December 2012

HortusScope for January 2013

Here’s HortusScope for January 2013, a checklist of garden and nature related events compiled as a public service by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies. Please click on the link below to download your copy.

HortusScope January 2013


New Year’s wishes for gardeners in 2013

A bumble bee burrows in to pollinate a tomato flower. © iStockphoto

Happy New Year! Hope is at the center of the gardener’s soul. We hope the seeds will sprout. We hope the plant will bloom. We hope for tasty tomatoes. We hope for better weather.

Appreciate all that Mother Nature offers and build an understanding of how the environment and ecosystem work.

Patience is what we learn from Mother Nature. You just can’t hurry Mother Nature and you can’t control the weather.

Plant something new. “I always tell people to try at least one new plant every year. There’s too much out there not to experiment,” says Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. “If you are doing 10 or 15 containers, then you should do more than one in new plants. If you have two, three or four, then do one.”

Yesterday is yesterday. Don’t beat yourself up because a plant died.

Never ever apply an insecticide, fungicide or herbicide unless you know exactly what you are treating. Using an insecticide to control a fungus is a waste of money, product and bad for the environment.

Examine attitudes about bugs. They are not all bad. In fact, most of them are good. We have them to thank for the tomatoes, squash, apples and most of the other foods we eat. Bugs also are a prime food source for birds. No bugs no birds.

Watch what happens in the landscape. An occasional walk through the yard can be quite revealing.

Yes! You can grow that. Give it a try. On the 4th of every month, bloggers post how-tos and encouragement at

Educate others about the joys of gardening and share your expertise.

Ability comes with practice, honed by our garden successes and failures.

Respect and nurture Mother Nature in your garden. And, hope for the best in 2013.


Is your Christmas tradition in a pickle?

Finding the Christmas pickle is considered an American holiday tradition. © iStockphoto/Grabill Creative

Decorating the home with holiday greenery is an ancient tradition. A tribe of Germans, called Teutons, brought cut conifers indoors along with other sacrifices as part of a winter ritual.

The more modern version of a Christmas tree is credited to this German tradition, where over time there were fewer sacrifices and more decorating. Christmas trees in the 18th century were decorated with candles, apples and nuts.

Then there’s the Christmas pickle. I’ve seen pickle ornaments, but until recently, had not heard about the tradition, thought to be totally American. The pickle ornament is hidden in the tree and the person who finds it receives a reward.

Some sources suggest the tradition started with Woolworth as a way to market glass pickle ornaments imported from Germany in the 1890s. Another story tells of a Civil War soldier who begged for and received a pickle when starving in prison at Christmas time. Convinced the pickle saved his life, when the soldier returned home, each year he hid a pickle the Christmas tree.

Fashion forward gardeners

Without even doing anything, most gardeners are ahead of the 2013 color fashion curve. Earlier this month, emerald green was named the 2013 Color of the Year by Pantone, an arbiter of all things color.

Emerald green pretty much describes the color of lots of plants in the garden. One even has it as its name: Emerald Green arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’), a popular shrub.

“Green is the most abundant hue in nature. The human eye sees more green than any other color in the spectrum,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, in a news release.

“As it has throughout history, multifaceted emerald continues to sparkle and fascinate. Symbolically, emerald brings a sense of clarity, renewal and rejuvenation, which is so important in today’s complex world. This powerful and universally appealing tone translates easily to both fashion and home interiors.”

Gardeners already know how the color works in the landscape, thank you very much.



Nifty, fun and beautiful gifts for gardeners and nature lovers

Ikebana bowls. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Terrariums big and small, ornaments and plant tags that actually work top our list of holiday gifts for the gardeners in your life. Here are our suggestions:

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse

Air plant terrarium. Photo courtesy IMA Greenhouse.

Ornaments are seasonal memory jogs, reminding us of the gift giver or a special event. The mouth-blown, hand-painted glass ornaments from Europe are stunning, especially the hummingbird ($41) and watering can ($35.90). Complete the package with a miniature bonsai tree ($19) and “Bonsai Survival Manual” by Colvin Lewis ($22.95). Other bird ornaments range $5.99 to $11.25.

Mouth blown glass ornaments and bonsai. Photo courtesy IMA Greenhouse.

