Mother Nature is Spookey

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Okay, Mother Nature – you tricked me again!  October turned out to be a beautiful month for us here in CT, weather wise, pretty warm and not too many cool days – thus, I have been busier this month than I was in July – go figure.

But all good for we know working outside in the gardens on cool, bright autumn days is very rewarding and enjoyable.  When autumn sunlight hits warm colors and those still hanging onto summer flowers, it is like a light show in nature.  And decorating for the fall season with container gardens is cheerful.

But then came yesterday.  We experienced our first sleet – and some snow fall!  I actually cooked a steak on the grill for dinner, and getting wet from the cool wet snow with sleet was NOT fun.  Why did I pick that meal last nite?  Guess I didn’t expect the bad weather to really happen as predicted by the forecasters.

This morning, we see frost on the windshields of our cars.  And some of my tropical plants responded to the weather by turning black.  This is okay – the typical recommendation is to let some tropicals be touched by frost before storing – because it induces a dormancy state.

I didn’t do all my container garden break-downs yet…and with this first frost – my goal is to break them down tomorrow.  For friends and clients nearby – if you want to pop by for a quick demo – feel free to call me.  I have about 10 canna containers to break down and couple of banana plants to tend to.  If you have a moveable pot and want to join me in the driveway to do your’s – as I said, just give me a call.

As for today – the sun is breaking out.  I just spotted my very first deer sighting in the backyard – 3 large sized visitors.  I turned on my CD player, and they scattered away as the outdoor speakers were still on.  I don’t think they like “Rage of the Machine” and why that CD is even in there, I don’t know.  Must be my nephew when last visiting inserted that CD.  I spooked the deer, just like Mother Nature spooked me yesterday with the change of temperatures and conditions.  Only a few days before Halloween too!

Picking up Trees

Two season ago, it was full on rain all season, then the next season, it was full on heat all season.  This season, we had the surprise of Hurricane – renamed Tropical Irene, to experience which tore the leaves of many of my big tropical plants and brought down trees – nature’s way of pruning. People are still recovering from the mess caused by that storm. And after the tropical storm, we had a mix of warm temperatures and rain in September.  See  for the significant weather events of 2011.

But this warm enjoyable October, which I would welcome every season, was a nice boost.  In my opinion, October was perfect up until yesterday.  Cathy T

Photo Friday – Purple Passion Mum

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How about this combo?  This mum, called Purple Passion, blooms later than the earlier season mums.  It began opening up its buds late last week for me.  Now, as of today, it is fully flushed with purple power (P.S.: The photo shows a bit more pink, but it is more purple in person).  Very pretty combined with the soft silver blue coloring of its partner.  The center of its partner plant has transitioned to a darker pink purple in its center recently.  These two fall container plants are working well together due to their splendid coloring and texture.  Enjoy it as today’s Photo Friday.  Cathy T

Amsonia in fall

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Amsonia in fall

Amsonia hubrichtii, PPA of the Year 2011.

This photo, taken Oct 20th, shows the fall color of golden-yellow.

Common name: Arkansas blue star, a southern native.

Whispy, fine texture.  Light blue, star-shaped flowers in spring.  Mound habit, 3′ height.  Full sun to partial shade.  Low-maintenance.

Great in containers as a tall, billowing feature, combines well with many plants.  Plant in spring and enjoy it all the way until October.  Tip:  Use a container with brown natural tones and this golden color will pop above it with your yellow or orange mums.  Transplant the perennial to your gardens before frost.  All good, 3 seasons of interest, and useful throughout. for complete details by the Perennial Plant Association.

New Amsonia on the scene this year:  Amsonia ciliata ‘Spring Skies’ (Spring Sky Bluestar); discovered at the Henry Foundation in Philadelphia, PA.  Longer-lasting flowers, more compact habit, and some bronze to the golden foliage in fall.

How to Overwinter Tropical Hibiscus


In late August, I took a photo of the blooms on a tropical Hibiscus growing as a standard in my brother’s backyard by his patio.  He and his girlfriend planted it this year.  It has been growing beautifully all season.

