Remove the yellow anthers to keep Easter lily flowers blooming longer. © Julianna Olah/Fotolia.com
Next Sunday is Easter and the plant of the holiday is a lily, sometimes dubbed the “white-robed apostle of hope.”
Why lilies are associated with Easter is the stuff of legends, and maybe faith. One is that it’s a reference to the “lilies of the field” in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Another legend says lilies sprouted from the ground where Christ’s tears fell while he hung on the cross. Many religious denominations embrace the tradition by filling their sanctuaries with the white lilies.
The fact that we have blooming lilies this time of year is not quite a miracle, but a process that tricks Mother Nature. Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) normally bloom in summer.
Use caution with Easter lilies if you have cats.
In an environment where cold, heat, water, fertilizer and light are strictly controlled, about 40,000 Easter lilies are forced into bloom at Crossroads Greenhouse on Kentucky Avenue, a facility heated by methane gas harvested from the Indianapolis’ South Side Landfill.
When shopping for lilies, look for a symmetrical plant with at least four buds in various stages of development, said Kim Holden, landscape and greenhouse sales manager at Heartland Growers, the Westfield, Indiana, company that owns and operates Crossroads Greenhouse.
At home, place the lily plant in a cool, bright area, but away from hot and cold drafts. The soil should be evenly moist, but not sopping wet. Temporarily remove any decorative cover from the pot to allow water to run free from drainage holes. Don’t let the pot sit in water. There’s no need to fertilize the plant.
“Pinching out the (yellow) anthers from the center of the flower makes the bloom last longer,” Holden said. Removing the anthers also takes away the pollen, which can stain tablecloths and clothing.
Unlike that other big holiday plant, the poinsettia, an Easter lily is winter hardy throughout Indiana, making it a beautiful, fragrant, trumpet-shaped flower in the garden them. With a nice layer of mulch for winter protection, the Easter lily should bloom the following summer.
Between now and transplanting the lily outdoors, remove the spent flower, but leave the stalk and leaves intact. Water when the soil surface feels dry, and begin a fertilizing program to help replenish the bulb.
In mid May, transplant the lily to a sunny area with well-drained, organically rich soil. If concerned about drainage, mound up a good quality compost about 6-8 inches high and plant the lily there. Remove the stalk after it turns yellow. Just like their spring counterparts, summer bulbs need their foliage to replenish the nutrients needed for next year’s bloom.
Arrange tomatoes, lettuces, marigolds and other plants to showcase their textural and colorful beauty while making good use of space. ©NCAImages/iStockphoto
In the last 10 days, I’ve received two books with the same theme: food gardening.
It’s no surprise to garden centers, mail order and online retailers and, apparently publishers, that gardeners, whether they call themselves that or not, are into growing their own food.
Some people may not call themselves gardeners because they only grow a pot of tomatoes on the patio or lettuces in a window box, but they are, just like those who grow food in large, in-ground beds.
In the most recent Garden Trends Research Report, 58 percent of consumers said they plan to grow edible plants in 2015. About 25 percent said they will grow them in the ground, 10 percent said they will grow them in containers and 24 percent will use both methods, according to the October 2014 survey conducted by the Garden Writers Association Foundation.
One of the most lush and inviting books to cross my desk recently is Growing Beautiful Food: A Gardener’s Guide to Cultivating Extraordinary Vegetables and Fruit written and photographed by Matthew Benson (Rodale, $32.50, hardcover).
An organic farmer in the Hudson River Valley of New York, Benson finds beauty in contorted carrots, purple-flecked green beans, the irregular shapes of heirloom tomatoes, well-pruned apple trees and the shades and textures of green. “Creating a great salad is usually a symphonic act, with texture, color, form and taste all playing their parts,” he wrote.
With a poetic, essay style, Benson takes readers through four season of growth, not just vegetables and fruits, but chicken- and beekeeping, too. He discusses composting, soil and the weather in the front of the book. In the back, he gives growing and harvesting tips and a few recipes.
