Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ – When it Flowers, I’ll need a Shot of Tequila

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Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ (Century Plant) is a tough and beautiful ornamental succulent plant for container gardens. The plant has a strong form growing in a tight symmetrical rosette.  It has more coloring than many other species of Agave plants.  It bears creamy light yellow coloring adjacent to the blue green centers on its leaves.  And the spines at the tips are cinnamon colored but prominent enough to be used as a color echo in a mixed container garden.

Original Plant

Original Plant

Besides being beautiful, it is a really easy to grow plant.  Low-maintenance, it will last for years and potentially bloom (if you are lucky), and then die.  Yup, croak.  However, it will offer up Mini-Me’s over time as offshoots from the base prior to its death.  And if the plant lasts at your home long enough for it to offer its flower stalks as its final gift to you, you may in turn want to honor its life and eventual passing by downing a shot of tequila — because, as many folks know, Agaves are used to produce the strong elixir.

Rosette, Spines

Rosette, Spines

Mini-Me’s from the Mother Plant

When mine was sprouting offsets (Mini-Me’s) at the base, I decided it was time for it to be re-potted. I grabbed a couple special gardening tools and selected an urn I had in my stock (perfect as it was one size up from the former pot).  Collecting up some tools, I did my propagation routine which was easier than I expected.

Getting Ready to Repot

Getting Ready to Repot

Tools:

  1. Beach towel
  2. Large grill tongs
  3. Fish tank gravel
  4. Potting mix amended with some coarse gravel and sand
  5. Thick garden gloves, the type with rubber fingers and palms
  6. Coarse airy stones for the top of the soil

The beach towel was used because I was lazy, and wanted to grab something quickly to put on my table to collect any fallen soil as I worked.

The grill tongs used because I couldn’t think of what else was handy to hold onto the Agave, but it turns out I didn’t really need those cause the plant easily shook out of the pot onto the towel.

The fish tank gravel was from a fish tank years ago.  I knew I’d find a use for it.  It was washed and rinsed prior to filling the base of the urn with it, to about a 1/3 of the way up from the base for drainage.  Remember, well-draining soil is critical for this plant.

The thick garden gloves, well – for obvious reasons. To protect my hands from the Agave’s spines at the leaf tips.

And lastly, coarse porous black stones were for the top of the soil.  Agave plants sit so close to the soil line that putting some barrier material between it and potentially wet soil will help to avoid rot situations.  Also, the soil mix used must be porous.  You can look for the type used for succulents or cacti if you don’t want to amend it yourself.

Pulling away offshoots

Pulling away offshoots

Each little baby plant or Mini-Me (a.k.a., sucker, sprout, offsets or offshoots) at the base of the Momma plant were easily pulled away and re-potted.  Given to special gardening friends with a word of caution:  Not hardy, avoid cold wet rain situations (early spring, late fall), and watch your hands or butt should you walk by this plant – the spines are sharp.

Mini Me's

Mini Me’s

The pot should be relative to the size of the current plant.  It thrives in tight conditions and is a slow-grower so it won’t overtake a pot or container garden quickly. Select a pot that is form fitting if you plan to grow it solo, or in a mixed planting situation, you can go somewhat bigger if desired.

Repotted into Urn

Repotted into Urn

There are plenty of succulents and alpine type plants you can use to mix it up in a container garden for a real show.  Want some ideas of what those are? Visit my Succulent Sensations Pinterest boards and attend my May 24th class in 2014.

There is much to know including how easy it is to give birth (propagate) new plants (Mini-Me’s) from the mother plant. Because, as I said earlier, this plant is easy to grow, you should have grandchildren from Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ in a two to three years.

Mixed container

Mixed container with Senecio and Sage

Celebrate its Birth and Size with Tequila

This plant will grow to about 15″ or so, slowly.  However, other Agave species grow rather large. If you want to see a really big blue agave plant being dug out of the soil by a strong farmer, check out this video.  I’d like to hire this guy to dig out some yucca plants in garden beds, equally tough to remove.  And then have a couple tequila shots with him, because the plant he is harvesting is used to make tequila.  And, believe me, he’s earned a shot or two if he does this process for the whole field of plants.

Fortunately, Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ is far more manageable, and it will not grow as large as shown in the video above.  It is perfect for container gardens and for people who are a little negligent with their watering routines because the plant enjoys desert to semi desert conditions.  

As mentioned above, the only thing you can do wrong to it is let it sit in cold wet conditions – this usually leads to rot on the leaves. My recommendation is to put it outdoors in the early summer after the early cold spring rains are done, and it is warm outside regularly.  And to move it back inside for the winter before the cold autumn rains hit.  It likes to stay warm.  Most people fail with this plant because they think it will be okay if it gets rain at that time period because you still have warm days between cold rainfall, but I say avoid that cold rain situation all together for success.

Spiders Visit the Plant on Summer

Spiders Visit the Plant on Summer

Death after Flowering

If you don’t kill it, or die from doing too many tequila shots – great – the plant (and you) will last a very long time, and even perhaps a beyond a few centuries. They grow so slow that many won’t produce a flower spike until after 15, 20 or even 30 years when it reaches maturity.  The flowers rise on tall stalks and put on quite a show.  In this video, you can see how a flower stalk reaches to the heavens.  It is quite spectacular, requiring years and then just the right conditions to come out into the open.

