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Green Thumb Nursery
April 12th, 2012 Newsletter

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Once wisteria has finished blooming it goes a little crazy. Long whips form and seem to find a way to climb any vertical surface. Control the size of these ambitious plants by removing the whips as they appear. Keeping wisteria at a manageable size is a seasonal chore. Around midsummer the plants will settle down and begin to grow at a slower pace.



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by Liz Forsyth

There is a certain Darwinism in every gardener’s psyche.  We mourn our mistakes and celebrate our successes, and always, always we feel compelled to be with Nature.  A single plant well-tended has a gardener made.  One need not have many acres with which to paint their personalities with plants; even a small space such as a patio or balcony can be a colorful, three dimensional example of the joys of gardening we hold within ourselves.

We recently heard from one of our customers who has a large balcony garden with a western exposure.  Ms. F has told us that it can reach 120 degrees, but she has very cleverly introduced shade with multiple umbrellas.  If there is room for a narrow yet sturdy trellis, follow Ms. F’s lead and plant bougainvillea.  A native to the coast of Brazil, in the 1760′s the French botanist Philibert Commerson discovered the colorful vining plant and named it bougainvillea after his friend and captain, Louis A. de Bougainville, a noted lawyer, mathematician, and explorer from Canada.  Ranging from reds and oranges to pinks and purples, bougainvillea love full sun and are heavy feeders.  Keep them well-watered in well-draining soil, and feed them high phosphorus with micronutrients, as well as additional iron and magnesium for best flowering results.  Using slow or time-release fertilizer is fine; small amounts frequently applied are best.  They can be trimmed back into bush form, but why not approach your balcony garden the same way you would a garden room in the earth?  Create “walls” with a pergola, letting the bougainvillea twine and drip over it.  The bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’ sports vigorously growing, showy vines with bright magenta red blooms.  This is a perfect cover for patios and balconies.

If you want a total privacy hedge, place the trellis to the side, and along the front of your balcony, place heavy containers containing a plant like Monrovia’s Sienna Sunrise Heavenly Bamboo Nandina domestica ‘Monfar’ which is a slow grower to 4 feet with spectacular fiery red foliage.  An evergreen, massing this in containers will provide you with a frontage hedge that will at once attract attention whilst screening the smaller plants behind.  To give you an alternative, consider the Horsetail Reed (Equisetum hyemale), also a Monrovia plant.  A full sun lover, this plant will grow 3-4 feet in height with a very vertical growth habit – a lovely Zen touch while providing privacy.  Perfect for container gardens as it tends towards being an invasive, this is an ancient plant dating from the Paleozoic era.

Add a dwarf tree such as Olea europaea ‘Montra’ which is a non-fruiting olive that is a beautiful multi-stemmed shrub; it will add to the shade factor.  And since you need to factor in the heat of the concrete of the balcony and sides of the building, this little heat-loving evergreen is the perfect choice, whether pruned to its natural multi-trunked habit, or trained into a single trunk small tree.  Provide an accompaniment plant by adding a ficus; the F. benjamina loves sun, can be braided or shaped, and grows into a small tree.  The Ficus religiosa was the famous Bodhi tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment; an auspicious Feng Shui touch for your garden.

Let’s introduce some tropicals that will whisk you away to a South Seas island.  The banana plant, known for both beauty and fruit, is the perfect container plant for your tropical balcony.  Some varieties are strictly ornamental, used for their dark red striped foliage; others produce sweet fruit with green leaves.  Incorporating both will give you the best of both worlds.

The Hawaiian Ti (Cordyline terminalis), also known as the Good Luck Tree and the Red Sister, is wonderfully exotic with canes sporting maroon, spear-shaped foliage.  It will grow from 2 to 5 feet, adores bright light, and is a perennial evergreen.  Its bright red-, orange- and chocolate-hued leaves will provide your balcony with its own private sunset. 

Alocasias
, aka Elephant ears have large, ruffled foliage that resemble the ears of a pachyderm.  Like banana plants, they are fast growers and ideal for container gardening.  They add the necessary tropical jungle feel to your balcony.

What is a tropical garden without the sweet scent of ginger?  Hedychium Coronarium (Butterfly Ginger) bears butterfly-shaped flowers in the summer and fall.  Popular in Hawaiian leis, or worn behind the ear, the cut flower will fill your home with fragrance.  A butterfly attractant, this tough plant is a sound container plant, but will require division every year. 

Let’s finish our framing of the balcony with a trellis on the opposite side.  And what better to plant than the magnificent mandevilla?  It loves sun so is perfect for a western balcony exposure, vines to 20 feet, and is an ideal container plant.  Closely related to the dipladenia, mandevilla comes in a pink named Alice Dupont, a yellow named White Delight, a red named Red Riding Hood, and a darker red named Ruby Star.  With stunning trumpet-shaped flowers, it will provide the perfect counterpoint to bougainvillea.