For those of us in a more urban setting comes the completely revised The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden: Grow Tons of Organic Vegetables in Tiny Spaces and Containers by Karen Newcomb (Ten Speed Press, $18.99, paperback).
Newcomb promotes a holistic, intensive-style to gardening, giving tips on planting by the growing season, the color of plants, by the USDA Hardiness Zone Map or the moon. Like all good gardeners, Newcomb starts with building the soil. Good soil yields healthy plants and good produce. After the soil is prepped, a 5-by-5 foot bed will produce 200 pounds of vegetables.
The methods involve inter- and under planting, planting close together, succession planting and vertical gardening. No pretty pictures in this book, but lots of great advice and techniques.
This year’s trip to the Indiana Flower and Patio Show on Saturday revealed quite a selection of better than usual garden designs and plants. Many of the companies did a better job of identifying plants, something I think should be required for any company that participates with a garden.
The main design element remains outdoor entertaining. Decks, paving, stone or wood walls form outdoor kitchens, seating areas, waterfalls and ponds. The show continues through March 22. Here are some highlights:
Start to Finish Landscaping designed “Rural Tranquility,” demonstrating a very clever way to reuse glass wine bottles. Slap a table on the bottle and you’ve got a plant market. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
ProCare’s theme “reFreshed” is emblazoned on a fountain wall. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Hittle Landscape creates “Mid Summer Eve” with a fountain fill with lush succulents. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Gardens of Growth sticks with its philosophy of sustainability with its “Four Seasons” garden by incorporating a large trunk as the base of a glass table. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
McNamara Florists retains its reputation as a wow designer with its topiary creations. The flowers and butterflies are chicken wire stuffed with moss. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
A great table top decoration: a colander planted with oregano. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Hendricks County Master Gardeners took their turn staffing the Purdue Extension booth at the Indiana Flower and Patio Show. The booth is a great place to get answers to your gardening questions and to learn how to be a Master Gardener and other extension programs. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Dolce Fresca, a 2015 All-America Selections basil, recovers rapidly when harvested and holds its shape well, making it work well in a container on the patio or deck. Photo courtesy All-America Selections
My philosophy is to always try new plants every year and this year, it will be vegetables. A few of these have been available for a few years, but they will be new to me.
Kalettes is a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale to create a new vegetable so special, it has its own website (kalettes.com). I have not grown this yet and so far, I’ve only been able to find it as seed, so that’s what I ordered from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com). Kalettes supposedly have a sweet nutty flavor, and can be sautéed, roasted, grilled or eaten raw. Since I like Brussels sprouts, I’m hoping Kalettes will make kale taste good.
A brand new vegetable named Kalette is a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale that can be eaten or cooked. Photo courtesy Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Jasper cherry tomato produces sweet, tender fruits during a long production periodPhoto courtesy All-America Selections
Jasper is one of the best producing tomatoes in the Marion County Extension Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. This cherry tomato was a 2013 All-America Selections, praised for its long, productive season, ¾-inch round fruit with good taste. It also is resistant or tolerant of early and late blights and fusarium wilt.
Sandy is the first lettuce to be named an All-America Selections winner since 1985. This 2015 introduction is a loose-head, oakleaf lettuce that is very disease resistant, especially powdery mildew, and slow to go to seed, called bolting. Leaves can be harvested at about any size. It slowness to bolt and size – about 10 inches tall and wide – make this a good selection for a pot or window box.
A 2015 winner, Sandy is the first lettuce to receive the All America Selections moniker since 1985. Photo courtesy All America Selections
For years, I didn’t like cucumbers. But, tastes change and I now find cucumbers add a fresh, bright, crunch to salads. Diva, which has been grown under cover in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, has earned lots of praise for its productivity. Diva produces fruit even when covered to protect the plants from cucumber beetles and other insects. It also is resistant to downy and powdery mildew. The taste of this seedless cuke is supposed to be sweet, tender, crisp, but not bitter. It is a 2002 All-America Selections winner.
