Clematis alpina ‘Blue Dancer’

So it’s come to this. Any of you who have been following my Confessions of a Clematis Serial Killer will know that my compost heap consist of 99% clematis remains. Literally, if forensics were to investigate, they’d find skeletons of the clematis-kind that would make the antics in Arsenic and Old Lace seem like a tea party.(Anybody else in this pickle? Or is it just me?) Indeed, the only clematis that I haven’t managed to summarily dispatch (yet) is ‘Betty Corning’. The windowsill is my last resort.

That’s right, I’m growing clematis in my south-facing window. But before you feel too sorry for me, I’ve got to tell you — a few clematis flowers on a windowsill in February are worth a whole garden of Eden in midsummer. For a couple of weeks now — starting before Valentine’s Day, in fact — Clematis alpina ‘Blue Dancer’ began blooming. Even before that, I witnessed the intrigue of the swelling bud. I mean, I was rapt. After all, how many times have I attempted ‘Blue Dancer’ outdoors? Enough to make enough compost for the herb garden.

‘Blue Dancer’ is just the right size for containing. And as recently as 4 weeks ago, it was looking suspiciously like all the other sacrificial clematises. I was two steps away from hauling it down to the official clematis burying ground when I noticed the slightest sign of green. Snatching at straws-r-us as far as clematis is concerned. So I postponed the funeral. And I sat vigil. Sure enough, it sent out eyes and then leaves. Then it started up its mini-trellis and now the little sweetie is on its third flower. Think of it. All is forgiven!

Sure, it’s got a drinking habit that would sink a sailor. Absolutely, it’s not a shadow of the outdoor version. But can beggars be choosy? Can someone with a clematis criminal record like mine turn their luck around? This is probably as good as it gets for me. I’m reformed. I’ve got several catalogs open and the wallet is equally unplugged. This could mean trouble…Stay tuned for The Revenge of the Clematis…

Posted in Perennials | 15 Comments

Begonia sizemoreae

Everyone wants to look like a hero. We all try to leap tall buildings with a single bound. That’s one reason why I love Begonia sizemoreae. Grow this species from Vietnam, and everyone will assume you’re superhuman. They’ll take one look at this begonia and think your thumb glows green.

It looks finicky. It appears to be a problem child. Truth of the matter is = this is one of the easiest begonias to please. No sweat whatsoever. Not even a bead of perspiration broke on my forehead throughout my two year love affair with this little number.

One reason why I even gave this persnickety-looking species a try is because it’s in the rhizomatous group. I veer away from rex begonias. Avoid ’em like the plague. I don’t need that sort of angst and neither do you. I don’t care how gorgeous they happen to be — nothing’s pretty about a plant plagued by powdery mildew.

Rhizomatous begonias are much easier to entertain in the average home (not that anything about me is normal, but still…). And the diversity of this group is outlandish. Talk about textures — rhizomatous begonias go the gamut.

So, side by side against a bunch of darn good-looking plants, B. sizemoreae happens to be one of the most handsome. Who wouldn’t fall for this lovely thing with wall-to-wall whiskers and bands in different shades of green? I found it at Lauray of Salisbury (www.lauray.com), we eloped (just kidding — our union had Judy Becker’s blessing), and it’s been slowly (very slowly, very very very slowly) adding leaves. This year, mine sent up sparkling pink flowers in midwinter. Although it looks like the sort of plant that needs warm temperatures and high humidity, not so. In fact, mine is pregnant. If I can do it, so can you.

My advice would be not to overwater. And don’t make it swim in a large container — mine wears tight shoes. Indirect sun works best, but there have been times when unbridled sunbeams fell on its windowsill with no harm done. And rather than soilless mix (don’t get me started on why soilless mix is misguided), give it a potting medium with some oomph — I grow organically in a mix with compost included. But really, what looks like Mission Impossible is really a cakewalk. However, don’t tell all your admirers that victory was a snap. Let them worship…

Posted in Houseplants | 10 Comments

NEWSFLASH!!!!

I was taping the Martha Stewart Show today on terrariums! It aired live, but it will be rerunning tomorrow Feb. 3rd at 1:00 Eastern Time (12:00 Central) on the Hallmark Channel. I’ll try to get a link up ASAP.

It was a truly awesome experience. So much fun. Martha was an incredible host (and chatted about begonias before and after the segment and through all the station breaks — never doubt that she is a plant nerd, because she’s every inch a gardener) and the crew was magnificent. I’ll get a new blog up this weekend, I promise. And you guessed it = it will be on a begonia.