For lofty trendsetters, “air plants are HOT this year,” says Lynne Steinhour Habig, greenhouse shop coordinator. The mini-glass terrarium is the perfect vessel for keeping the plant airborne ($17, plus $3.75 for the plant). There also is a table model terrarium.

Dammann’s Lawn, Garden & Landscape Centers

Terrariums planted with succulents. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dammann’s south and west stores offer pre-made or made-to-order terrariums or miniature gardens in glass bowls, domes and enclosed cases for $24.99 on up. Add a red or gold ribbon or place a small ornament in the terrarium for a festive look and place on an end table, buffet or coffee table. Change the decoration for the season.

Artifacts Gallery, Broad Ripple

Indianapolis artist Sean Gray creates beautiful ikebana ceramic bowls and plants them with lucky bamboo ($40). Gray was born with autism and until he took up art, tended to be destructive. “Through my art, this has changed,” he says in his bio. He took a sculpture class at Westfield High School. “In this class, I found that I like working with my hands. I especially like working with clay.”

In 2003, Gray started studying ceramics at the Indianapolis Art Center and in 2005, was named Best in the Beginners’ Division. “I find that creating art gives me a sense of purpose and control over my life and now I have a business, Seanware,” Gray says.

Ginkgo jewelry. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Michael Michaud picks up leaves on his world treks and turns the pieces of flora into cast works of art made in the United States. The process in bronze, sterling silver or gold captures each natural detail of the leaf for Silver Seasons Jewelry. Some pieces have genuine stones and pearls. In his Gingko Leaf Jewelry Collection is a bracelet $82; small pin, $67; large pin, $88.

CobraHead BioMarker Plant Markers

Gardeners know that plant tags that won’t fade, break or disintegrate are to die for. “We came across a truly weatherproof label that was printable with a laser printer, or writable with a permanent marker,” says Noel Valdes, owner of CobraHead, known best for its weeder.

BioMarkers. Photo courtesy Cobrahead

The plastic plant markers (15 for $29.95), made of sturdy plastic in light stone, medium brown and dark green, have withstood several years of testing in all kinds of weather, from Iowa to Texas. BioMarkers won a 2012 Green Thumb Award from an independent panel of garden writers and editors in conjunction with the Direct Gardening Association. Winning products are recognized for their uniqueness, technological innovation, ability to solve a gardening problem or provide a gardening opportunity.

“What I like about these plant labels is they are bigger, so you can read what’s written on them without having to bend down and pull out the labels. Plus, the natural colors blend in with the garden,” says Carol Michel, a south side Indianapolis gardener whose award-winning blog is May Dreams Gardens.

World’s Coolest Rain Gauge

The World’s Coolest Rain Gauge has a solid copper water-collecting flute that fits in a rust-resistant, powder-coated stand. Inside the flute is an unbreakable blue polycarbonate measuring tube that floats up to show how much rain has fallen. When there’s no rain, the tube falls back into the flute and the gauge turns into a lovely garden ornament.

World's Coolest Rain Gauge. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

“I love this rain gauge because I can leave it out all winter. It’s great not to worry that it will crack when it freezes, and it’s attractive,” says author C.L. Fornari of Massachusetts, who blogs at

This rain gauge is so cool, I bought one for myself for Christmas from Wildbirds Unlimited for $47. It also is available at the World’s Coolest Rain Gauge, where you can watch a video about the device.

Gold Leaf Gloves

Fit for royalty, Gold Leaf Gloves have been endorsed by Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society and are used by gardeners at Buckingham Palace. Gold Leaf Gloves are made of water-resistant deerskin leather, Lycra, nylon, foam VELCRO and other high quality materials. The gloves start out snug, but as you wear them they stretch and conform to the contours of your hand like a custom-tailored glove. Available in men’s and women’s sizes at Gardeners Supply Company. Gold Leaf Soft Touch is $38.95 and Tough Touch, $49.95.

Gold Leaf Tough Touch Gloves. Photo courtesy Gardeners Supply Co.

Gold Leaf Soft Touch gloves. Photo courtesy Gardeners Supply Co.




Out of season blooms

Creeping phlox blooming in fall and early winter. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Several people have commented about forsythia and magnolias and other spring or early summer flowering trees and shrubs blooming this fall.

Even as I write this, there are patches of creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) sporting pink blooms in two landscapes in my neighborhood. Granted, the flowers are not as numerous as the perennial’s spring show, but they are blooming. Rhododendrons and crabapples (Malus) might do this, too.