New Ace pepper, introduced by Harris Seeds (harrisseeds.com) is another strong producer that is resistant to fusarium wilt. It’s real claim to fame, though, is that it produces large, well-lobed green fruit earlier than a lot of other peppers, usually maturing in about 65 days. The fruit turns red the longer it stays on the plant.
New Ace sweet pepper matures in about 60 days, making it an early, prolific producer.
Photo courtesy Veseys.com
To go along with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers comes Dolce Fresca basil, another 2015 All-America Selections winner. It out performed other Italian, large-leaf basil while staying bushy and compact.
Diva cucumber produces fruit even when covered to protect from cucumber beetles and other insects. Photo courtesy All-America Selections
Daylight Saving Time makes mornings disappear. And, it messes with our body clocks. Scientists say we never recover.
Here in Indianapolis, the sun sets later than any of the 50 largest metro areas. That’s because we’re on Eastern time instead of Central. If we have to have DST, put me in Central Time.
Current reports say DST may be on the way out. Hope springs eternal.
Green and purple leaf oxalis fill a bowl as a table decoration. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center
We may call those clover-like plants we buy around St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks, but they aren’t. They are oxalis.
St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate the Catholic’s Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as one, although today, the faithful say Holy Spirit. Exactly what his shamrock was is uncertain, but many think it was a clover.
Patrick, whose life we celebrate on March 17, also is credited with ridding Ireland of snakes, when it’s possible they were never on the Emerald Isle or they were wiped out by the Ice Age. So much for the legend of the patron saint of Ireland.
There’s nothing legendary about the plant we embrace as oxalis. It’s a great little plant. We may have them indoors this time of year, but an oxalis is a very good plant for shady areas outside in summer.
Breeders have boosted the size of the leaves on oxalis and hybridized various colors, such as purple and copper. The flowers are white or pink. Oxalis does great in a container or as a flowering border in the front of a garden bed.
Bring the frost tender oxalis indoors at the end of summer to enjoy as a houseplant. It likely will go dormant for several weeks, then perk up and resume its show.
For those of us who love language and getting our hands dirty comes Garden-pedia: An A to Z Guide to Gardening Terms by Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini (St. Lynn’s Press, 2015, $16.95, paperback).
The easy, conversational style of the book makes it a handy reference for beginner or experienced gardeners, with just the right mix of information, common sense and fun.
We hear words like “determinate” tomatoes, “thinning” seedlings and the “branch collar” of a tree, but do we know what these terms mean? We do now, with this tome, written with experience. Bennett is the master gardener coordinator and horticulture faculty member at Ohio State University. Zampini, a horticulturist from Madison, Ohio, comes from a long line of plant breeders and nurserymen, and owns UpShoot LLC, a plant marketing firm. Each is well practiced in explaining gardening and horticulture terminology at all levels, from consumers to plant scientists.
At 200 pages, this 6- by 7-inch book is packed with photos, illustrations and all the right words to make you speak like the knowledgeable gardener you are.
‘Mardi Gras’ sneezeweed’s palette of yellowish, orange-red flowers mix well with black-eyed Susan and larkspur in the late summer garden. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Not too long ago, I put together a program about native plants. On the list, of course, were coneflower, black-eyed Susan and aster, common plants we all recognize as native species.
That got me thinking about the native plants that are lesser known and planted. Here are three perennials:
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) has attracted the attention of plant breeders the last few years, which has resulted in new cultivars on the market. The common name comes from the plant’s crushed, dried leaves’ use as pseudo snuff.
Frequently listed as a later blooming perennial, mine usually starts its show in mid-July and continues into September. Sneezeweed does best in full sun, average soil that is more moist than dry. This is a good plant for rain gardens or swales. It also is deer resistant.
Found throughout the United States, sneezeweed’s daisy-like, scalloped edged flowers raised centers attract butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects. It also is a long-lasting cut flower. Depending on the cultivar, sneezeweed’s height ranges from 18 inches to 4 feet and about 1 foot wide.
Cultivars to consider: Mardi Gras, Moerheim Beauty, Red Jewel and Short ‘n’ Sassy.