Some Agaves will grow flowers regularly, but I must confess, I am not sure if Agave ‘Kissho Kan’ is one of them.  There are some confusing references on it but not a concern, if I see a flower stalk appear, I’ll let you know immediately.  In fact, I’ll be sure to brag about it.  And then do a tequila shot to celebrate my success and to honor plant’s eventual passing after giving so much to its life.

Want to join me when this happens?  I’ll get the good kind.

Cathy Testa

Agave_0005

Plant Details:

Agave (Century Plant)
Agave sp. Kichokan
Agave potatorum ‘Variegata’
Zones 9-10 / Full Sun
15″ Tall Rosette

Useful Links:

http://www.plantdelights.com/Agave-Kissho-Kan-for-sale/Buy-Lucky-Crown-Century-Plant/
Plant Delights

http://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/3155/lucky-crown-century-plant/
Monrovia

http://www.logees.com/Agave-Kissho-Kan/productinfo/S7713-4/
Logee’s Greenhouses
See my blog post about this place HERE.

Click to access temperennials.pdf


Proven Winners

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Juncus effusus is a Low-Maintenance and Highly Versatile Plant – And it looks like Chives!

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Common rush or soft rush (Juncus effusus) is a grass-like plant which resembles the foliage of chives with dark green cylindrical stems and a vase-shaped habit.  Although its green stems appear stiff, they are soft to the touch. The plant grows from a clump at the base and each green stem grows up to pointy tapered tips.  Because the plant has a strong dark green color and a vase-shaped upright habit, it is a nice thriller in a container garden or a sharp accent in a garden bed.

Photo by Simon Howden, Freedigitalimages.net

Chives, similar to the look of Juncus effusus is shown blooming purple flowers along a garden path with dark green spiky foliage.  [Photo by Simon Howden, Freedigitalimages.net]

Easy to Grow in Versatile Conditions

This plant is also very easy to grow, experiences little to no disease or insect problems, and is flexible with its soil conditions.  It can take moist, wet, sometimes dry, and difficult areas.  It won’t flop, bend, or topple over as it matures, even when it is sticking out of water or snow.  It’s adaptable to many conditions, making it easily-useful in the garden or in a container garden.

Juncus in water and snow [Photo left by Christian Fischer Wikimedia; Photo right by Cathy Testa]

Juncus in shallow water.  Juncus poking out of the snow  [Photo left by Christian Fischer Wikimedia]

For years, I assumed Juncus effusus (common rush or soft rush) was an annual plant and used it commonly in container gardens or patio pots during the summer, but seeing it return in a garden bed one year, I later realized my error.  As I searched for the plant’s origin and genus, it was interesting to see how it is described by different references on the web and in some gardening books, as follows:

  1. A clump forming wetland plant
  2. A slow-spreading, clump forming, grass-like perennial
  3. A plant loosely referred to as an ornamental grass
  4. A rush from the plant family Juncaceae
  5. A useful solution for wet-moist-sometimes-dry landscapes
  6. A species which is mostly perennial, rarely annual
  7. A warm-season grass
  8. A cosmopolitan rush species
  9. An annual, perennial herb, general from rhizomes
  10. A grass-like, rhizomatous perennial
  11. A perennial wetland plant

It is indeed a plant in the Juncaceous (rush) family, and it’s a monocotyledonous plant, which means it has a single cotyledon in the seed as in grasses.  It looks more like a grass than an herbaceous ornamental perennial, but it is perennial for it returns every year. Although it can be described as a type of ornamental grass, it is technically not classified as such. My favorite description spotted on the web for this plant has to be # 8 listed above: A cosmopolitan (Watch out, Vogue).  However, this term means its range extends across all of most of the world in appropriate habitats.

Stiff Stems are Soft to the Touch

The foliage on Juncus effusus (common rush, soft rush) is made up of individual leafless stems grouped together growing from a clumped base.  Because the stems stand firmly together, the plant won’t flop over as it grows larger.  Unlike typical ornamental grasses, it doesn’t tend to sway in the wind easily or become scraggly looking over time.  Adjacent plants in a mixed garden bed or container garden won’t be buried by it either.  Its spikey form is bold looking, tough, and vertical.

It has a Nice Effect in Containers and Garden Beds

Stored pot will return Juncus effusus each season

Stored pot will return Juncus effusus each season

From a designer’s point of view, this plant makes a nice effect in a composition of mixed plants because of its shape and habit, serving as a nice thriller in containers elevating an arrangement, or as a center focal point in gardens, especially when placed near a lighter green color or bolder leaf texture.  Perhaps it can even be massed or grouped in landscapes to help with soil erosion or as an alternative to turf grass in select areas with the right exposure (sun is preferred).

And, as mentioned above, Juncus effusus (common rush, soft rush) prefers moist-sometimes dry landscapes. And this particular variety is a dark green color, which remains dark green during the season but eventually turns a muted brown in the fall and winter.  It will remain standing during the winter months and the stems’ pointy tips will poke out of a snow covered area without bending or breaking, adding interest in the winter months.

