best time to cut flowers from the garden.
  • When you get the flowers home, make a new, 45-degree angle cut on the stem. Experts recommend making the cut on a rose with the stem under water.
  • Remove leaves that will be under water in the vase.
  • Cut flower preservative is not recommended for use with tulips, daffodils, lilies, dahlias or other bulbs. Mix the preservative with the water in a clean vase for other flowers, if desired. Some people mix the preservative in a gallon jug and use that mixture when replenishing water in the vase.
  • Arrange the flowers in the vase. Don’t crowd the arrangement because that can speed up the deterioration of the bouquet. The flowers should be one-half to two-thirds taller than the vase.
  • Place the vase out of direct sun. The cooler the location, the longer the bouquet is likely to last.
  • Every day or two, replenish the water in the vase. Recut the flower stems if the bottoms look brown, yellow or mushy. Remove flowers as they start to fade.

Birth month flowers

Texas A&M University, the Old Farmer’s Almanac and have assigned flowers to represent various birth months. A bouquet of flowers representing a loved one’s birth month makes a unique gift for his or her special day.

January: Carnation. Red means “I love you.”

February: Violet. You’ll always be there for the recipient.

Daffodils, the birth flower for March, symbolizes unequaled love or sympathy. (C)

Daffodils, the birth flower for March, symbolizes unequaled love or sympathy. (C)

March: Daffodil. Unequaled love, or sympathy.

April: Daisy. Innocence.

May: Lily of the valley. Sweetness, humility and a return to happiness.

June: Rose. Yellow is jealousy or loss of love.

July: Larkspur. Pink means fickle.

August: Gladiolus. Remembrance, calm.

September: Aster. Powerful love.

October: Marigold. Fierce, undying love.

November: Mum. Innocence, pure love.

December: Holly. Domestic happiness.

February garden checklist


  • Keep houseplants close to bright windows. Check soil for dryness before watering.
  • Examine produce, tender flower bulbs and roots stored for the winter for rot, shriveling or excess moisture. Remove and discard damaged material.
  • Sketch garden plans, including what to grow, spacing, arrangement and number of plants needed.
  • Order seeds and plants as early as possible for best selection.
  • Renees Garden SeedTest left over garden seed for germination. Place 10 seeds between moist paper toweling, or cover with a thin layer of soil. Keep seeds warm and moist. If fewer than six seeds germinate, buy fresh seed.
  • Wash pots and trays that will be used for seed sowing and transplants.
  • Start seeds for cool-season vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, five to seven weeks before transplanting outdoors.
  • Start seeds for impatiens, begonia, geranium and other slow growing annuals.

General Landscape

  • Prune landscape plants except early spring bloomers, which should be pruned within a month after the have finished blooming. Birches, maples, dogwoods and other heavy sap bleeders can be pruned in early summer.
  • Repair or build trellis for roses, grapes and other vining plants as needed.
  • Fertilize spring-flowering bulbs as they break ground.
  • Prepare lawn and garden equipment for the upcoming growing season. Sharpen blades and have equipment serviced before the spring rush.

Vegetables and Fruits

Orchard in Bloom ends after 25-year tradition

Lemcke Landscape created a vegetable and fruit tabletop arrangement as part of its display garden at Orchard In Bloom in 2012. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Lemcke Landscape created a vegetable and fruit tabletop arrangement as part of its display garden at Orchard In Bloom in 2012. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A 25-year tradition has come to an end. After a year on hiatus, Orchard in Bloom has been discontinued by The Orchard School.

The decision was made after a year of study, said school officials on the website. Orchard in Bloom was placed on hiatus in 2015 because major construction projects at Holliday Park, and its future seemed uncertain. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was proud to serve as honorary chair of Orchard in Bloom in 2008.)

