Tag Archives: flowers

A Little Patch of Wildflowers

wildflowersThis spring I had an opportunity to create a wildflower meadow on my property. It is rare to have a blank slate to be able to start a wildflower meadow: an area with good soil and no plants, including no weeds. I was inspired by Mike Lizotte who showed photos and gave step by step instructions on Instagram. Owner of American Meadows, an online seed company, Mike wrote a book called Mini Meadows: Grow a Little Patch of Colorful Flowers Anywhere Around Your Yard. He shows how easy it is to sow wildflower seeds and grow a patch of beautiful flowers for the summer. Continue reading

Honesty, Money, and Sincerity: What More Could You Want in a Plant?

silver dollar flowers

Some plants provide beauty in the spring and then step off stage, only to be forgotten until next spring. Others provide beauty in the spring, come back with an encore in the fall, and stay with us all winter long. The silver dollar plant (Lunaria annua) is the latter, a plant that keeps coming back to center stage. These are blooming now in April in the Washington DC area.

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National Plant a Flower Day

Today is National Plant a Flower Day. I always have flowers in my garden. Before this pandemic, I used to cut the flowers and bring them to my office. I am no flower arranger, I just put the zinnias, marigolds, and cosmos in a vase on my desk. My colleagues loved them. Invariably they would smile and strike up a conversation. Some would be brave enough to ask me to bring flowers for them while others were inspired to bring flowers of their own into the office. Continue reading

Flowering Tobacco Plants for Deer-Resistant Flowers

flowerThis past weekend I visited Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, VA. There was plenty to see – quite a lot of plants were blooming but there were also plants with red berries, or beautiful foliage, or bright stems. One plant that stood out for me was the flowering tobacco. The large leaves were vibrant green and some plants still had flowers. Continue reading

Heirloom Flowers: Four O’Clocks

yellow four o’clocks in my garden, 8:30 pm

A few years ago my family visited Monticello in the summer. I was struck by how large Thomas Jefferson’s four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) were compared to mine. I also liked the fact that it was a plant he grew and could still be grown today as an heirloom. Continue reading

Start Planting Cool Season, Hardy Annuals for Spring Flowers

snapdragons in the spring

Now is the time to start thinking of planting cool season hardy annuals. This is a group of annuals (grow and die in one season) that can survive the winter and thrive in cool spring weather. In the Washington DC metro area, they are planted in the fall and bloom in the spring. They spend the winter getting established so when spring arrives, they are ready to bolt out the door waving their pretty flowers before the warm season summer annuals appear.

Examples of cool season annuals are snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), calendula (Calendula officinalis), bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), delphinium (Delphinium), lisianthus (Eustoma), love in a mist (Nigella), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), and bachelor buttons (Centaurea cyanus). Many of these make great cut flowers.

I credit everything I have learned about cool season hardy annuals to Lisa Mason Ziegler and her book, Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques.  Lisa manages a commercial cut flower business in Newport News, which is in Zone 7, similar to my Northern Virginia garden. In addition to growing and selling cut flowers, she writes books, gives lectures, provides free videos as well as Facebook Live presentations, and manages a website called The Gardener’s Workshop.

Several years ago I was inspired by her book to plant calendula and snapdragons in the fall. I was starting them in the beginning of the growing season and was not having great success. The weather became too hot before the snapdragons could bloom and the calendula foliage was covered in powdery mildew because of the summer’s heat and humidity. When I tried her method of starting them in the fall, they both bloomed early enough the following spring that I was able to enjoy the calendula flowers before powdery mildew set in and cut many snapdragons for indoor arrangements.

calendula flowers in the spring

This year, I plan to grow sweet peas, which I have not been able to master in the spring. Our springs are just too short to have a long blooming period. I bought a package of Botanical Interests ‘Old Spice Blend’, a fragrant, heirloom blend of various flower colors. Interestingly, sweet peas are deer resistant and attract pollinators but I am going to grow them for indoor flower arrangements so I can enjoy their beautiful, fragrant flowers in the office.