The phenomenon is called blooming out of sequence and it is caused by the weather.

In 2012, our plants suffered the hottest, driest summer in about 100 years. To protect themslves, the plants shut down. The most visible signs came from deciduous trees and shrubs. They either had dried or dropped leaves.

Once the rains came, the plants reawakened and when the weather turned cold, it tricked the plants into acting like it’s spring. So, instead of reblooming late in the season, the plants actually are blooming early.

It’s possible that some of next spring’s flower power will be diminished because of the early show this fall. Usually, there’s nothing to worry about and the plants will likely get their timing right within a year.

Winter warnings

Just a few holly berries can be deadly toxic to humans and pets. (C) Fotolia,com

If it ever gets cold enough for snow and ice, look for deicers that are safe for use around plants and pets. Salt-based deicers can damage trees, shrubs, lawns and new concrete. Be sure to check the label and follow the directions.

The edges of lawns that abut driveways, sidewalks or streets can be particularly vulnerable. Beside damage from deicers, snow piled up on the edges of lawn may smother the grass or invite fungus diseases.

Remember that holly berries, mistletoe and yew berries are poisonous, so if using as holiday decoration, keep them away from children and pets. Despite the rap, poinsettias are not poisonous, although they are not considered an edible plant.


Every garden needs a fragrant stinking hellebore

Frenchy bear claw hellebore (Helleborus foetidus). (C) Photo Barry Glick/Sunshine Farm and Gardens

If you have a hellebore (Helleborus), you know what I mean when I say I want more, more, more of these evergreen, shade-loving, drought tolerant, deer resistant, winter blooming perennials.

The vibrant, deep green leaves of the hellebores stand out as other perennials fade for the season. The two most popular types are Christmas rose (H. nigra) and Lenten rose (H. orientalis or H. x hybridus), names that roughly mark their bloom time. Lenten rose was the 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Stinking hellebore (H. foetidus) is not as readily available in garden centers, maybe because of its name, which reflects the musty smell from crushed leaves. Also called bear claw hellebore, it is a hardy, but short-lived perennial that holds its place in the Indiana garden because it readily self sows.

“They self-sow all the time in the garden,” says Irvin Etienne, horticulture display coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where you can see several plantings of bear claw hellebores.

“The only way I’ve been able to kill a Helleborus foetidus is to plant it in a wet area,” says Barry Glick, owner of Sunshine Farm and Gardens, a hellebore breeder in West Virginia.

The seed needs to be collected and sown fresh, says Gene Bush, a shade plant expert and owner of Munchkin Nursery in Depauw, Ind. If the seed is allowed to dry out, “it is probably dead. I happen to think direct sow is easiest for the home gardener.”

Bear claw hellebore has finely cut foliage. Showy flowers rise above the plant on light green, 18 to 24 inch stalks in early to mid-winter, blooming in February or March. The frequently fragrant flowers are a pale green with a bit of yellow hue and sometimes, purple or maroon markings.

Bear claw hellebore offers no advantage over any others, Bush says. “Simply different species with entirely different appearance over the other two most well know hybrids on the market.”

That’s a good enough reason for me.


You Can Grow That! December 2012: Dianthus

Bath's Pink Cheddar pinks dianthus sprawls onto the pavement. The blue-green foliate is evergreen and withstands getting dumped with snow shoveled from the driveway. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dianthus has great scents.

In fact, the scent tells you it’s a dianthus, whether what you smell is a sweet William, a carnation or a pink.

Dianthus means “flower of the gods” in Greek, and is in an even larger family of plants known for their fragrance, such as the clove tree. Indeed, clove is frequently the word used to describe dianthus’ spicy scent.

There are annual, biennial and perennial dianthus, and many have weak stems, which give them a sprawling characteristic, especially carnation.

Hybridizers have improved the heat tolerance for dianthus, especially the group of perennials called Cheddar pinks. In face, Cheddar pinks are about as tough as you want a plant to be.

Annual seeds can be started indoors six or eight weeks before the last frost, which in central Indiana is May 10. Bedding plants are readily available at area garden centers, too.