Summer Flowering is More Interesting than Showy

Juncus flowering [Photo by Frank Vincentz Wikipedia Commons]

Juncus flowering [Photo by Frank Vincentz Wikipedia Commons]

It flowers in summer (typically around June), but rather than shooting out flowers from the top, the flowers seem to extend from the sides of the stems opening up like a side curtain.  Unlike the purple balls of chive’s flowers, this plant’s yellowish flowers are not super-attractive, but they still add character to the plant in summer.  The flowers are clustered together in batches, and turn a bit brownish later in the season as they mature.  They are the type of flowers which are more interesting to look at than showy or floral.

For Water Gardens and Low-Wetlands

Photo Christian Fischer, Wikipedia; See Attributions Below

Photo Christian Fischer, Wikipedia; See Attributions Below

Because of its flexible nature in regards to soil conditions, this is a great candidate for water gardens in decorative pots, or in low wet areas in your landscape.  It is also a great choice for rain gardens which fill up with water during a rainfall, but then later dry out when there is no rain occurring.  Another benefit to using it container gardens is this will control its potentially spreading roots (rhizomatous in nature), so it can be also used as a “troublemaker turned star” plant.  However, although it can spread under ideal conditions in the landscape, mine has not caused any sneak appearances elsewhere as of yet.  Besides an occasional watering with the hose in the summer, my plant has been growing well in dry-sometimes “wet” soil, a little opposite to description # 5 above.

Curly Cultivars with Twists and Turns

Not only is Juncus effusus (common or soft rush) a plant with formal looking, straight v-shaped look, there are also cultivars with more funky foliage traits, such as J. effusus ‘Frenzy’ (variegated corkscrew rush), J. effusus ‘Unicorn’ (giant spiral rush), and also J. effusus ‘Spiralis’ (corkscrew rush).  Unlike their upright cousins, the foliage on these varieties bear stems with twists and turns, resembling untamed curls in otherwise straight hair or the spiral metal rod of a corkscrew.  The curly varieties add a bit of whimsy to fun containers, such as head shaped pots.  And are great for kids to enjoy because of the plants’ playfulness and irresistibility to touch.

Juncus effusus (common rush, soft rush) is a plant with many uses able to take varying conditions and is a long performer in the garden.  These benefits make this candidate a low-maintenance and high versatile plant.  Remember to take notice of it and consider its uses next time you are out shopping for plants, which hopefully will be in 30 days when spring arrives!

For more information, refer to these useful links:

http://www.northcreeknurseries.com/plantName/Juncus-effusus-
NorthCreek Nurseries

http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_juef.pdf
USDA NRCS fact sheet

http://www.finegardening.com/plants/qa/grasses-rushes-sedges.aspx
Fine Gardening

http://www.eeob.iastate.edu/classes/bio366/families/Juncaceae.pdf
EEob.iastate.edu

http://www.provenwinners.com/plants/juncus/quartz-creek-soft-rush-juncus-effusus
Proven Winners

http://www.floridata.com/ref/j/junc_eff.cfm
Floridata

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=z200
Juncus effusus ‘Unicorn’ (corkscrew, or giant spiral rush), Mobot.org Plant Finder

http://hoffmannursery.com/plants/juncus-effusus-frenzy/
Juncus effusus ‘Frenzy’ (variegated corkscrew rush), Hofftmannursery.com

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=v930
Juncus effusus f. spiralis (corkscrew rush), Mobot.org Plant Finder

Plant Details:

4 feet tall with flower (June)
Sun exposures
Low water spots (0-6 inches)
Planting Zones 4-10

Photo of.
Attributions:

Juncus in snow
(http://instagram.com/p/kXIlxosJND/)
by Cathy Testa
Cathy T’s Landscape Designs and Container Crazy Cathy T

Up the Garden Path photo by Simon Howden
freedigitalphotos.net

Juncus in nursery square pots
Forest & Kim Starr [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Juncus flower clusters
By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Juncus by water
Christian Fischer [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Written by Cathy Testa
www.cathytesta.com

Please don’t forget to share this post with your gardening friends!

Photo take Feb 2014

Photo taken Feb 2014

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Ready for Spring!

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#1 Go to the Flower and Garden Show this week in Hartford, CT

Go to the flower and garden show in Hartford, CT being held this week starting Thursday, Feb. 20th. Just walking into the building will get your senses thinking about spring and less about snow as you see, hear, smell, and experience the plants and plant offerings by the many exhibitors.  I plan to go – probably on Friday.  Got the day off?  Want to join me, just email me at containercathy@gmail.com.  There is parking adjacent to the convention center.  After parking, find your way through the parking garage to the main entrance and take the escalators up to the show floor. Don’t forget to visit the seminar speakers on the floor above the show floor too.  Food and wine is available at the show each year, and check in with your local nurseries before you go for tickets – they often offer discounted tickets by a couple bucks.  If you can’t make it during a week day, no worries – it runs through the weekend, and the weather is looking warmer by Friday.

#2 Visit Cathy T’s new Pinboards on Succulents and Tropicals

Why?  Because in May, Cathy T is offering a fun class on how to make container gardens with succulents, and will be having a Tropical Talk too.  To get inspired about this first annual BIG CONTAINER GARDEN PARTY to be held on Broad Brook, CT, visit her new pinboards right now, note the date on your calendar, and register today.  These pinboards will get you at least thinking about upcoming fun of creating beautiful containers for your outdoor spaces in the spring and summer. The possibilities are endless in the style and ways you can mix up plants for the season.