Butterflies and bees visit the flowers of ‘Honeysong Purple’ stokes aster. Photo courtesy perennialresource.com
Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis), native to the southeast United States, is another long-bloomer, usually starting in late May and continuing well into July. This low-growing plant is found in wetlands and other moist areas in nature, but once established in the garden, it is drought tolerant. Stokes aster does best in full sun and well-drained soil.
Butterflies and bees like the flowers, but rabbits do not. This is not a strong-stemmed plant and tends to be a bit more prostrate rather than upright. It usually is 12 to 15 inches tall and wide, so plant in the front of the border for a better show. Stokes aster is a lovely cut flower. Cultivars to consider: Colorwheel, Blue Danube, Peachie’s Pick and Honeysong Purple.
‘Hot Lips’ turtlehead thrives in full sun to partly shady wet areas. Photo courtesy Monrovia
Turtlehead (Chelone) can be a problem solver for partly shady areas with wet soil, rich in organic matter. Also tolerant of full sun, turtleheads are found in the eastern United States. The flowers of turtlehead are what give the plant its common name. C. glabra is white; C. obliqua and C. lyonii are red.
Hummingbirds and bumblebees pollinate these plants, which bloom mid- to late summer. They get 1 to 3 feet tall and spread by rhizomes to form a colony up to 20 inches wide. This habit makes turtlehead a good choice for soil retention and use in rain gardens or swales. Turtlehead also can be cut for indoor arrangements. Besides the straight species, the only readily available cultivar is ‘Hot Lips’, reputed to be deer resistant.
Steampunk Amy Mullen is an urban gardener in disguise. Photo supplied by Amy Mullen
Last weekend, urban gardener Amy Mullen traded her jeans for a corset and gown at the Indianapolis Steampunk Society’s Steampunk Through the Looking Glass at the Columbia Club.
Is there a relationship between growing your own food on a small city lot and steampunking? Yes, she said.
“Steampunk is a reaction to mass production, entertainment technology and homogenous design,” said Mullen, 42, who holds degrees in physics and management from DePauw University.
Steampunk celebrates the individual craftsman and appreciates technology you can look at and see how it works. The farm-to-fork movement is one response to outsourcing growing food to industrial agriculture. “With gardening, we recapture the skills we lost. There’s a streak of individualism and creativity that runs through both gardening and steampunking,” Mullen said.
Since buying her home in Irvington in 2000, Mullen has embraced the role of urban gardener. She has converted her city lot into an urban farm with vegetables and fruit trees in the front yard and two chickens cooped in the back.
Amy Mullen’s front yard is planted with vegetables and fruit trees. She posts signs for neighbors to pick strawberries when the crop is more than she can use. Photo courtesy Amy Mullen
Among the challenges of city gardening: Soil contamination, fighting squirrels, birds and cats and preventing people from traipsing through your garden.
The rewards are more than food on the table, though. “Because I moved my food garden to front of house where sun is best, I have met a lot of neighbors. That builds bonds. I get anonymous thank you notes,” especially for the strawberries she allows people to pick, she said.
For beginners with gardens in town or in the ‘burbs, Mullen recommends “starting small, something every gardener in history has been told. If you are interested in food, one 4-by-4 foot garden can provide salad crops for two adults all season.” She also suggests researching what you want to grow to increase your ability to succeed.
Amy Mullen orders seeds for her urban garden under the supervision of Fiona, her cat. Photo courtesy Ginny Mullen
Her favorite plants are lavender, especially ‘Munstead’, because of the color and fragrance, and ‘Provence’ for its length of wands for crafts.
Gardening occupies Mullen’s day, too, as a designer for Spotts Garden Service, an Irvington company that aligns with her philosophy of organic and sustainable practices.
An Indianapolis native, Mullen comes from a long line of teachers and Spotts has opened up opportunities for her to share information. She teaches about gardening at farmers market and other venues. And, she blogs at fraudulentfarmgirl.com and at spottsgardens.com.
“Just don’t panic. Gardening is not an exact science. There’s a lot of trial and error and fun in the process,” she said.