Although Lisa provides specific information for 30 flowers in her book, in general, we should start 6 to 8 weeks before the average first frost. In Northern Virginia, 8 weeks is August 31 and 6 weeks is September 15. She recommends to err on starting later rather than earlier. Some seeds can be sowed directly in the garden while others work well as transplants. Sweet peas can be done either way so I am going to do both as an experiment to see which works better in my garden. I will start half of the seeds indoors under lights and half outdoors, directly in the garden. In order to have transplants large enough to move into the ground around September 15, I would have to start sowing seeds around September 1. Then I can sow the remaining seeds around September 15. September is still a very hot month so I will have to remember to water often. If this works, next year I will post a photo of the sweet peas.

If hardy annuals are something you would like to try, you can catch up by visiting Lisa’s website, listening to her videos, and reading her book. Although she sells seeds and gardening products, you can also purchase seed packets at your local independent garden center. Good luck!

The Magical Flowers of Butterfly Pea Plants

In August 2017, I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It was beautiful and I took many photos. As always the plants that stayed with me were the ones I had not seen before. I remember vines with beautiful pea-like flowers, about 2 inches wide, wrapped around dead trees, which were painted (“art”). The flowers were blue/purple with a yellow inner strip and the green leaves reminded me of Kentucky coffee trees. Obviously it was a tropical vine in the legume family (Fabaceae) but I could not find a sign. Later when I got home, I stumbled across the same plant on Facebook only with cobalt blue flowers. Its name, I learned, was butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea).

The Facebook post said the flowers were used for an herbal tea. I had no idea this pretty vine had herbal qualities.  I researched online and discovered that the cobalt blue variety is well-known in Asian countries. The flowers are dried and sold in bags but one can purchase a powdered form or an extract. The flowers can be brewed alone or combined with other herbs such as lemongrass, ginger, and mint. The blue comes from anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds, similar to blueberries.

When brewed with water the tea is cobalt blue. However, when an acid is added, such as lemon juice, the tea turns purple. When an alkaline liquid such as roselle tea is added, the tea turns red. Apparently butterfly pea tea acts like a litmus strip, the color of the drink changes with the pH of what it is mixed with. This does not affect the taste but has transformed butterfly tea into a novelty cocktail drink. The cobalt blue flowers also are used to dye food such as custards, puddings, rice dishes, and sticky rice.

Butterfly pea is native to Africa. Here in Virginia it would be grown as an annual. The vine grows rapidly in the summer and needs support so an arbor is ideal but would be interesting to try it in a hanging basket. As a member of the pea family, the plant fixates nitrogen and is good for the soil. The vine can take full sun to light shade and is drought tolerant. There are several varieties, some have cobalt blue, lavender, or white flowers in single or double flowered forms.

This is not an easy plant to find here in Virginia but it seems that once you have the plant, you can let some flowers go to seed and collect the pods for next year. Last week I was in Florida and toured a friend’s garden. He was growing this plant in a large container with a trellis. I was so excited to see the butterfly pea again and explained how I was interested in growing it. He had a plastic bag full of the seed pods and offered me some. I took a handful of pods which by now had dried and split open and brought them home. This week, I plan to sow the seeds outside and grow butterfly pea plants in order to experiment with novelty drinks!

Sow-a-Smile: Grow and Give Flowers This Summer

For years I have cut flowers from my garden and brought them to my office. I am no flower arranger, I just stick the zinnias, marigolds, daisies, and cosmos in a vase and put the vase on my desk. My colleagues love them. Invariably they smile and strike up a conversation. Some ask me to bring in flowers for them; some are inspired to bring in flowers of their own.

Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Professor Emeritus with Rutgers’ Department of Psychology, has researched the impact flowers have on both men and women. In three different studies, she has proven that flowers are a positive emotional “inducer.” In the first study, flowers, when given to women, elicited the Duchenne smile. The Duchenne smile is a genuine smile, an indicator of happiness. The corners of the mouth are raised, the cheeks are raised, and the eyes are crinkled with lines. In addition, the women in the study reported more positive moods 3 days later.

In the second study, a flower or a pen was given to men and women in an elevator to see if flowers have the same impact on men and also to see if flowers (versus pens) would decrease the social distance in an elevator and increase conversation initiation. Men showed the same pattern of smiling when receiving flowers. When the people in the elevator were given flowers, they were more likely to initiate conversation thus closing the gap between them. In a third study, flowers were given to people in senior living residences. The flowers elicited positive moods and improved episodic memory.