  • Standard:  For those of you who are not familiar with the term standard, it means a plant that has been trained into a tree-form shape.  I’m not sure why they call it a standard; seems like it should be called a tree-form plant.  A newbie would never use the word standard to search for information about how to grow a plant into a standard, which ends up looking like a topiary.  The plant sits as a beautiful round form on the top of a small tree.
Tropical Hibiscus

My brother’s Hibiscus has a twisted 3 branched trunk instead of a single trunk or stalk.  These are commonly found in nurseries and give the plant a bit more appeal.  A standard plant adds elegance, is a little more formal looking, and can be eye-catching, especially when adorned with spiller plants below in a stunning container garden.  But his was transplanted into the ground.

At first, when his girlfriend brought it home, it wasn’t doing so hot in the pot.  And their apartment doesn’t get much sunlight. (I know, I lived there too before getting my own home years ago), so my Mom, who lives next door, suggested they plant it in the ground.  It took off gangbusters style immediately after her wonderful suggestion.  The leaves greened up, the stalk increased in size a bit, and the blooms repeated all season long.

I warned my brother his tropical Hibiscus plant will not survive our winter in the ground.  He chuckled, and responded with, “Oh yah it will.  I’m going to build a box around it.”  Knowing my brother and his determination, I decided not to argue the point.  I was just in one of those moods.  I thought, “Okay, little brother, you try that.” Then I continued on my way.  But before leaving, I took a couple photos of the blooms.

Well, low-and-behold, he called me last night.  Usually he calls me about his band’s gig dates, and I post it on Facebook for him.  (BTW, he is playing T-day Eve, I’ll be posting the info soon).  But this time, his call was to ask me, “How do I store my plant? It is still doing amazing,” he commented.

“Ah, you finally believe me?” I replied.  “Well…,” he admitted, he asked Dad.  (Dad, the farmer of 80 years of age, who has never grown a tropical in his life!)  At that point, my bro believed it wouldn’t survive when Dad replied, “I don’t think so.”

Yup – Dad is right.

For the tropical shrub or tree Hibiscus, these have to be taken indoors as a houseplant or can be stored in your basement to overwinter.  These plants, hardy in zones 10-11, can survive warmer zones, but here we have to take the steps to move it, or loose it – which he surely would have if he didn’t think twice.

Yet, I totally understand my brother’s and his girlfriend’s resistance to take it out of the ground because their plant performed so beautifully by their back porch all summer and still going strong because we have had a warm October.  But very soon it will be too cold thus it is time before it is too late.

Center of Flower

This plant’s reproductive parts in the center of its petals are as lovely, in my view, as the huge dish plate sized blooms that can be anywhere from 5 to 12 inches across in size.  Arising from its deep red center star shape pattern, it holds its stamen and pistil upward to the sky as if a sculpture of nature is on display in its garden.  The stamen holds the anthers on tiny filaments and the pistil, the female part, rises above on what they call a style (Yup, she’s got “style”).  Both the male and female parts partnered as one in this bloom center in honor of survival.

As for the huge blooms – they keep going as long as it is warm out – and this went into the early fall for us this year in Connecticut.  As my brother noted, it is still thriving as of mid- October.

I also appreciate the foliage of tropical Hibiscus plants.  Dark green, shiny and fresh looking.  Something I admire about certain plants is “fresh” looking foliage.

By the way, people often get confused about the Hibiscus types out there.  Often I have to tell plant newbies there are many types: tropical, perennial, and shrub.  Most folks recognize the huge flowers, but they don’t realize the tropical types won’t survive our climate, like the the perennial Hibiscus would which can look very similar.  Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is tropical, known as Rose-of-China (like my brother’s type), but there are many others and lots of cultivars and similar species.  Blooms come in almost every color too.  Some people are also familiar with the Rose-of-Sharon deciduous flowering shrub, which is hardy for us to zone 5; latin name of Hibiscus syriacus.  So you can see the confusion for one that has seen these large blooms for the first time, and wants one to last.

…My advice to my brother continued:

You are going to have to dig it up with the root ball or most of the roots with some soil, pot it up on a nice container with potting soil, not all ground dirt, and move it inside.  Since you don’t have lots of sun in your apartment, you can take it down to the basement.  Select a cool, dark place.  It can be kept on the dry side, do not water it too much but check for insects a few weeks after moving it.  Don’t let it competely dry out to rock hard.  You don’t want it to die, you are putting it to sleep for the winter.  It will hang on there if you watch it.” 

Quiet on the phone, I could tell he was listening.

I continued.  “Oh, next year, when you take it back outside, don’t put it in full sun immediately.  You will have to transition it, otherwise, the leaves will bleach.  You will have to wait for our first warm-up to move it from the basement, maybe a few days by a window, and then outside into shade before full on sun.” 