“In recognition that the needs of the school’s parent community have changed, the Orchard Parents’ Association and The Orchard School have decided not to continue Orchard In Bloom. This decision was not made lightly,” said the website’s post, signed by Tom Rosenbluth, head of school; Colleen O’Brien, Parents’ Association president; Trisha Lautenbach, chair of the board of trustees; and Debbie Mattingly, OIB special events coordinator.

The Parents’ Association was the driving force behind the garden show, a huge volunteer effort that raised at least $200,000 for Holliday Park, the site of the three-day event, recently held the first weekend in May.

“I’m proud of the pride the parents, students, teachers and administrators took in producing this back-breaking, yet fantastic event each year,” said Amy MacDonell, who was co-chair twice between 2000 and 2010, and a committee chair for eight years. “OIB was the perfect intersection of community event, fundraiser for the school and benefit for Holliday Park and the perfect example to our kids how important it is to give back to community interests. I’m sad that OIB is now a memory, but deeply respect the school and the parents association for the tough decision process regarding the future of the show.”

The much-anticipated annual Orchard in Bloom festival united the best of The Orchard School with the best of the greater Indianapolis community, said Jamie Snyder, who was OIB co-chair in 2003. “Local vendors brought their finest work, which paired wonderfully with the crafts and items contributed by Orchard students, parents and volunteers. Our parents, students, volunteers, vendors, speakers and guests all created a delightful experience that will live and reward us all for a very long time,” she said.

Gus Lemcke, owner of Lemcke Landscape, won several awards for the gardens he created for Orchard in Bloom during 10 years of participation. Although it was good exposure and it generated some business, “I did it because it was in the community I live in and it was a way to give back,” he said. “I guess it has run its course.”

IMA symposium features stylish plants and speakers

kelly-download-8x10It makes sense that Kelly Norris, a guy who dons wood bowties as a fashion statement, would write a book named “Plants with Style.” Published by Timber Press late in 2015, Norris’ book is not our grandmother’s garden book.

First, there’s his rich, descriptive writing: “Snowdrops (Galanthus) are among the earliest hits of spring, verdant notes from a dormant score” in the chapter Drops, Driblets, Spots and Specks.

The book is organized seasonally and populated with wow photos and wow plants you’ve probably never heard of, such as ‘Ginger Twist’ and ‘Pomegranate Punch’ Siberian iris, or ‘Purple Perversion’ (Plantago major), a frilly leaf plantain developed by plantsman Joseph Tychonievich in Michigan.

A self-proclaimed plant geek, Norris, 28, was about 10 years old and thrilled when his grandmother, who had a large iris garden, stopped at a small nursery in Nebraska. He remembers the nurseryman digging irises from the beds, wrapping them in paper and later, sitting at the man’s kitchen table talking about plants.

Perhaps it’s genetic, because at 15, he convinced his parents to buy Rainbow Iris Farm in Bedford, in southwest Iowa. His exuberance and knowledge about plants has garnered him the Young Professional Award from the Perennial Plant Association and the Iowa Author Award for Special Interest Writing. In 2009, Norris was the youngest person to receive the Presidential Citation, Award of Merit and Honor Award in the 150-year history of the Iowa State Horticultural Society. Last year, he received a much sought after Scholar Award from Chanticleer Foundation, in recognition of his work as director of horticulture at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

norris book cover editLike several of his other books, “Plants with Style: A Plantsman’s Choices for a Vibrant, 21st Century Garden” was inspired by a presentation Norris gives. The goal, the Iowa native said in an interview, is to inspire anyone interested in gardening to appreciate plants for their beauty and to offer new ways to use them in the landscape.

We’ll get to hear Norris soon. He will present two programs: Perennial Foliage and Perennials Flowers at the horticultural symposium Color in the Garden: Bloom and Beyond at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Feb. 20 in the Toby. Other speakers are Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the IMA; Troy Marden, author and garden designer from Tennessee; and Scott Beuerlein, horticulturist at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Register by Feb. 1 and save $10 on the $110 fee.