Some of the better new annuals grown as bedding plants include the yummy ‘Parfait’ series, and the ‘Corona Cherry Magic,’ a 2003 All-America Selections bedding plant winner. Another 2003 AAS winner, ‘Can-Can Scarlet,’ is an incredibly fragrant, 2-foot tall plant ideal for cutting. And, although marketed as somewhat heat tolerant, in my yard, it slowed way down last summer, but came back just fine once the weather cooled.

Firewitch Cheddar pink dianthus was the 2006 Perennial Plant of the Year. Photo courtesy

For perennials, you can’t beat the heat tolerant ‘Bath’s Pink’ (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) or the deep red ‘Zing’ (D. deltoides), a lovely sprawling, drought and heat tolerant plants. The Perennial Plant Association named ‘Feuerhexe’, marketed as Firewitch, as its plant of the year in 2006. It blooms off and on throughout the summer. These perennials are terrific alternatives to regular, ordinary ground covers.

The foliage on Cheddar pinks is evergreen, holding its own in winter weather. These plants get their name Cheddar, because they come from the Cheddar area of England. The pinks comes because the flowers look like they were trimmed with pinking shears.

Dianthus does best in full sun (six or more hours a day) and well drained soil. Maiden pink (D. deltoides) and biennial sweet William (D. barbatus) tolerate part shade.

After the first flush of flowers in spring or early summer, shear the plant back an inch or two and it will likely produce blooms intermittently throughout summer and into fall. Deadheading, or snipping off the spent flowers, will extend the bloom period, too.

Dianthus is a great way to spice up a room, too. The flowers last about two weeks in a vase.




HortusScope for December 2012 is posted

HortusScope December 2012 a checklist of garden and nature related things to do in Central Indiana has been posted. This calendar is compiled by Wendy Ford of Landscape Fancies as a pubic service.

Shade-loving Solomon’s seal named 2013 Perennial Plant of the Year

Variegatum Solomon's seal planted with Jack Frost Siberian bugloss (foreground). Photo courtesy

The shade-loving variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum) ‘Variegatum’ gets the latest nod from the 2013 Perennial Plant Association, a trade group of educators, plant breeders, retailers, horticulturists and marketers.

‘Variegatum’ has clean, green leaves with white markings. In spring, pairs of white flowers dangle from slightly arched branches. It is an upright plants that gets about 20 inches tall with a 20 inch spread at maturity. The plant turns a nice yellow in fall. Solomon’s seal is easy to grow, although a bit slow to establish and to reach maturity.

This perennial is perfect for woodland areas or parts of the garden in full or part shade. It does well in average soil as well as soil that is rich in organic matter. It has average water needs, but would benefit from a drink during hot dry periods until the plant is well established.

Solomon’s seal provides early season nectar for hummingbirds. The flowers on ‘Variegatum’ are slightly fragrant. It is an excellent cut flower. This variety is easy to propagate by division or by seed.

‘Variegatum’ is native in Europe and Western Asia, but smooth Solomon’s seal (P. biflorum) and hairy Solomon’s seal (P. pubescens) are native in eastern North America.

Good companions for Solomon’s seal are ‘Jack Frost’ Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla), hosta, ferns, lungwort (Pulmonaria), epimedium, woodland sedum (S. ternatum) and toad lily (Tricyrtis). Solomon’s seal also is a good companion for spring ephemerals and bulbs.

Variegatum Solomon's seal flowers dangle from gently arched branches. Photo courtesy

Herb of the Year

Elderberry (can you say wine?) is the 2013 Herb of the Year by the International Herb Association.

An eastern North America native elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a large shrub that looks better in natural settings than as a centerpiece in the garden. There have been several new garden-worthy elderberry introductions (S. nigra) from Europe the last several years, including Black Lace and Black Beauty.

Black Lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra). Photo courtesy Proven Winners/ColorChoice Plants



Indiana Author Fair Dec. 1, 2012 at Indiana History Center

December 1, 2012
12:00 PMto2:00 PM

I’m so pleased to be a part of the Indiana Author Fair, noon to 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 at the Indiana History Center. For the first time, I will be among 80 authors there to talk about their works, visit with shoppers and sign books.

The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens and the Indiana Gardener’s Guide will be the books I’m featuring.

Entry to the Author Fair is free when you buy an admission to the Indiana Experience. However, I have some FREE PASSES available if you message me privately at thehoosiergardener at gmail dot com.