May 2016

Chicago Botanic Garden evaluates lady and Japanese painted ferns

‘Branford Beauty’ fern earned five stars for its performance during plant trials at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo courtesy

‘Branford Beauty’ fern earned five stars for its performance during plant trials at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo courtesy

The Chicago Botanic Garden has released its six-year evaluation of lady ferns and Japanese painted fern (Athyrium spp.). This group of ferns is among the most elegant, yet utilitarian plants for the shade garden, said Richard Hawke, who heads up the evaluation program at the Glencoe, Illinois, botanic garden.

Victoriae lady fern. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden/

Victoriae lady fern earned five starts in the CBG evaluations. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden/

Two of my Japanese painted ferns, ‘Branford Beauty’ and ‘Pewter Lace’, were among 13 to receive five stars. ‘Branford Beauty’ is a clump grower and ‘Pewter Lace’ (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) is a spreader. Among native lady ferns, (A. felix-femina), the sometimes hard-to-find ‘Victoriae’ earned five stars.

If you’ve grown these ferns, you know they are not always the most vigorous, especially when it gets hot and especially dry. It’s not uncommon for them to go dormant during hot, dry spells, frequently reviving in late summer and fall as weather moderates. The botanic garden saw first hand how these ferns handle less than desirable conditions with the loss of a huge shade tree that left the bed in sweltering afternoon sun.

Among other challenges, browsing by rabbits, and fence eventually was built around the test plot to keep out the critters.

The ferny, lance-shaped fronds are perfect companions to the bolder and broader leaves of other shade-loving plants, such as hosta, lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) and coral bells (Heuchera spp.). I love the way the way Japanese painted ferns look with silvery-purple coral bells. “Crown injury or plant losses in winter were uncommon and infrequent occurrences during the trial,” Hawke wrote in his evaluation.

The purple-veined Japanese painted fern is a good companion with silvery-purple coral bells. This combination also camouflages the ripening foliage of grape hyacinths and other spring bulbs. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The purple-veined Japanese painted fern is a good companion with silvery-purple coral bells. This combination also camouflages the ripening foliage of grape hyacinths and other spring bulbs. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Branford Beauty’ is between a lady fern and a Japanese painted fern in its form and habit. “The upright habit and fine-textured leaves of this hybrid resemble the lady fern, while the colorful arching and curved fronds are like Japanese painted fern,” he wrote. ‘Branford Beauty’ also was more uniformly silver green.

The fronds of ‘Pewter Lace’ “emerged purple, but aged silver-green with purple highlights on the lower portion of the pinnae along the purple rachis. The irregularly arched fronds and mounded habit were comparable to other cultivars. No rabbit damage, drought stress, or scorch was observed during the trial,” Hawke wrote in the report.

Hawke said gardeners and landscapers appreciate athyrium’s feathery textures and fronds of many colors, which contrast and complement other perennials. Grow them in moist, well-drained soil in full to part shade. Water during dry spells.

Herb society celebrates year of peppers

Pretty N Sweet peppers, a 2015 All-America Selection. Photo courtesy

Pretty N Sweet peppers, a 2015 All-America Selection. Photo courtesy

The International Herb Association has declared this the year of the pepper and the Herb Society of Central Indiana decided to celebrate.

Peppers were featured at the group’s meeting earlier this month and again, April xx at the annual conference. It also will be planted in the herb garden at White River Gardeners, where members have been volunteering since 2001, said Sue Arnold, a founding member of the Herb Society of Central Indiana.

Peppers (Capsicum annuum) also will be growing in Arnold’s garden in Brownsburg. “I have a history of growing lots of hot peppers and I competed in the Chili Cookoff for years. I have a trophy in the basement from winning the most popular people’s choice chili,” said Arnold.

This year, she’s started seeds for Pretty N Sweet hybrid, a 2015 All-America Selections winner that I grew last year. It can be grown in the ground or in a container.

This was probably the easiest pepper I’ve ever grown, very prolific and very ornamental, something AAS calls “ornamedible.” The conical-shaped, tasty peppers are red, yellow, orange and greenish, 1-1 ½ inches long. A plant will have about 100 sweet peppers, each weighing an ounce.

Pretty N Sweet was also was a favorite at the AAS Demonstration Garden maintained by Marion County Master Gardener at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, said Steve Mayer, horticulture educator at Purdue-Marion County Extension.

“I also have six other varieties of peppers seeds to plant. I’ll try to protect from the deer,” Arnold said.