To learn more details about this class, see the pages listed under Cathy T’s Classes or under Container Gardens on the menu of this blog.  Share the information too with any local friends interested.

#3 Scout Containers for the Upcoming Season

Now could be a very good time indeed to think about containers or patio pots for not, only Cathy T’s BIG CONTAINER GARDEN PARTY (class) in May, but in general for your container gardening coming up in a matter of a month of so!  We may have snow right now, but it will begin to melt as soon as temps warm up – so why not rummage your own stock of goodies, or start looking for unique containers at the flower show this weekend?? – and of course, the tag sales that kick off in the spring. It is when you least expect it that you find a vintage item, a repurposed pot, or something sitting in your garage or basement right now that can be a container in spring and summer – old fancy shoes or pumps – heck, before tossing them, think – could this be a great container for succulents at Cathy T’s class?  I think yes!

#4 Think about Attending Other Garden Related Conferences

Did you know there is a great ELA conference next week in downtown Springfield, MA for plant enthusiasts and ground huggers?  Well, I say ground huggers in a very loving way – the focus at this conference is usually on natural horticultural practices and sustainability.  Is there any other kind?!!   The speakers at this conference are highly educated and the attendees inspiring for many are hort people in the business, but this doesn’t mean an avid gardener expanding their knowledge base and horizons can not attend too. If interested, visit their website for all the details. There is parking near the conference location, and places in downtown to eat if you want to adventure beyond the cafe onsite at this conference.  Do something different, and give this conference a try, or don’t forget other flower shows going on, such as the Rhode Island show (held same time as Hartford’s) or Boston show in March or UCONN’s Garden Conference in Storrs, CT.  You will be amazed how inspiring it can feel to attend a conference you haven’t tried before – you may not know what’s out there – but if you go – it surely makes you more ready for spring!  And many are in locations where you can adventure into the city and enjoy other places of interest if you make a weekend out of it, or stay overnight.

#5 Start some Seeds indoors, or Force some Pretty Bulbs:

Herb Seeds (Photo by Cathy Testa)

Herb Seeds (Photo by Cathy Testa)

It may feel too early to start seeds, but heck if you pot up a few herb seeds in your home or grow an Amaryllis bulb, like I did recently inside the home – you start to feel inspired for the growing days of spring ahead when you see the bulb’s flowers open, or see the seeds popping up in the soil.  So go to your local supply shop, get some seed starting potting mix and a couple packets of seeds, put them in some pots, place by a sunny window sill, and watch it grow.

Photo by Cathy Testa, Panical Hydrangea Covered in Snow

Photo by Cathy Testa, Hydrangea Covered in Snow

Or if that doesn’t suit your fancy, get bundled up, walk your property and take some photos of plants in the snow covered with icicles, fluffy snow, and enjoy the shadows against the snow cast by branches.  This cheers me up and hopefully will do so for you.  By the way, if any of your shrubs are toppling over due to the weight of sticky snow, it is a good idea to gently shake the excess snow off the branches so they don’t break or bend too harshly.

Happy Monday Everyone,

Cathy Testa

The Date has been Posted – Container Garden Party in May 2014

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https://cathytesta.wordpress.com/container-gardens/the-big-container-garden-party/

Just a heads-up – the date has been posted for this class to be held in Broad Brook, CT.

Want to join us?  Click the link above, and register for this May 2014 class.

To see examples of Container Gardens by Cathy Testa, visit this link too:

https://cathytesta.wordpress.com/container-gardens/

In the meantime, stay warm and play in that snow!

Cathy Testa

How Cheerios Trumped Roses on Valentine’s Day Morning

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Getting a rose filled bouquet on Valentine’s Day is traditional indeed, but I received the sweetest surprise this morning from my husband of almost 24 years!  Signs in different places in the house in the most creative ways – one of which I just have to share because it touched my heart so much.  A sign made with Cheerios cereal!

Creative!

Creative!

I’m sorry – even as a plant enthusiast – I have to say, this one trumped red roses this year – just check out that exclamation point.  I wonder how long it too him to do this – the letters are perfect, and so is he!!!

Love_0004

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone,

Cathy Testa

Photo by picjumbo/Viktor Hanacek

Photo by picjumbo/Viktor Hanacek

Bear’s Breeches – A Beauty and A Beast

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It is rare for me to visit a homeowner with a similar gardening style as mine because most folks are seeking traditional gardens or updates to typical foundation plants, but during a client visit in 2012, I met a homeowner who was experimenting with tropical plants and taking risks with some unusual specimens in her landscape.

As I entered her property, first thing I saw on each side of her driveway were two stately urns planted with beautiful ornamental grasses and couple perennials which happen to be some of my favorites, such as Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’ as a spiller plant dripping over the pot’s edge.  Then, I spotted a tall red banana plant (Ensete maurelii) in a large ornamental pot by a border along the side of her home.  I immediately thought to myself, “I’m going to enjoy meeting this woman.”

Because of my love of tropical plants and container gardening, the feeling was an immediate admiration for the touches she had incorporated into her gardening spaces. After quick introductions, she walked me around her property, and this is when I noticed plants which some gardeners may consider a nuisance because they are known to easily take over a garden area or possess aggressive habits.