He already knew that, he replied.

Then he gave me his next question, “Hey, you know those elephant ears you gave Nancy?  Well, she didn’t plant them this year.  Will they be okay next year?”

Fungi Feastings

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While working outside on Saturday, I decided to take a break and venture into the woods in my backyard.  I took my camera along because the sun was shining, and I felt like taking photos of leaves changing colors.  However, during this little journey, I kept coming across mushrooms on decaying wood pieces or clinging onto the side of living trees.  My focus was redirected from the lack of good fall foliage colors this year to the abundance of fungi feasting on various surfaces in the woodlands.

Shelf fungi

These clinging to this tree appear to be shelf fungi.  Shelf fungi don’t have gills and drop spores from the bottom of their fruiting body.  On typical mushrooms, the cap has gills on the underside.  I’m not sure what the blob is on the left of this tree in the photo above, but it reminded me of algae.  This wasn’t the only spot where I spotted two types of structures on one piece of wood or on a tree.  It appears the fungi were thriving right now in the woods.  Perhaps because we had warm temps followed by cool, I’m not sure but I started to enjoy seeing them and my curiosity perked.  I keep seeking out more.

Fuzzy One

Here’s an interesting fuzzy white one I found on a wooden trellis once made to have plants vine up.  It has been sitting in a shady corner with no attention, and the wood has begun to decay.  Right below this white one, I saw several more that looked a bit like oysters as I zoomed up closer with the camera lens. The patterns were rather pretty, repeating down the base of the tree branch.  I wondered if these were shelf fungi too, but not having an expertise in mushrooms, I just keep taking photos and moving along to other sightings.

Most folks know fungi are not plants.  They don’t have chlorophyll like plants do, so they can’t harvest sunlight for energy to make their own food.  They grow, live and serve different ways in our environnment.  Some by feeding, getting their nutrients, on decomposing organic matter. Other fungi are parasites, by taking their energy from living plant cells.  And some serve a symbiotic relationship, like the mycorrhizal mushrooms, which penetrate the roots of trees and help the roots by extending filaments around and outward into the soil.  This helps to increase the surface area for the roots, resulting in better absorbtion, and the ability to extract nutrients from the soil.  At the same time, the tree’s roots serve the fungi by giving them needed energy.  They feed off each other in other words.  And this can be a good thing because it helps a tree growing in poor soil to survive.

But as far as humans eating mushrooms, as most know, it is not a good idea to try unless you are an expert at recognizing mushrooms, or you are with a proven expert on your woodland journey.  As for myself, I had no interest whatsoever in eating mushrooms, just photographing them.

When I exited the woods and told my husband I saw lots of mushrooms, he replied with, “Mushrooms scare me.”  I started to laugh, because it sounded comical, as I pictured him running away from a giant mushroom.  But we know he meant many are potent enough to kill or at least make you very ill.

I remember seeing on t.v. last year a guy decided to just eat some mushrooms growing in his yard.  He survived, but he surely regretted the pain and embarrassment.  There are no easy ways to correctly identify poisonous mushrooms other than having a knowledgeable mycologist, a scientist who studies fungi, with you.  But if you happen to encounter someone who does and gets ill, save any remaining pieces and call 911 or head to the emergency room!  Know where the mushroom was growing and it’s features, the size, color, etc.  Hopefully you won’t ever have to do this, but good to know for reference.

I even came across a few puffballs on my way out of the wooded area.  You know the ones found on the ground that are round and when you stomp on them, they puff out a burst of cloudy material – its cloud of spores.  I always did that as a kid, and couldn’t resist the urge to do that again when I spotted those a couple times.  These mushrooms are a species of Schleroderma.  And I saw them more on the lawn parts of my walk versus in the deep, wet woodland areas.

Eventually, I did see some yellow foliage in the woods and took this snapshot from the base of a white birch tree.  There isn’t much color now which is a bit of a disappointment, but then again, maybe I wouldn’t have seen all the fungi feasting in my backyard woodland areas this time of year.