Grow peppers in full sun. Don’t rush to plant them outdoors because peppers like warm soil and warm ambient temperatures. Also, practice patience. Peppers need a long, hot, period for fruit to mature for harvesting. For Pretty N Sweet, you can start picking about 60 days after planting transplants.

The Herb Society of Central Indiana’s 2016 spring symposium, Pepper Your Life with Herbs, will be 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., April 9, at the Hamilton County 4H Fairgrounds, Noblesville. The public is invited.

Indiana Flower & Patio Show

This weekend begins the eight-day run of the 58th annual Indiana Flower & Patio Show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. This year, the theme is Tall, Dark and Awesome. The show ends March 20.

Wright heads up horticulture and natural resources at the IMA

Jonathan Wright has been named the Ruth Lilly Deputy Director for Horticulture and Nature Resources at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo courtesy IMA

Jonathan Wright has been named the Ruth Lilly Deputy Director for Horticulture and Nature Resources at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo courtesy IMA

The opportunity to work at a world-class art museum committed to making its gardens a priority lured Jonathan Wright from the country’s gardening mecca to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Wright was named the Ruth Lilly Deputy Director for Horticulture and Nature Resources at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, succeeding Mark Zelonis, who retired last December after 18 years. He started the first week of March.

The IMA is somewhat unique in the world of horticulture because of its mix of properties. Wright was particularly attracted to the diversity of gardens: the Olmsted-designed Oldfields; the IMA’s gardens and grounds; 100 Acres, the Art and Nature Park; and the Kiley-designed Miller House and Garden in Columbus. Wright comes to the IMA from Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where he was a horticulturist for 12 years.

“I wasn’t looking for a job when I got the call,” Wright said in a phone interview shortly after he moved to Indianapolis. “But it was so exciting. There’s an Olmsted landscape, Kiley and 100 Acres (designed by Marlon Blackwell and Edward L Blake). That was really exciting to me to be a part of all these different styles of gardens. We’re going to take them to the next level.”

The mid-century modern Miller House and Garden in Columbus and Oldfields, an American County Estate, are on designated National Historic Landmarks. He said he didn’t know of any other museum with the rich diversity of historically significant landscapes.

A graduate of Temple University, the Longwood Gardens’ Professional Gardener Program, and the Getty Leadership Institute’s Next Generation Program, Wright has extensive experience at gardens throughout the United States and England.

“I feel Jonathan Wright has the vision, knowledge and creativity to provide strategic direction and leadership to establish the IMA as one of the preeminent public garden and urban ecosystem destinations in the country,” said Charles Venable, the Melvin and Bren Simon Director and Chief Executive Officer at the IMA, in a press release.

“Most of Jonathan Wright’s work experience and training have been in former private gardens now open to the public,” said Bill Thomas, executive director and head gardener at Chanticleer. “Jonathan has a great eye for design and a sensitivity to the individual site, both of which he has developed well here at Chanticleer. I expect to see great things from him and the talented staff of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.”

March garden checklist

Soil readiness.


  • Prune, repot and clean houseplants as needed.
  • Fertilize houseplants as new growth appears. Follow label directions.
  • Sketch garden plans, including what to grow, spacing, arrangement, number of plants needed and sequence.
  • Order seeds and plants as early as possible for best selection.
  • Place Easter lily, florist azalea, cyclamen and other seasonal flowering plants in bright, indirect sunlight. Keep soil moist.
  • Pot up summer flowering bulbs to be transplanted outdoors later, including tuberous begonias, caladiums and cannas.
  • Start seeds of warm season vegetables and flowers in early March in southern Indiana. In northern and central Indiana, wait until late March or early April. Transplant outdoors when danger of frost is past, usually mid-May.

General Landscape

  • Warm spring days tempt us into the garden to prepare the soil and begin planting. However, do not work the soil if it is wet. If soil is worked too early, its structure is damaged. Here’s an easy test: Take a handful of soil.  If it crumbles in your hand, the soil is ready to work. If it forms a ball, the soil is too wet.
  • Prepare tools for their summer job. Sharpen mower blades.

    Prepare lawn and garden equipment for upcoming growing season. Sharpen blades and have equipment serviced as early as possible.