Photograph copyrighted by Kindra Clineff

Posted in Terrariums | 16 Comments

Pelargonium ‘Crystal Palace Gem’

The only good thing that can be said about winter (just for the record: I’m not a skier and I don’t have a garage) is that it hasn’t been as brutal as usual. Yet. But if you’re reduced to tallying the survivable aspects of a season — that’s saying something right there. And at the top of the short list of things that get us through the dark ages — there’s ‘Crystal Palace Gem’.

I like relics. Okay, I don’t fall for something just because it’s been around forever — it should have some other redeemable qualities. But I’ve always been fond of old things (I won’t mention names). And in that category of the plant world, Pelargonium ‘Crystal Palace Gem’ certainly qualifies.

Introduced in 1869 during the heat of the fancy-leaf geranium craze, it rode the crest right along with the tricolors ‘Happy Thought’ (1877) and ‘Mrs. Henry Cox’ (1879). And the fact that it survived is a testimony to its fortitude. It also says a lot about this plant’s charms. Think about how rapidly trends come and go in the gardening world (or in the fashion or entertainment world, for that matter). And then count up the cultivars with staying power. Bet you haven’t used up the fingers on one hand yet.

There’s a lot to love with ‘Crystal Palace Gem’. On mine, some leaves revert to a golden pea green. But the standard is irregularly striped leaves with green and chartreuse marbling. And furthermore, those leaves are neatly stacked on a shapely plant, even in low light. (That said, given its druthers, it would prefer a bright east, west, or south window.) And have I ever seen this plant wilt? No. Has it ever complained? Or come down with mealybugs? Never. But right about now, it’s those shocking red flowers that get me through the doldrums.

Try. Just try to walk by this plant in January with your typical winter scowl in place. Can’t be done. You’ll be humming Tiptoe through the Tulips in no time. Tiny Tim, we miss you.

Posted in Houseplants | 12 Comments

Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’

This could change your life. You snicker. We’re talking houseplants, after all, not Occupy Wall Street. But doesn’t it really all start at home? And aren’t you sick to death of the same old, same old houseplants. Well, here’s liberation. Here’s where you get garden nostalgia brought inside in the middle of the winter. Folks in Florida — you can stop reading right here.

Why not entertain your favorite outdoor gang inside when you need their company most? Not everything translates, but some plants make the leap indoors without a whimper. For example, how about blue fescue? I thought this was my own little lightbulb. I thought it was my personal secret weapon against the winter blahs. But then James Baggett — innovative gardener par excellence and all-around cobweb-buster — was boasting the other day that he had the world’s best idea for a houseplant. You guessed it. He was hosting ‘Elijah Blue’ in his home also.

Okay, so it doesn’t do much. Don’t expect cartwheels. Frisbee-sized flowers are not in your future. But then, what’s the fescue’s role outside? Swank, sharp tufts of electric blue color to give you a small dose of feel good. And when do we crave feel good desperately, I ask you? Now.

What does it need? Not much. East or west window does it. If you had south, it would be ecstatic. I don’t bother fertilizing it over the winter, but I do give my fescue a deep pot because its drinking habit is along the lines of all other ornamental grasses. Besides thirst, it’s a no-brainer, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

For this post, I interviewed my Furry Associate on the subject. Einstein had some strong opinions (what else is new?). He has embraced this plant since kittenhood. In a house filled with plants, the purrrfessor has limited access. If he wants to avoid histrionics (that’s my department), he steers clear of most of the greenery. We’ve had words about his begonia-mauling fest. The deal is that the cat grass, the acorus, and the fescue are his territory. No questions asked. So he gets into the fescue. Literally. (ouch) As a result, the Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ usually looks like the hairdresser from hell has been at work. But who doesn’t love a tussled houseplant? As long as it’s not an orchid…
And it’s Einstein to the Fescue!

Posted in Houseplants | 12 Comments

Kale ‘White Peacock’

“Oh, just take it,” the nursery manager grumbled, clearly disgruntled that I walked right past his greenhouse packed with poinsettias without a second glance (there’s no accounting for taste) and opted instead for this leftover flowering kale. “I could pay for it…,” I offered. But he waved me aside.

So there I was with my prize Kale ‘White Peacock’ in the car, feeling like I just robbed Fort Knox and ready to make merry. I thought the kale would just be a holiday fling. But now I’m wondering how I can ever live without this little lovely again. Stunningly weird close up (you be the judge). Sufficiently intricate to hold your attention over the long nights of winter. Requires almost no care. Although I had little faith that the kale would perform as a houseplant over the long haul, it’s been a source of constant delight. Fooled me.

That’s what houseplants are all about, in my opinion. Forget the poinsettias. Seriously. They whine, they pout, they do all the things that would put them permanently on Santa’s “not” list. They’ll give you nothing but heartbreak. On the other hand, something like a flowering kale is the breakout scene stealer. Can’t keep my eyes off it.