Chef’s Choice Green for fried green tomatoes

Tomate / Lycopersicon esculentum greenThe thing about fried green tomatoes is that we either eat unripened ones at the end of the season, when it’s starting to get cold and we know they won’t turn red. Or, we eat unripened tomatoes throughout the season, which reduces the number of the lush, red fruit of summer we’ll get.

Chef’s Choice Green tomato could be the answer. A 2016 All-America Selections, Chef’s Choice ripens to green with faint yellow markings. If not friend green tomatoes, think about its lovely bright color mixed with fresh red or yellow siblings.

Like other tomatoes, plant Chef’s Choice in mid to late May in full sun and well-drained soil. Stake it and water and fertilize regularly. From planting to harvest is about 90 days. Each plant should produce about 20, sweet and tangy tomatoes, 6-7 inch diameter. This cultivar is resistant to tomato mosaic virus, anthracnose, scab, fusarium and verticillium wilts, and cracking.

For more about this year’s All-America Selections of vegetables and flowers, visit You also will be able to see many of these and previous AAS winners this summer at the Purdue Marion County Demonstration Garden on the north side of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Fried Green Tomatoes. (C) Lee Ann White/

Fried Green Tomatoes. (C) Lee Ann White/

Fried Green Tomatoes

1 large egg, slightly beaten

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup corn meal

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

3 medium-size green tomatoes, cut into 1/3-inch thick slices

Vegetable oil

Salt to taste


Combine egg and buttermilk and set aside.

Pour oil to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch in a large, cast-iron skillet and heat to 375 degrees.

Combine ¼ cup all-purpose flour and cornmeal, salt and pepper in a shallow pan.

Dredge tomato slices in remaining ¼ cup flour.

Dip in egg mixture and dredge in cornmeal mixture.

Drop tomatoes, in batches, into the hot oil, and cook for 1 minute on each side or until golden.

Drain on paper towels or rack.

Sprinkle hot tomatoes with salt to taste.


Source: Southern Living

Year of edible and ornamental alliums

‘Millenium’ ornamental onion blooms for several weeks in midsummer. Photo courtesy

‘Millenium’ ornamental onion blooms for several weeks in midsummer. Photo courtesy

Allium is the family name for garlic, chives and onion, which in their own right, have ornamental characteristics. But the bloom time and beauty of truly ornamental alliums earn them spots in our flower gardens.

These bulbs and bulb-like plants are so garden worthy that the National Garden Bureau has declared 2016 the Year of the Allium.

The edible alliums are among the world’s oldest cultivated plants. There are 500 to 750 allium species, including garlic (A. sativum), and the nodding onion (A. cernuum), one of about 100 species native in North America.

In the last two years, I’ve planted about three dozen ornamental alliums in my garden, primarily because of when they bloom. Alliums have seen an uptick in popularity for several reasons, including:

  • Their bloom times are just enough out of sync with the big spring bulb shows and summer flowers, that they help bridge or extend the seasons.
  • Deer and rabbits avoid them.
  • They are pretty much trouble free.

In their naturalistic creations, well-known garden designers, the late James van Sweden (1935-2013) and Piet Oudolf incorporated ornamental alliums along with coneflowers, sedums, salvias, native grasses, daffodils and other low-maintenance perennials. Lurie Gardens in Chicago’s Millennium Park is first-rate example of Oudolf’s design.

Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are frequent visitors to alliums. Photo courtesy perennial

Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are frequent visitors to alliums. Photo courtesy

The spring-blooming ‘Purple Sensation’ (A. aflatunense) and summer-blooming ‘Millenium’ are two popular cultivars, but there are many others. The flowers of ornamental allium tend toward the blues, purples and pinks, but there are white and yellow ones, too. Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects are frequent visitors.

The flowers and stalks of edible alliums, such as onion, garlic and chives, can be used to add savory bits in salads or to flavor meat, egg and vegetable dishes. Ornamental alliums are not considered edible.