  • Prune trees and shrubs except those that bloom early in spring.
  • Plant container grown and balled-and-burlapped trees and shrubs as soon as the soil dries enough to be worked. Plant bare-root plants before they leaf out.
  • Fertilize woody plants before new growth begins but after soil temperatures have reached 40 degrees, usually early March in southern Indiana and late March in the north.
  • Apply horticulture oil spray, if needed, to control scale insects and mites when tips of leaves start to protrude from buds.
  • Avoid walking on soft ground. Walking on soil compacts it.
  • Seed bare spots in lawn.
  • Apply corn gluten, a natural pre-emergent herbicide, when grass starts active growth in southern Indiana only. Wait until April in the north . Corn gluten keeps weed seeds from sprouting but does not kill existing plants. For more info: University of Minnesota’s Corn Gluten Meal: A Natural Pre-Emergence Herbicide.
  • Remove leaves, twigs and trash from yard.
  • Set lawn mower to cut at 3 ½ to 4-inches high.
  • Cut to the ground perennials that were left standing for winter interest. Divide and transplant perennials when soil can be worked.
  • Cut ornamental grasses as close to the ground as possible. Transplant or divide ornamental grasses.
  • Remove winter covering from roses as soon as new growth begins. Prune and fertilize as needed.
  • Sow seed or plant seedlings of cool-season and half-hardy annuals, including calendula, larkspur, poppy, snapdragons, English daisy, pansies and sunflowers.
  • Harden off transplants by setting them outdoors during the day for about a week before planting.
  • Follow last fall’s soil test recommendations for fertilizer and pH; soil also can be tested this spring.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Plant seedlings of cool season vegetables and flowers as soon as the soil is dry enough to work. These include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, peas, spinach, lettuces, radishes and beets. For more details on specific vegetables and planting dates, see Purdue University’s Home Gardener’s Guide.
  • Remove old asparagus and rhubarb tops; side dress with nitrogen or manure.
  • Plant or transplant asparagus, rhubarb and small fruit plants.
  • Remove winter mulch from strawberry beds as soon as new growth begins; keep mulch nearby to protect against frost and freezes.
  • Before new growth begins on raspberry plants, remove canes that fruited last year and any that are weak, diseased or damaged.
  • Prune grape vines to remove dead or weakened limbs. Repair trellises as needed.




IMA’s first plant exhibit features orchids

Color Me Orchid exhibit runs through March 13 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art

Color Me Orchid exhibit runs through March 13 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art

The Orchid Exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art is as rich with history as it is with blooms.

As far as I’m able to tell, it’s the first formal exhibit of a plant at the IMA. (Of course, the gardens and grounds exhibit plants year-round.) And, an exhibit of orchids is an homage, or sorts, to the late IMA benefactor, Madeline F. Elder, for whom the greenhouse is named.

There are two places for the Color Me Orchid exhibit, which runs through March 13. The Pop-Up Shop is in the Bret Waller Gallery in the main building. An exhibit of more exotic and collector orchids is at the greenhouse.

“The Pop-Up Shop exhibit is laid out like a sculpture gallery,” said Sue Nord Peiffer, greenhouse manager and curator of the exhibit. Gorgeously displayed in gallery lighting, individual plants sit on pedestals, shelves, nooks and crannies like you’d find in a sculpture exhibit.

All of the plants in the Pop-Up Shop are for sale. They came from growers as close as Indiana and as far away as Hawaii, Peiffer said. The orchids at the shop will change regularly as new plants begin to bloom. The greenhouse’s living gallery exhibit reflects the orchids’ visual and scented appeal.

Orchids are on exhibit in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse and in the Pop-Up Shop in the main museum building Photo courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art

Orchids are on exhibit in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse and in the Pop-Up Shop in the main museum building Photo courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art

Elder is credited with leading the effort to save the greenhouse from demolition in 1972. “She rallied volunteers, repainted the greenhouse and donated some of her own plants,” Peiffer said. Elder, who died at age 103 in 1992, also provided financial support and eventually endowed the greenhouse. The legacy also continues with the IMA’s Horticultural Society, which was founded by some of Elder’s volunteers.

One orchid in the special exhibit at the greenhouse is from Elder’s collection. Elder was known nationally as an avid collector of orchids and African violets, Peiffer said. Coincidentally, while doing research, Peiffer learned another connection to the greenhouse was also a collector of orchids. J.K. Lilly Sr., the father of J.K. Lilly Jr., who lived at Oldfields and owned the greenhouse, had a large orchid collection at his Carmel, Indiana home, she said. The Lilly family donated the 52 acres at Michigan Road and 38th Street to be an art museum.

Color Me Orchid is free for members. Regular admission applies for nonmembers. Admission is free 4 to 9 p.m., March 3, the first Thursday of the month. Class on repotting orchids will be Feb. 27 and March 5.  Author Douglas Allen will talk about “Success with Orchids in Your Home,” 2 p.m., March 6 at The Toby. His talk is free.