And how many times have you walked by a kale outside in autumn without giving it more than a nod of recognition? In a container at your elbow, this ugly duckling reaches swan status. No lifting a finger on your part necessary. Mine dropped a few leaves when I came back from holiday visits and found its soil bone dry. Big deal. Watering it regularly is a better idea, needless to say. But it doesn’t hand out demerits. We like plants that don’t feel the need to punish us.

Of course, what are the chances that I’ll find another freebie next year? And the nurseryman with the limited patience for shoppers who snub his poinsettias is not likely to make the same mistake twice and grow a superabundance of ‘White Peacock’s. He’s no fool. There will be no leftovers for me next year, I bet. But I’ve got a plan (I’ve always got a scheme): I’ll buy a few flowering kales for the front porch in autumn and bring them in last minute for a white Christmas. Hoping all your holidays were equally bright…

Posted in Houseplants | 16 Comments

Where I’m At Jan/Feb/Mar 2012

Where Tovah’s lecturing in the coming months. For more information and to look ahead, go to www.tovahmartin.com.

January 27 & 28, 2012
Callaway Gardens ~ Pine Mountain, GA
Lecture Topics: January 27, 10:00 AM ~ Terrarium Workshop
January 28, 8:00 PM ~ Infusing the Garden with Personality
Book signing
For more information: www.callawaygardens.com

February 6, 2012 ~ 11:00 AM
Suffield Garden Club ~ Suffield, CT
Lecture Topic: Terrariums & You
Lecture, demonstration & book signing

February 11, 2012 ~ 10:00 AM
Berkshire Botanical Garden ~ Stockbridge, MA
Lecture Topic: Begonia Workshop
For more information: www.berkshirebotanical.org

February 14, 2012 ~ 10:00 AM
Darien Garden Club ~ location to be arranged
Lecture topic: Terrariums & You
Book signing

February 16, 2012 ~ 7:00 PM
Naugatuck Garden Club ~ location to be arranged
Lecture topic: Terrariums & You
Book signing

February 23, 2012 ~ 9:30 AM
New Canaan Garden Club ~ New Canaan Nature Center
Lecture topic: Terrarium workshop
Book signing

February 26, 2012 ~ 12:30 PM
Connecticut Flower Show ~ Hartford, CT
Lecture topic: The New Terrarium
Book signing
For more information: www.ctflowershow.com

March 10, 2012 ~ 11:30 AM
Philadelphia Flower Show ~ Philadelphia, PA
Lecture topic: The New Terrarium
Book signing
For more information: www.theflowershow.com

March 15, 2012 ~ 12:00 noon
Bristol Garden Club ~ Bristol Public Library ~ Bristol, CT
Lecture topic: Terrariums & You with a demonstration
Book signing

March 17, 2012 ~ time to be arranged
Mercer County Master Gardener Symposium ~ Princeton, NJ
Lecture topic: Trowels and Tomorrow – Garden Stewardship
Book signing
For more information: www.mgofmc.org

Tovah on the Newsstand

News Flash!!!!
I’m tickled pink to be the 2012 Writer in Residence for Victoria magazine, kicking off the year with her first essay =
Victoria January 2012 issue ~ The Secret Handshake of Seeds

Better Homes & Gardens ~ January 2012 issue ~ Top Plants for Terrariums an interview of Tovah by Jane McKeon.

Country Gardens ~ Early Spring 2012 issue ~ Growing a Legacy

LCT (the monthly magazine of The Litchfield County Times) ~ January 2012 issue ~ Planters’ Choice Nursery Keeps Branching Out

Posted in Where I'm At | 13 Comments

Helianthus salicifolius ‘First Light’

Now it’s your turn. I need help. (Damsel in distress alert!) Originally, my intention when starting this blog was to get feedback on plants. Then I went straight into blabbering mode and shared all my favorites. Well, now I have some questions about a newbie in my garden. Anyone out there tried Helianthus salicifolius ‘First Light’? Raise your hand.

Because I just adopted one. Linden Hill in Ottsville, PA (www.lindenhillgardens.com) was the scene of the crime. It was the buds that hooked me. The thin, needle-like foliage was also a come on. But the clincher was those buds that look like jewel settings before they fit the diamond inside. I walked by it a zillion times and didn’t succumb. I told myself that Zone 6 was a stretch. And I didn’t lose a single bud on the way home.

It’s not like I had a spot selected for it. Okay. The truth is that it sat for a couple of weeks before its new home was shovel ready. Still, the buds remained in their charming jewel setting state. I began to wonder whether that was the full show. Finally, the moment came to get it into the ground. My rule is that I can’t purchase further plants until everything at home is in the ground (anyone else inflict this on themselves?). So by mid-October, ‘First Light’ was positioned beside a stand of Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’. And then the flowers finally started to pop.