Aralia elata

Aralia elata

For example, she had an Aralia elata shrub planted in a small area near her front porch entrance.  This plant is not difficult to grow, but is tough to move once established.  It also has sharp prickles on the stems, and its roots will eventually sprout suckers.  However, the variegated leaves and panicle style flowers growing at the top of the plant are rather curious as well as pretty.  Observed up close, you will most likely admire this plant’s features.

bears breeches_0003

Where it was planted on her property was a little tight.  Aralia elata can reach 10-15 feet tall and spread to 8 feet wide.  It looks like a small ornamental tree at maturity with an unusual form.  And it drops its leaves quickly after flowering and fruiting, so it can leave plant remnants later in the season.  However, despite these things, she put it there to enjoy its features up close. I appreciated why she wanted it by the entrance to her front porch.  It is a rare plant.  Because it is not commonly seen, that in of itself, makes it intriguing.

Aralia elata

Aralia elata

Uncommon plants add excitement and wonder to a garden space.  Some plants with defense mechanisms make them more prolific in the garden, but this can also embody them with mysterious traits which make them stand out visually.  And if you are well aware of their growing habits, you may be willing to accept them or work to manage their undesirables over time.

This homeowner seemed to be aware of the nuisances of her specimens, but she didn’t seem to care.  Meaning, she enjoyed the plant’s unusual forms and was willing to use them despite the consequences or potential risks, such as the plant’s ability to spread or leave litter on the lawn.  She also has the benefit of employing a full time garden-maintenance person.  Thus, perhaps, she did not feel the anguish of planting something that would require a higher vigilance in the long run.  Or it could be that she just could not resist the temptations of a beautiful plant even if it has some beastly sides.

Because of her unrestrained style combined with the willingness to listen and understand the caveats of a particular plant as I cautioned its use, I was free to include the unexpected and maybe not so well-tamed specimen plants in her garden design for a perennial bed she was anxious to install.  And bear’s breeches (Acanthus spinosus), also called spiny bear’s breeches, was just one of those plant candidates.

The Beauty

Bear’s breeches has rather interesting looking and showy flowers atop very tall flower stalks.  Each flower spike bears snapdragon like flowers which are vertically positioned.  The flowers are composed of bracts (modified leaves), lobes, and tubes – to put it simply, and their composition makes them almost-alien looking while still remaining beautiful in form.

Snapdragon Flowers, Photo by Dreamstime.com

Snapdragon Flowers (similar to bear’s breeches in style), Photo by Dreamstime.com

The top hooded portion of the flower is mauve to purple, and the bottom is white.  Because the plant can reach 3’ to 4’ tall, with a mounded foliage shape on the bottom, it can be rather significant in the garden.  It is extremely visible due to the tall flowers rising above it on strong stalks which do not require staking.

By Magnus Manske, Wikimedia Commons License

Bear’s breeches (Acanthus spinosus).  Photo By Magnus Manske, Wikimedia Commons License

The flowers on this plant are a true beauty, but it is also a bit untypical looking.  In my eyes, the individual flowers seem similar to a fantasized hooded-like orchid with the stature of a foxglove or Baptisia australis (blue false indigo).  The plant provides architecture, texture, and interest and it is a long-performer in the garden even after its flowers pass.

Nursery Management Green Guide article states “Foliage remains attractive after the bold flower spikes have disappeared.”

Although the leaves resemble thistle, which is considered a common roadside weed in Connecticut, the leaves are deeply cut, glossy green and leathery – adding nice texture especially when combined with plants of opposing texture.  If you haven’t seen bear’s breeches before, the combination of the tall showy blooms with prominent foliage will make you pause to take a glance.

Tracy DiSabato-Aust describes bear’s breeches as a “real conversation piece” in her book titled, “50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants.”  She also writes, “Don’t let its thistle like leaves put you off, as they add amazing shape and textural variety often needed in many “ho-hum” shade designs.”

Another bonus is the purple coloring on the top portion of the flower’s structure.  This is a desirable color by many plant lovers, and it was a specific request by my client, along with the desire to have silver-colored foliage.  Unfortunately, many silver foliaged plant candidates require full sun!  Thus – these are the challenges of a garden designer.

The Beast

Similar to Aralia elata, bear’s breeches (also called spiny bear’s breeches) has prickles and thorns located on the foliage and in the flowers.  Your fingertips or hands may get pricked if you are not careful – and your vehicle could receive damage should you locate bear’s breeches by a driveway’s edge.  Accidentally brush up against it, and it will leave its mark.

Steven M. Still indicates “Acanthus is derived from the Greek word akanthos, meaning thorn or prickle.  It has been called bear’s breeches because of the size and appearance of the leaf of some species which is big, broad, and hairy” in his book titled, “Manual of Herbaceous Ornamental Plants.”

It is not just the prickly nature of the plant which can be off-putting, but it also has the tendency to spread by roots which will pop up new plants in other parts of the garden – once the plant is established. If you desire this look, where the plant repeats itself here and there, and you don’t mind it moving on its own, great.  It can add a naturalistic effect in the garden while providing architecture due to the plant’s form and texture.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD7ZsPV8Fgc
Viettes Gardening Tips

But there’s another catch, spiny bear’s breeches are also slow to establish.  You must be patient if you desire this spreading habit in your garden, which some folks do, and you also need to pay attention to the preferred cultural conditions because it tends to be flexible and picky at the same time.