Her research proves what we instinctively know: flowers trigger happy emotions and affect social behavior in a positive way. To celebrate the power of flowers, Burpee has started a sow-a-smile campaign. They are giving a free packet of flower seeds with each purchase of annual flowers (seed or plants). The seed packet has easy-to-grow annuals such as baby’s breath, candytuft, scarlet flax, red corn poppy, calendula, cornflower, zinnia, sulphur cosmos, gloriosa daisy, plains coreopsis, and catchfly. Burpee is encouraging people to grow and give a bouquet, capture the recipient’s smile on camera, and share the images on their Facebook site. A brilliant idea – share the love! If you want to see the Duchenne smile on your friends, family, and colleagues, give flowers!

Photos courtesy of Burpee.

 

Darling Diva Dahlias

Like chrysanthemums, many people associate dahlias with the fall but dahlias can bloom from the beginning of summer to frost. Dahlia flowers are available in a wide range of sizes, colors, and shapes. Each bloom can be 2 inches across to more than 10 inches, in all colors except blue. Plants can reach one to 6 feet tall. Some plants have beautiful dark foliage instead of green leaves. Although there are 40 plus species there are thousands of cultivars. In addition, there are numerous forms such as the single, peony, anemone, collerette, star or single orchid, double orchid, cactus, waterlily, ball, and pompom.

Planting Tubers or Seed

To grow dahlias, you can either purchase tubers or start them from seed. If you purchase a tuber that is a named variety you will know exactly what the plant will look like. Plus, if you purchase cultivars that have been trialed and proven to do well in this area, you will have a good chance of success.  Seed is cheaper than tubers but there is a lot of variability with plant vigor and flower color. Although the seed will grow and produce a plant with pretty flowers for the garden, the flowers may not be exhibition quality.

Tubers can be planted outside in the ground after the average last frost date (Mother’s Day in the Washington DC metro area). Tubers also can be started indoors in April in containers under fluorescent lights or by the window to initiate growth. Seed should be started indoors under lights because planting seed in cold soil may retard the germination rate. Starting seed outdoors in May will only delay the time to reach blooming stage.

Caring for Dahlias

“Put the tuber in a four-inch hole and cover so that it is just peeking through. This way you can see the growth. When it grows, add more soil,” advises John Spangenberg, member of the National Capital Dahlia Society and owner of Crazy 4 Dahlias. John is a long time dahlia enthusiast who also sells tubers from his website.

Growing a dahlia plant is similar to growing a tomato plant: full sun and plenty of water and food. A dahlia can grow in less than 6 hours of sun but would not produce as many flowers. After planting the tubers, insert stakes such as tomato cages or posts. In the beginning, dahlias will require plenty of water, generally one inch of water per week. Dahlias are heavy feeders and will need fertilizer throughout the summer. Slow release fertilizers also work well. Dahlias appreciate a leaf or straw mulch to keep the tubers cool and to prevent weeds.

Encouraging More Flowers

In the beginning of the growing season, John recommends topping the plants to encourage bushier, sturdier plants with more flowers. The center bud (not flower bud but central growth) should be pinched back. “When you see three to four sets (or pairs) of leaves, break the center top off,” explained John.

Later in the season when flower buds appear, disbud or cut off smaller, lateral flower buds to encourage the top bud to form a single, larger flower. When a dahlia flowers, there are three stems with three buds in a v-shape. When the outer two smaller buds are the size of peas they should be cut leaving the center flower bud.

“The more you cut your flowers, the more flowers you get,” said John. If you don’t cut a flower for a vase, make sure you at least deadhead them. Deadheading is cutting off and disposing flowers that are past their prime to encourage the plant to produce more flowers.

Throughout the season, make sure the plant is well staked as it grows, feed it, and make sure it gets enough water.

Saving Tubers in the Fall

Dahlias are native to Mexico. Here in Washington DC they are treated as tender perennials and may or may not come back the following year. In order to ensure that the plants can be grown again next year, most gardeners lift and store the tubers in October.

“In the fall when get the first frost, cut the plant a couple of inches above the ground and let sit for a week or dig them up,” explained John. “You want to have the eyes develop and swell to be able to see them well. It helps to see the eyes when dividing the tubers. You can divide in the spring or fall but it is easier to divide in the fall.”