An epic guide to growing tomatoes

Cherokee Purple Tomato. Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants

Cherokee Purple Tomato. Photo courtesy Bonnie Plants

For the last few week, gardener have been thinking about the upcoming planting season. And when it comes to growing our own, tomatoes top the list. To help us succeed comes Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time (Storey Publishing, $19.95). LeHoullier, the tomato advisor for Seed Savers Exchange, has trialed more than 1,200 tomato varieties through his 35 years of gardening.

I immediately checked out my favorite, Cherokee Purple, an heirloom that tastes like what we think a tomato should taste like, truly bursting with flavor. “Cherokee Purple exploded in our mouths in a symphony of flavors and nuances,” wrote LeHoullier of his and his wife, Sue’s first taste.

epic tomato coverThen, I looked up Brandywine, the tomato that aroused our interest in heirlooms. Some years, production is great and some years, not so much. “It is still Brandywine that I think of when I ponder the perfect tomato-eating experience. An authentic Brandywine has an unmatched succulent texture that melts in your mouth. The flavor enlivens the taste buds, with all the favorable components of the best tomatoes – tartness, sweetness, fullness and complexity – in perfect balance,” he wrote.

Is your mouth watering? Fortunately, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and many other heirlooms are available at local garden center. If you haven’t ever tried one, do so this year.

The book makes suggestions for handling common tomato disease and insect problems and gives tips on planting, harvesting and preserving, along with recommendations on 250 varieties. Although most of the book is dedicated to heirlooms, there are several comparison charts that include well known hybrids, such as Better Boy. LeHoullier lists prized tomato varieties by their color, such as green, striped or black.

If planning to start your tomatoes from seed indoors, follow the packet instructions. Usually the indoor seed-starting process tomato starts about six weeks before transplanting outdoors, which is mid May. Tomatoes are very sensitive to cold air and soil temperatures, so don’t rush their outdoor planting.

Grow tomatoes where they will get at least six hours of direct sun. Eight hours is even better. Tomatoes can be grown in the ground in well-drained soil or in a container. If growing in a pot, select a dwarf type, such as Patio, or a determinate variety, such as Celebrity. Determinates reach a certain height then stop growing. Indeterminate varieties grow until they are killed by frost. Plan on staking most tomato varieties.

Celebrate a bicentennial garden with blue and gold flowers

Yellow daffodils and blue pansies celebrate Indiana's bicentennial. © Jahina_photos/

Yellow daffodils and blue pansies celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial. © Jahina_photos/

Indiana celebrates its bicentennial this year and you can commemorate the 200th birthday by planting blue and gold flowers, the colors of our state’s flag.

The Indiana Bicentennial Commission and the Garden Club of Indiana have partnered to promote the effort, especially in public spaces, but also in our landscapes and ornamental containers. Neighborhoods, condos, apartment complexes, cities and towns could deck their entryways with blue and yellow plants. Businesses can plant lovely blue and gold, flowerpots by their doors or in window boxes on the building.

It’s easy to get these hues in spring, because readily available pansies and violas come in blues and golds. Other spring options: gold or yellow ranunculus, snapdragons or forced daffodils with blue pansies or violas. Under plant some yellow or gold daffodils or tulips in the landscape with blue violas, or place a pot of blue pansies nearby.

Summer is even easier, although as Purdue University horticulturist Rosie Lerner says, “Some blue flowers are more purple than blue, and likewise, some gold flowers are more yellow.”

Some of my favorites for summer: Any of the annual blue salvias, such as ‘Victoria Blue’, ‘Black and Blue’, or ‘Mystic Spires’. Mix these with yellow or gold marigold, zinnia, calibrachoa or moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora). The salvias also would go well with an annual black-eyed Susan, or gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta), or the perennial (R. fulgida). There’s a golden yellow annual tickseed called plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) and perennial types (C. lanceolata or C. verticillata), including ‘Jethro Tull’, ‘Early Sunrise’, ‘Zagreb’ or ‘Moonbeam’.

For fall, reuse the blue salvias with some crisp, yellow mums. Pansies and snapdragons also hang tough in fall, and you’ll find timely, fresh crops of these in garden centers.

Winter, of course, is a challenge, but not without hope. Hang onto the cool-season pansies and put them in a pot around a small boxwood or dwarf Alberta spruce. This combo will work well in an all-weather container in an exposed location, or a ceramic or terra cotta pot in a protected area.

Just one pot with the flag’s colors is enough to cheer happy 200th birthday, Indiana. For more suggestions of blue and gold flowers, please download Lerner’s list, or one from the Garden Club of Indiana.

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.”