Native moths and butterflies will be the topic of one of Doug Tallamy’s talks at the Horticultural Symposium at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Feb. 21, 2015. Above is a hummingbird moth visiting a bee balm (Monarda). (C) Bob Judson/bugwood
When you see or hear the words “living landscape,” what do you think? That all the plants are alive? But the term is much broader than just plants, although flora plays a key role.
Indeed, a living landscape teams with insects, birds and other wildlife.
One of the best ways to support a living landscape is with diverse plantings of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, which provide food and shelter for wildlife and beauty for you.
That’s precisely the topic of the annual symposium by the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Division of Environmental & Historic Preservation.
The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 21 in The Toby at the IMA. Advance registration is required.
Doug Tallamy’s keynote will be about how gardeners can create a biodiverse landscape. He also will speak about the role of moth and butterfly species as pollinators. Tallamy is co-author of The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, published by Timber Press. A professor at the University of Delaware, has been a popular and frequent speaker in Indiana since his award-winning book Bringing Nature Home was published in 2009, also by Timber Press.
Kevin Tungesvick, a restoration ecologist at Spence Restoration Nursery in Anderson, Indiana, will talk about lesser-known native plants that support wildlife. Jim McCormac, an award-winning birder, photographer and author with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, examines the best native plants for feeding the birds.
A lot of gardeners rely on perennials as the native plants in their gardens.
“While many native plant species make good garden plants, certainly not all are ideal,” said Irvin Etienne, horticultural display coordinator at the IMA and a director of the Perennial Plant Association.
“Breeders and plant hunters have come up with many nativars (native plus cultivar equals nativar) that do make excellent garden plants,” said Etienne, who will speak about Nativars – Strangers in a Strange Land.
“Sometimes these are simply selections found out in nature and other times they are planned hybrids. Since these plants are going into ornamental gardens rather than natural areas, their aesthetic qualities become equal to their native heritage. Indeed, sometimes they become strangers in a strange land,” he said.
The last issue of Organic Gardening is on the shelves now. Rodale, the name synonymous with all-things organic, will relaunch Organic Gardening as Organic Living with a May-June issue.
This last issue is an obituary, of sorts, for yet another gardening magazine. The magazine is being rebranded, so it’s not going away completely. The Rodale spin is the new magazine will encompass what’s now become a lifestyle.
“Organic is now about so much more than gardening. It’s about your whole life – your home, your health, and our future together on this beautiful amazing Earth,” wrote Maria Rodale, chairman and chief executive officer of Rodale Inc., and granddaughter of the founder, in the magazine’s farewell letter. Rodale publishes several popular magazines: Men’sHealth, Women’sHealth, Running!, Prevention, Runners and Bicycling, as well as many books.
In some ways, we’ve come a long way since the late J.I. Rodale founded Organic Gardening in May 1942. “One of these fine days, the public is going to wake up and will pay or eggs, meats, vegetables, etc., according to how they were produced,” he wrote.
At the time, J.I. Rodale and his promotion of organic practices bucked the trend toward widespread acceptance of pesticide use in agriculture. Today, his notions of composting, building the soil, avoiding pesticides, eating fresh food and living in a sustainable manner have moved beyond trendy to commonplace.
Many of us are concerned about how our food is grown, how far it has to travel to get to our table, food safety, freshness and the humane treatment of the animals we eat. From Walmart to Whole Foods, grocers promote their organic produce and other selections. Many vendors at farmers markets specialize in organic food. The USDA now has an organic food label for products that meet certain standards.
Of course, there are still issues. Many of us grab the spray of the day for an insect or disease because of aesthetics rather than harm to a plant as we model the perfect flowers, fruit and vegetables we know from the agriculture model. And we want to know what our packaged food is made of. A bill has been introduced again this year in the Indiana General Assembly that would require labeling on food if an ingredient is a genetically modified organism, or GMO.
So, I sadly bid adieu to Organic Gardening, a magazine that has been inspiring me since I started writing this column in 1989. And, I’m proud to continue providing readers information about practical, natural and organic practices for your gardens and landscape.