Bear’s breeches grows best in full sun to part shade, and some references indicate it is best grown in partial shade.  The top blooming portion of the plant prefers more sun, but it performs better with some afternoon shade, especially if your climate is hot in the summer.  Fortunately for me, my client’s garden bed area had both sun and shade at different parts of the day.

As noted above, bear’s breeches’ aggressive side of spreading by its creeping rootstock easily occurs in loose soils which it prefers (well-drained soils), but it may stay put if you try to plant it in clay soils. However, if planted in heavy clay soils, this plant may get root rot because clay soils tend to remain wet. And slugs and snails will dine on the plant, especially in wet areas.

by Rod Allday, Wikimedia Commons License

Photo by Rod Allday, Wikimedia Commons License (see below attributions)

Although this plant is often recommended for the back of a garden border because it grows large and tall, it also can be placed at an edge for up-close enjoyment.

Garden Gate Specials publication recommends, “Add a bear’s breeches near the edge of a path.  It’s usually planted near the back of the border, but (here) it lifts its flowers to eye level for easy viewing.”

My client loved the look of this plant candidate as much as I did, and wanted to have it included despite its potential maintenance challenges of spreading, spines, prickles, size, repeating, and establishment.  She understood the growth habits without hesitation and was very happy to be introduced to bear’s breeches as part of my design recommendations for a new perennial bed she was planning to install.

As for myself, as a designer, I loved the freedom to use plants which have bold traits and long-lasting attributes despite their need for on-going maintenance and care.  Plant care is often regarded as an undesired chore for many clients demanding low-maintenance plants.  They just don’t want the problems, or they don’t have a full-time gardener to take care of their landscape!

But if you find you are like this homeowner, or desire uniqueness in your outdoor surroundings, despite the potential regret or work later, then you too will find spiny bear’s breeches is a true beauty while accepting it is a beast. Or you can minimize the risk and use this plant as a “Troublemaker turned Star” in a container garden.  This perennial is worth taking notice either way.

Cathy Testa

Plant Details:

Pronunciation:  Acanthus spinosus (a-kan’thus spi-no-sus)
Perennial; USDA Hardiness Planting Zone 5-9
3-4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide; Sun to partial shade
Blooms late spring to mid-summer; no staking needed
Prefers moist, well-drained soils; Can tolerate dry soils
Protect over winter with straw mulch if in Zone 5 or colder
Related species:  Acanthus mollis

Useful Link:

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a100
Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder

Photos:

http://www.photos-public-domain.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/pink_snapdragons.jpg
Pink snapdragon photo, dreamstime.com Free Stock Photo

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAcanthus_spinosus_(Acanthaceae)_flower.JPGdownloaded image, creative commons license. Attribution: By Magnus Manske (Own work.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Pic of flower in a group along walkway:  Attribution:  Rod Allday [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Common.  Page url: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALooking_down_into_the_Jungle_at_Heligan_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1401014.jpg

Help! I’m bored with my Landscape Design Software.

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I remember the very first day I saw PRO Landscape, a design imaging software for landscaper professionals.  Reaction was something like, “OMG – this is so cool!”  I couldn’t wait to play with it.

The part of the program I fell in love with immediately is where you can overlay plant images on actual downloaded photos of various landscape areas or garden beds.  It was so visual.

From that point on, I dove into the program and started to learn and use it.  Clients like it too.  They like seeing the images of what their home could look like with the plants recommended.  It works in many cases.

However, after five or so years of using this program, and evolving my style of design presentations – I felt a little bored with the software program.  Things like not having specific cultivars to choose from or seeing the same images of the plants with the same bloom color, felt repetitive and limiting.  Let’s face it, after a while, dropping and dragging the same dwarf Alberta spruce onto a photo is – well, uninspiring.

I’m not suggesting that the program does not provide “tremendous value” as way to show images to homeowners on what their landscape could look like with the plants recommended, because this program certainly does.  And coupled with my additional presentation documents, such as details about the plants and other photos I’ve built up with color swatches of my own, it can do wonders to help any homeowner with their design needs.

Maybe it is not the program itself I’m bored with, but that I’m yearning for something more inspiring – I’m searching for a different way to present my design ideas, choices, features, and the rewards one can achieve with a well thought-out garden or landscape design concept.

I know I really enjoy when I ‘walk and talk’ plants with a client onsite at a nursery versus pointing to a presentation with created images.  Being with the live plants is like being at a live rock concert versus watching it on the television.

In my searches for other potential software programs out there, I have had no luck until recently when I spotted an article in the January 2014 issue of greenProfit by Jennifer Polanz on Landscape Software, titled, “An Irresistible Image”.  I thought, oh cool, I’m going to check these out, and I did – today.

First on the list was PRO Landscape by Drafix Software – already know all about it, been using it.  But like I said, I’m bored with this type of software, and you are probably bored right now hearing me say that!!

Next on the article’s list was DynaScape.  It has stuff to manage the landscape business (office paperwork) but it also has several types of options or programs to select from in their product list (this is good – choices, at least).