Pop’s a good verb for the explosion. Because out of those infinitely modest buds came an electric show. Although I’m not mad for yellow daisies, these were adorable. My plant stands less than 3 feet. So here’s the first question = Anybody know if ‘First Light’ truly remains short? If so, what’s not to love?

Next question = Anybody know if this guy is prone to wander lust? I might not mind if it makes the rounds but remains short. By the way, ‘First Light’ is a confusing name. ‘Last Light’ would be more apropos because the plant was really the last hurrah in my garden. Long after everything but a few roses, asters, and mums were silenced, ‘First Light’ was still singing away.

And finally = Anybody have experience with the hardiness of this treasure? Speak now…

Posted in Perennials | 10 Comments

Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’

I wouldn’t want to be out on the street. Especially if I was evergreen. Can you imagine? Plow trucks. Sand trucks. I mean, it’s bad enough in the summer with the steady stream of vehicles whizzing by. In winter, it’s suicidal.

There’s zero chance that your average conifer-on-the-street would live to see a second spring. But a deciduous shrub might have a prayer, I figured. Even so, when I first sent Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’ out to play on the road, I didn’t hold out much hope. Nevertheless, I needed a fearless volunteer (preferably shrubby) to fill the spot that Spiraea betulifolia ‘Tor’ left when it proved unequal to the assignment. (Anybody else having disease problems with ‘Tor’? Mine came down with a leaf blight.)

Well, Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’ did so well at the job that I bought a whole fleet street brigade to watch the traffic come and go. Never a whimper.

What’s not to love? This is a whole different animal than most hypericums. First of all, the plant remains a tight 3 foot mound – just as dense as Ilex crenata ‘Helleri’. Granted, it’s not the first shrub in the neighborhood to leaf out. (Some gardeners would accuse it of hesitancy. I would counter that leafing out late is wisdom.) When it finally does don clothes, the foliage is compact and bluish in hue. By midsummer, yellow fluffy flowers like its fellow St. John’s Worts are added to the brew and the bees go bananas.

Then comes the seedpods that form little green pips at the tips of each branch. That’s the state of blissful affairs until autumn when the foliage could rival a sugar maple for autumn flair. ‘Blue Velvet’ goes out in a conflagration of fiery shades.

Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’ has proved to be streetwise in a beat where only bulletproof shrubs can survive. That said, it would probably do even better in a more humane situation. Still, I suspect that the true grit on the streets is just what this tough guy prefers. Sandy, poor soil is its mother’s milk. Stay tuned, because I’ve got further stories of heroes who survived on the street. How about y’all? Anybody have a survivor story to share?

Wondering where you can find it? I got mine from Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, CT www.brokenarrownursery.com

Posted in Shrubs | 2 Comments

Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’

It’s tough to find something to gush over in November. Even for me. And I’m a pushover of legendary proportions. In other seasons, I can palpitate over a dandelion (how did dandelions earn such a bad rap?). But somehow, November leaves me numb. November is out in the cold. November is limping along with little hope of uplifting for another 4 months or more. And this year was no exception. November was living up to its reputation as blahsville. Then an old friend arrived.

I’m speaking about Jack Frost, of course. He visited with a vengeance this morning. We’re talking a sea of diamonds all glistening in the dawn light. We’re talking sparkle. We’re talking jewels. Any leaf is artwork (see? what did I say about pushover?). But edged in frost, Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’ is transformed.

That’s the alchemy of autumn. Okay, ‘Berggarten’ is handsome at any given moment. Although I have a hard time doing cartwheels over the ornamental salvias. (They come and go too quickly for me — does this happen to anyone else? Today they’re in flower, tomorrow they’re seedy.) But edible Salvia officinalis is another story. And of the edible sages, ‘Berggarten’ is a two thumbs up.

Its leaves are much wider and denser than the species. Not only that, but they clothe the stems up and down without self-stripping (ever notice that the species generally runs around bare naked from the head down? It’s embarrassing really). ‘Berggarten’ is more blue/green and tough-as-nails hardy. Plus it tends to be evergreen. Which shakes down to a harvest throughout the year. Fellow vegetarians take note: If you thought that sage is for meat only, you should try the sage leaf pasta that Michael Walek made for me last summer using whole sage leaves frizzled quickly in oil…memorable…there must be recipe somewhere, he says it’s an Italian mainstay.

And really, ‘Berggarten’ provides plenty of leaves for any type of application. ‘Tis the season to count our blessings. So here’s to old faithful friends like Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’ which is still going strong. It’s hope. It’s courage. It’s delicious. And its brave heart can (should) come to a garden near you.

Posted in Perennials | 15 Comments