Plant ornamental alliums in spring or fall, in well-drained, sunny or partly sunny, locations. Plant them in clumps or clusters for the best show. You’ll find alliums as bulbs, or already growing in nursery pots at garden centers. Look for edible alliums in the herb and vegetable areas and the ornamental types with perennials at garden centers or online retailers, including bulb merchants.

For more about alliums

Take a class and let yourself grow

Saxon Holt’s online photo workshop teaches how lighting affects the color and quality of plant photos. © Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt’s online photo workshop teaches how lighting affects the color and quality of plant photos.
© Saxon Holt

Back in my younger days, a high school friend who purported to read palms told me that I like learning for learning’s sake. She may not have been a palm reader, but she was right about my love of learning.

And, as we head into the New Year, I hope I can inspire some of my readers to take a class, participate in a workshop or hear a lecture about gardening.

One option could be an online garden photography workshop, offered by award-winning photographer Saxon Holt’s Photobotanic.  For $5 a month, chapters are sent on a timed basis, allowing students to read material and finish assignments. Topics include Good Garden Photography, Think Like a Camera, Think Like a Gardener and The Camera and Computer.

Award-winning horticulturist and certified arborist Melinda Myers offers How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening for Everyone (No. 9721) through The Great Courses for $19.95. This DVD program has 12, 30-minute lectures, covering just about everything for growing vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Color in the Garden: Bloom and Beyond is the theme of this year’s Horticulture Symposium, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Feb. 20, in The Toby at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Topics covered: A Little Jungle with Irvin Etienne; Summer Rhapsody and No Flowers, No Problem with Kelly Norris; Beauties, Bluebells and Brazen Hussies with Troy Marden; and Spring May Sing but Autumn Rocks with Scott Beuerlein. Fee is $95 for members; $110 for nonmembers and $55 for students. Register by Feb. 1 for a $10 discount.

Probably one of the most popular programs is the daylong 22nd annual Spring Garden Clinic, Feb. 27 at St. Luke Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St. Details are not available yet, so check the Marion County Master Gardeners website.

If you are new to gardening or would just like to learn a bit more, sign up for the City Gardener program, offered by Purdue Extension-Marion County at its offices at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Offered Thursdays, 6 to 8:30 p.m., March 24 and 31, and April 7, 21, 28 and May 5, City Gardener topics include everything from lawn fertilization, watering, growing food and flowers, insects and other pests. The fee is $5 per 2 ½-hour class, or $20 for all six. For more info: (317) 275-9290.

January garden checklist


Waiting for the beautiful red amaryllis to bloom. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp


General Landscape

  • Keep road and sidewalk salt away from plants. If necessary, screen the plants with burlap to keep off spray. Calcium chloride products are recommended over sodium chloride to melt ice. Sand, cinders, ash and fresh kitty litter also may be used instead of ice-melting salts.
  • Prune summer and fall blooming woody plants, including vines, shrubs and trees.
  • Use hand or a broom to gently brush away heavy snow that may accumulate on shrubs before it freezes.
  • new growthApply an all-purpose natural fertilizer or a dusting of compost around spring-flowering bulbs as they break ground.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Examine produce, tender flower bulbs and roots stored for the winter to make sure there is no rot, shriveling or excess moisture. Remove and discard damaged material.

Warm temps tempt leaf and flower buds out of season

Daffodil leaves emerge prematurely, teased from the ground by warmer than normal temps. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Daffodil leaves emerge prematurely, teased from the ground by warmer than normal temps. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

It may be the holiday season, but many gardeners are concerned about the gifts Mother Nature is delivering a bit early.

The unseasonably warm temperatures have teased viburnum, forsythia, magnolia, daffodil and other plants out of their winter dormancy. Leaf and flower buds have burst open, particularly on species that normally bloom in late winter or early spring.

What to do?