The DynaScape ‘Color’ program seems pretty cool – probably attracts me because it is the closest thing to “artist-like” where it looks like you hand drew the design.  The design is finished off with really nice color tones, shades, etc.  BUT, it is pricey and must be worth the investment. So before jumping into something like this, I still want to look around some more.

By the way, did you know these types of design software packages can cost $1,200-$1,500 to purchase?  Granted, you make your money back if you use it regularly, and are able to achieve your goals of presenting designs to your clients – no doubt, but they aren’t cheap.

Ok, back to Dynascape’s Color program.  It’s listed at $650 (not too bad) but there is a plus, as in a + sign, of a $4.25 per month charge – for what?  I didn’t look that over, moved onto the next one in the greenPROFIT article.

Idea Spectrum was next.  You can import photos into this program as well, similar to PRO Landscape.  But, I didn’t seem to like it from the first look.  You know how you can make an immediate impression when you view something on the web?  My immediate impression was Idea Spectrum appeared too amateurish for me.  It has 3D features, which is cool – but still, it looked a little – I don’t know – rough, not polished enough for my needs and ideas.

So, I quickly clicked my web browser to view next one by Vectorworks Landmark.  Oh, too high tech for me, fancy, commercial work – too big time for Cathy T.  Move on.

Ok, onto Visual Impact Imaging by Earthscapes.  Well, I’ve seen this one before in person, when I attended a trade show about three years ago.  I distinctly remember watching the demo and thinking – this is so like PRO Landscape.  Why would I change?  Plus I know how to use PRO Landscape, and the thought of a learning curve can be wide if you don’t know have training with these types of programs.  They can be a little tricky to learn and master.  Earthscapes also is about the same price range as PRO Landscape, about $1,195.

After doing a very fast view of the Landscape design software from the highlights in the greenProfit article, I went into my completed design presentation files of last year’s design clients.  I had almost forgotten about some that I did, and the work I added to each image, such as my plant descriptions and my own plant photos with color charts.  Looking back made me recall how impressed the client was when I showed them general ideas to change a bed in their yards with the images I created using PRO Landscape.

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PRO Landscape a good product – not saying it isn’t – but I guess the other side of me is searching for something a bit more, or different – Something maybe crafty, artsy, focused on the plants or… maybe it is just me?  Maybe it is winter!

Well, I guess for now, until I find something else that more suits me, it is back to using PRO Landscape, which I have to reload onto my new laptop, and this will be a little bit of a chore, considering the program is on CD’S– and there is no CD drive on my new laptop.  Time for a visit to the computer store!

However, in the meantime, if you should happen to be reading this – and know of any really cool new design programs which are different from the typical landscape design software, and its easy to use, while being inspiring too – could you let me know, please?  Thank you.

Happy Friday Everyone,

Cathy Testa

Design Imaging_0001 Design Imaging_0002

Amaryllis

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When accompanying Steve, my husband, to pick up bird seed last weekend, I noticed the store had amaryllis bulbs on sale (at 50% off actually, so they were a real bargain).  It took only seconds for me to include two in our checkout because I was inspired by a visit to a greenhouse in Old Wethersfield, CT recently where seedlings were popping out of trays, and bulbs were growing in bulb vases.  A couple of herb seed packets were tossed into the shopping cart as well.

amaryllis_0001

When I arrived home, it hit me. I finally have a great use for a nice green glass container I picked up at a vintage show last summer.  It is a littler larger than what the instructions indicate for amaryllis bulb growing (a pot size of no more than two times the diameter of the bulb is recommended), but I proceed regardless.  The bulb was already sprouting a shoot, which I could see via the window air hole in the box, so it was underway and would only continue to grow once given the right temperature and light conditions.

amaryllis_0002

The amaryllis box included a plastic pot, some soil mix which was rather dry and would require re-hydration with water, and instructions on the box’s exterior cover.  The pot and mix were set aside as I started to arrange various river rocks in my green glass container at a level of about four inches.  My goal was to make a nice indentation or sitting spot for the base of the bulb, and test the bulb’s position before removing dead roots and adding water.

Before setting the bulb in its final position, the brown roots, which were rather dry, were removed carefully by hand.  These can rot in the water.  Any roots which were slightly white remained.  Because even the white roots were very dry, I’m not sure if they will take but new roots should assume command once the plant begins to recognize a water source, light, and temperature conditions as it continues its growth out of dormancy.

amaryllis_0004

As I set the bulb upon the stones, I carefully tucked the white roots in crevices between the stones.  Once I was satisfied the bulb was balanced and checked that the shoot would be able to exit the top of the container, I added stones around the bulb’s top portion.

Instructions indicate, if you elect to grow your amaryllis bulb in water versus soil mix, to be sure to keep the top third of the bulb exposed and water added at a level of one inch below the base of the bulb.  I don’t think you need to be super exact with the inches and all that jazz, just follow the rule to not allow the bulb to sit in water and all should work out fine.

A sunny windowsill is best for an amaryllis bulb to grow, but I placed mine on the north side because this is where my green glass container is best suited – so it may be a little cooler there with less direct sun, but it will grow regardless – just at a slower pace.  As for the room temperature, it must remain above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  No problem for me as I can’t take any temperature lower than that in my house during the winter, even with a loaded wood stove in the basement!

amaryllis_0005

I’m looking forward to watching the shoot elongate, turn green and eventually reveal a beautiful showy red bloom within a few weeks.  I guess the only downfall of growing these in water versus soil is the bulb is usually tossed because it doesn’t restore well.  However, having a green thumb, I will attempt to store my bulb and redo the entire process again at the right time.  A period of dormancy is required for about two months for the plant to regrow and bloom once again.