Birch with Yellows Above

Turkey Time – Photo Friday

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It’s turkey time.  This morning, at 7:00 am, I heard the gobble-gobbles of the males chasing the females around the backyard.  Or better said, the males huddled together and showed their stuff, while the females scattered the other direction.  Every year, we have turkeys visiting here in our yard and traveling to the neighbor’s yards too.  I rather enjoy hearing and seeing them.  Plus it entertains my three curious cats.  One cat, appropriately named Hunter, attempts to catch them from time to time with little luck.  So for today’s Photo Friday, I thought I’d share this snapshot I took.  At one point, all six males formed a circle around one female – that poor girl!

Turkey time

Scouting for Plants

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I enjoy scouting plants for my clients.  It is kind of like that “American Pickers” television show, where those two guys hunt for valuable old relics, vintage cars, and even motorcycle engines worth money today.  They know what’s worth grabbing and what is junk as they search through piles of stuff at various homes during their road-trip journeys.  Every once in a while they spot a real treasure.

Around this time of year, the fall season, finding good plants can be a little like being a ‘picker’, but not that extreme perhaps.  But the finds can run from Junk; I wouldn’t buy that plant now for anything or even take it for free if offerred, or Decent; this one with a snip here and some good loving in a new soil home will be just fine next year when it comes back in the spring; to Grab It Now; a discovery while scouting that is too good to pass up.  It is that lonely overlooked specimen in extremely good condition, not a common find, and a good deal.

The past two days, I was doing just that.  Going to several local nurseries, some wholesale suppliers, and yes, I even had to hit up a big box store to see what was left and what was usable for a client.  This client is in need of some outdoor sprucing up for their daughter’s upcoming wedding.  Sure we could use the millions of mums out there, but I like to do things a bit untraditional, surprising, and pleasing with other plant candidates – and there are methods to do this.

So on day one, I scouted, and then I sent photos to my clients of my finds.  We made agreements, and off I went on day two to get those I had spotted while anxiously hoping no one else grabbed them yet.  A funny thing happened.  As I brought my big rolling cart to the table of the limited supply of plants I planned, and was quickly putting them on the cart with other plants for my planned design combinations, a woman customer in the store spotted me.  She must have sensed my energy because she came over to ask, “How much is that plant?”  (Like I work here, not!), but I mumbled the response because I didn’t want her to take the remaining ones I needed for my clients.  (FYI, Later, a Facebook friend, told me that is what my “elbows” are for!).  Luckily, she put the plant back down and decided to walk away. (If I had worked there, I wouldn’t have let her walk way!)

As I walked into my next stop, one lonely older woman was standing by the table of plants I needed.  “Oh gosh”, I thought, “Not again!”  (And where is the staff again?  Oh, she’s at the register picking her fingers with no other customers in sight.)  The woman customer then commented these were the best “xxx” plants she has seen anywhere.  So rather than respond with my usual bubbly self, offering some advice, I just replied with a quiet “yup.”  She went on to say, I have to come back tomorrow.  I said, you better because after this weekend, I’m sure they’ll be gone. (Commission please?).  And no lie, the next lady to come in asked me the price of those mums back there – had to tell her I didn’t work here.  Did she sense my energy too?

And it is amazing what one or two days make.  One other place assured me they would not run out of a special type of pumpkin I wanted. But alas, all this rain lately caused a disease in their fields, and stuff was not looking as good as when I came in earlier.  They told me it has been kind of a bad year for pumpkins, which I don’t know about that since I’m not a pumpkin grower, but they didn’t look as nice, and there were even some fruit flies bouncing above a bin of gourds that looked amazing only two days ago.  So I grabbed, or should I say ‘picked’, the best of what was remaining in the big bin.

Fall Label

By the way, some other observations, not one person came to me in these very un-busy places except – I have to write this (sorry!), the big box stores.  I think maybe other places could tell I was on a mission and don’t have questions – but not talking to a person shopping your floor, is a missed opportunity.  And again, I hate to write this, because I know the fall year can be tricky with plant stock, but the big box store actually had some really beautiful “new” plants amongst there sometimes not so tended material — you know the junk you may see on a picker’s episode, AND, they had new nice “fall” labels with planting instructions – the label, shapped like a maple leaf.  Made me just think, “hmmm”.  I love and use reputable nurseries always in season, but in the fall, I had to use a little “picker perspective” because things are limited right now.  I’ve been reading in trade mags how these big box stores are changing “some things” about their plant product and sales behavior in regards to service.  Just saying, is all.

Ok, onto planting day – and no less, in the sun today!  Yeah, the sun is out, and I get to plant my picks.  Enjoy the sun too – guess it will last a few days here in our area of CT.  Cathy T