A very light mulch of leaves acts like a little blanket around daffodils and other bulbs, said Becky Heath, co-owner for Brent and Becky’s Bulbs ( “It acts like layers of light clothing on humans, with those air pockets that help to keep the warmth in. Also, often it is the drying wind of winter that is harder on emerging leaves, more so than the temperatures alone,” she said.

Too much of a cover, though, will make the ground too warm and force the bulbs to grow even more, she said. Gardeners can snip off the tips of any damaged bulb leaves in spring, but only the tips. Or, people can do nothing.

“To me, it’s simply not worth the bother,” said Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. “Usually, you only get some leaf damage. If, for some reason, the bloom is damaged and you really need some yellow next spring, then buy a few pansies.”

For the most part, he said, plants, such as daffodils, are so tough that you will be surprised at how well they will handle these situations. “I think if next year is more or less normal, then plants will get back to their regular schedule.”

Perennials likely will recover without our doing anything. Cut back any winter-damaged foliage in spring and the perennials likely will bloom again at their normal time. Some hellebores are supposed to bloom this time of year, so that’s normal.

Trees and shrubs, though, are a bit more of a challenge. “My advice is to just roll with it,” Etienne said. “If it is a shrub or tree, there is really very little one do.”

Wrapping shrubs and trees is out of the realm of possibilities for most of us.

“I believe in accepting there is a limit to what you can do. Part of becoming a gardener, or even just having a few plants, is realizing you can only do so much. Nature is more powerful than you,” Etienne said.


Mark Zelonis leaves living legacies at the IMA

David Gorden (left) and Mark Zelonis. Photo courtesy IMA Horticultural Society

David Gorden (left) and Mark Zelonis. Photo courtesy IMA Horticultural Society

We all know there have been a lot of changes at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, but one has likely been under the radar, except among members and avid gardeners. And, that’s the retirement of Mark Zelonis, who is leaving his post as the Ruth Lilly Deputy Director of Environmental & Historic Preservation, after 18 years.

I first met Zelonis shortly after he arrived at the IMA. We slipped and slid among the stepping stones in the Ravine Garden and he enthused about plans to turn this dilapidated landscape into the showplace it is today.

The Ravine Garden, an integral part of the American Country Place Era’s Oldfields Lilly House and Gardens, was the first to be restored or renovated at the IMA, under Zelonis’ guidance. Ruth Lilly took a liking to Zelonis and endowed his position, another legacy that will continue beyond his retirements. He also oversaw restoration of Tanner Orchard and the Dickinson Four-Seasons Garden. The largest addition under his watch is 100 Acres, the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, which opened in 2009.

Never one to make decisions quickly, he first broached retirement with the IMA’s higher ups about a year ago. He’s most proud of his work to get Oldfields, and the Miller House and Garden in Columbus, Indiana, designated as National Historic Landmarks, the country’s highest recognition for historically significant properties.

“I always counted it my great fortune to be his colleague, and I really couldn’t imagine working there without him,” said Bradley C. Brooks, former director of Lilly House programs and operations and assistant curator of American decorative arts. Zelonis and Brooks, who earlier this year was named curator of the Bayou Bend Collection in Houston, worked together for 15 years. Their collaboration is what led to the two National Historic Landmarks designations.

“The professional career of Mark Zelonis has been dedicated to managing, preserving, enhancing and promoting historic landscapes,” said David Gorden, a landscape architect and former president of the IMA Horticultural Society.

“He is a strong proponent of the work of landscape architects and works tirelessly to increase recognition of their design achievements,” wrote Gorden in nominating Zelonis as an honorary member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Zelonis received the honor at a ceremony in Chicago in November.

“I don’t know what I’ll do next,” Zelonis said as his retirement party early this month. “I could lecture, teach, consult, volunteer and lead tours.” He is sure his wife, Sally Zelonis, has a honey-do list.

In the end, though, “we are only stewards of this magnificent property. We have a responsibility and duty to the history and integrity of these special places,” he said.