Dahlia tubers are swollen roots. Each tuber has to have an “eye,” which is a growing point in order to grow. From that eye the stem will emerge. In May, a single tuber with an eye is planted for a single plant. In the fall, when the plant is lifted out of the ground, there will be more new tubers joined together in an area called the crown. The “eyes,” or viable growing points, are in the crown. This can be stored as is or divided to create more plants.

John uses vermiculite in a box to store his tubers but there are many methods to store tubers. He finds vermiculite works best because it absorbs and releases moisture. Tubers should be in the coolest place in the house where there is constant temperature such as a crawl space or basement or a closet next to the outer wall of the house.

Because they are native to Mexico, one would think that dahlias would be easy to grow here with our sunny, warm summers. In fact, dahlias are native to a mountainous region in Mexico with more wind, less humidity, and cooler temperatures. Thus dahlias grow very well in the Pacific Northwest but have some difficulty in the mid-Atlantic. They need quite a bit of water, yet as heavy feeders, the rain can leach the nutrients. Plus the humidity can encourage disease. “In this area, we have issues with slugs, earwigs, rabbits, groundhogs, and deer,” said John. “Plus we have noticed that Japanese beetles prefer white and yellow flowered dahlias.”

Selecting Dahlias for Washington DC Metro Area

To choose a dahlia that performs well here, look to the National Capital Dahlia Society for recommendations. A branch of the American Dahlia Society (ADS), the National Capital Dahlia Society is comprised of dahlia enthusiasts and breeders who meet on a regular basis. Every year they manage a trial garden at the Agricultural History Park in Derwood, MD. “The display garden is a trial garden to test new introduction from across the country to see how they do here. We look at bloom quality and plant vigor and report this to the American Dahlia Society,” said John. Later in October, the Society members will dig up the dahlias at the trial garden and demonstrate how to save the tubers (open to the public). They also sell tubers next year so if you are interested in growing dahlias that do well in the Washington DC metro area, contact them via their website: http://www.nationalcapitaldahlia.org.

Honesty, Money, and Sincerity: What More Could You Want in a Plant?

silver dollar flowers

Some plants provide beauty in the spring and then step back off stage, only to be forgotten until next spring. Others provide beauty in the spring, come back with an encore in the fall, and stay with us all winter long. The silver dollar plant (Lunaria annua) is blooming now in April in the Washington DC area. A member of the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae), these flowers have the typical four-petal cross shape but the petals seem wider and larger than the yellow roadside mustard flowers. The plant is 2 to 3 feet tall and the fragrant flowers are purple butterfly magnets although there is a white variety. Usually there are masses of blooms because the plant self-seeds but the plant looks best this way since the flowers are small.

purple flowers at Carlyle House, Old Town, Alexandria

In the summer, the flowers form green, flat but oval-shape pods with large seeds inside. As the pods mature, the green disappears, the seeds drop, and what is left is the translucent papery thin membrane of each pod. The encore to their pretty spring show of flowers are these shimmery flat pods. The pods dry so well, i.e., hold their shape for so long, they can last the winter in dried flower arrangements and wreaths.

basket of dried, mature seed pods

The silver dollar plant has many common names. In England the more popular name is honesty, which refers to the frankness of the plant in displaying its seed in the pods (because some remaining seeds appear in the transparent pods). Other common names are white satin flower since the mature pods are shiny like satin, moonwort because the translucent pods are round like the moon, and money-in-both pockets because the mature pods look like coins.

If you are growing this from seed, you may not get flowers the first year. Technically it is a biennial but once it starts flowering and drops seed, it will just appear every year as if it were a perennial. Treat it like a woodland plant, provide part sun and part shade in well-drained soil. Hardy to zone 5, the silver dollar plant is deer resistant.

close up of seed pods

A native of Europe, this was one of the first plants brought by the colonists to the New World. The plant is quite common in colonial gardens. Most local nurseries sell the plant or seed.

In the language of flowers, the plant represents honesty, money, and sincerity. In witchcraft, the silver dollar plant is protective, known for keeping away monsters. The plant also is used in spells for prosperity – the mature seed pods resemble coins and promises of wealth. Either way, having a basket of silvery coins has got to be good for you. Grow some honesty, money, and sincerity and share the wealth.