Detailed Planting Instructions

amaryllis_0003

Useful Links:

White Flower Farm with Video Growing Instructions:

http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/cgi-bin/track/f36bb2ea+growing-amaryllis-bulbs.html

Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder Plant History and Details:

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a457

The United States National Arboretum, How to Make your Amaryllis Bloom Again:

http://www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/faqs/AmaryllisBloom.html

amaryllis_0006

Now onto my herb seeds.  Several small terracotta pots have been washed (via a wash cycle in my dishwasher) and are waiting for soil mix and my herb seeds.  This is next on my little to do list.

Cathy Testa

Mommy, Where do baby Praying Mantis come from?

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Chinese praying mantis (or Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) are commonly seen by many people in their gardens from time to time, but perhaps not so common of a sighting is that of the actual birth place of baby praying mantises.

praying mantis_0003

Well, my darlings – this is where baby praying mantids come from.

praying mantis_0004

It is called an ootheca – or you can just call it the egg case, or birthing place of tiny baby mantis.

This one was spotted this winter on a fullmoon Japanese maple tree in my backyard.  You can see it looks papery and is attached to a twig, where it becomes dry and tough to survive winter.

After the mommy mantis lays her eggs in her styrofoam looking egg case (the ootheca), which is secreted from her unmentionables, she unfortunately dies.  Her army of tiny babies will have to enter the world on their own in the spring.

praying mantis_0005

But the good news is her little baby eggs remain protected until they are ready to make their first appearance.
(If only I knew exactly when, I’d love to capture photos of the baby praying mantises coming out of the ootheca!)

However, there are some photos available via VIRALNOVA.COM of baby mantids emerging.  Just click the link below to see the little babies  — they are so tiny and cute.

http://www.viralnova.com/mantis-birth/

Aren’t they just adorable?  Apparently, all the eggs (some say as many as 200) will hatch at the same time.  These little newborns enter the big nature world all together.  (Did you know they are born so tiny?  I didn’t.)

http://13tmp.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/macro-mantis-on-my-fingertips/

Check out “13tmp blog” via the link above to see an amazing photo captured of a tiny mantis on finger tips.  Nice macro, wouldn’t you say?

http://entomologytoday.org/2013/12/22/do-female-praying-mantises-always-eat-the-males/

There are lots of stories about the acts of a female mantises eating her male potential partners somewhere during the mating process. Well, in a study published by Entomologytoday, (see above link), it appears they only desire the smaller males as a meal. And perhaps the head of a larger male as dessert or an appetizer?  Don’t worry though – the male still can “get it on” despite being headless, and this keeps the female sufficiently happy.

“Yah, ummm, the mommy mantis lays her one or two hundred eggs in this styrofoam mass in the fall, but before this, she eats daddy – but only if he was born small and short.  Otherwise, he has a few “duties” to accomplish and this can be done even if he’s headless.”

Guess there’s not a lot of foreplay in this mantis’s relationship.  She doesn’t eat the males while mating, but may have a bite or two as an aphrodisiac.

http://lexyleksono.com/2014/01/06/photography-yellow-praying-mantis/

Or you could just change the subject to avoid the whole mommy and daddy mating gig, and show them a yellow praying mantis!
Check out “lexylesono” blog above.  A very rare sighting to see a yellow one, if not impossible, for our region.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlCEJyNlDqY

Seriously, praying mantids are way smarter than we think, this is for sure. Besides ambushing predators, they serve as radar detectors.  For another distraction of discussing the eating rituals before mating, just show your kid the video above.  So, that’s where speeding tickets come from!  Mystery solved.

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Last summer, I accidentally sprinkled a praying mantis with water from my garden hose as he was perched on a yucca plant.  I don’t think he liked me very much.  I could tell, as he turned his head over to look at me, that he was displeased indeed. Their head swivel action makes them very unique in the bug world, for not many insects have this special ability – plus it gives you that eerie feeling that he just may spit up nasty green pea soup towards you next!

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Praying mantis are always positioned, it seems, to strike.  Their grasping forelegs are armed to snag whatever meal may happen to unknowingly pass before them as they sit and patiently wait.

The leg segment near their body is called a coxa, which is elongated, so their arms tend to be positioned in a “praying” position, but the only thing they are praying for is their unsuspecting passerby.  The strike in ‘kung fu’ style.
I know, I tried to pick one up once and screeched as it whipped its grasping legs at me.

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Did you know praying mantis eat all kinds of insects – even the good bees?  And they enjoy spiders too.  But they tend to be good guys because they take care of pest insects regularly.  Plus, they are so amazing to watch and photograph, you just can’t resist their alluring body architecture, big bulging eyes, and sleek slow movements.  And silently, but deadly, nature.

References I have in stock on insects:

“Bugs in the System” by May R. Berenbaum
“Peterson First Guides. Insects” by Christopher Leahy

Happy Monday Everyone,

Cathy Testa