We’ve nearly created the perfect oasis.  Let’s add a water feature - even a small fountain will add the soothing sounds of water – and some chimes for when the breezes pass through.  A comfortable chair, an umbrella drink, and it’s time to settle in for your own exotic vacation . . . right outside your balcony door.


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by Liz Forsyth

Bromeliads may look so exotic that incorporating them into your houseplant garden is somewhat daunting, but you would be surprised at just how easy they are to grow.  A symbol of welcome, friendship and hospitality, pineapples, perhaps the most famous of bromeliads, can be seen on all kinds of décor from door knockers to quilts.

A tropical plant of which there are more than 2,500 species, bromeliads come in both shade-loving and sun-loving varieties.  To lessen the confusion, we’re going to split them up here into individual varietals.

The SHADE LOVERS have thin, glossy, green foliage that does best when not placed in direct light.  These are the relatively rare plants that can be brought away from the window and into the room to dress up a corner table.  Epiphytes do not grow in dirt; rather their diminished roots clasp onto other plants, while their foliage, often rosette in form, is comprised of rows of leaves that, vase-like, hold and retain water, dead bugs and debris.  Another appellation for them is “air plants.”  Terrestrials will grow in well-draining, humus rich sandy soil, with the optimum potting mix an equal ratio of peat, coarse sand and bark chips.  Plant them in containers no larger than 6 inches in diameter.  If you have any questions about the planting mediums best suited for these plants, please ask our garden specialists for guidance.

  • The two most commonly grown low light houseplants are the Guzmania and the Vriesea.  The latter have long-lasting finger-, paddle- or tree-like flower stalks.  Of the 250 species available, the ones sold to home gardeners are hybrids renowned for their spectacular flower bracts of yellow, orange, red and pink.
  • Guzmania or “torch bromeliads” sport glossy green rosette leaves with brilliantly colored bracts that resemble the Olympic torch.  A bract is a small, special leaf, usually smaller than the foliage leaf, which holds a single inflorescence in its axil.  The axil is the angle between the upper side of a leaf or stem and the stem (or branch) that supports it.  This is where you will find buds.  These bromeliads have soft, dark green, sword-like leaves that are contrasted with floral bracts of red, yellow, fuchsia, violet or orange.  This genus will tolerate the dimmest of interior light, even more so than the Vriesea.  Combine these shade-lovers with pothos vine, African violets, and peace lilies.

SUN-LOVING BROMELIADS need more sun to maintain the vividness of their hues.  While they do not fare particularly well in bright, direct, harsh sun, place them in a window that gets at least 2 hours of strong light a day.  They can survive lower humidity levels and even the occasional dry feet.  Play with both southern and western exposures to see where each of your plants fares best. 

  • The royalty of bromeliads, Neoregelia, wears foliage coats magnificently colored with speckles, stripes or blushes.  Red and purple-leaved varieties tolerate much more direct sunlight than those with variegated green, gold or white leaves.  These are stunning bromeliads with small, lavender flowers.
  • Dyckia will tolerate the most sun, so place them on a hot, sunny window ledge.  With its potent wine-red foliage, this fun bromeliad keeps its admirers at bay with its vicious spines.
  • Tillandsias are air plants, meaning that they are not to be planted in soil, but rather in a pot of bark chips.  To maintain proper moisture levels, fully submerge in water and allow them to drip dry.  They are the largest genus of bromeliads, comprised of 500 species, including the romantic Spanish moss that lends such an air of mystery in the deep South.  For optimal foliage color and flowering, these plants should be hung in windows that receive very bright light for over four hours a day.  Why not start with Tillandsia tectorum which has fuzzy, white leaves, and Tillandia streptophylla with its French curl foliage.   Plants with spotted or silver-white leaves will need more light than those with solid green foliage.
  • Next we’ll address Earth stars, or Cryptanthus, ground-dwelling bromeliads that are to be planted in regular potting soil.  They do not like direct sunlight, but neither do they fare well in the shadiness of the Vriesea or Guzmania.  If the light is too dim, their colors fade and the seasonal blushes of pink or red disappear.  They are pretty because of their difference from the others; their form is that of a ground-hugging starfish.  Play with these to find the light they respond to most positively.

This week we’ve tried to demonstrate how very easy it is to surround yourself with the brilliant hues and strange textures and forms of tropical plants, whether you’re inside or out.  Another variation on the stay-cation theme!

 

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What you’ll need:

  • 4 medium ears of fresh corn, shucked
  • 1 red bell pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1 sweet Vidalia onion, halved
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground red pepper

Step by Step:

  • Grill corn, bell pepper, and onion on a lightly greased grill rack over medium-high heat 10 minutes or until tender, turning occasionally.  Remove bell pepper and onion from grill and set aside.
  • Place bell pepper in a resealable plastic bag; seal and let stand 10 minutes to loosen skin.  Remove charred skin.
  • Grill corn 6-7 minutes more or until tender.  Cool slightly.  Cut corn from cob and place in a bowl.
  • Chop bell pepper and onion; add to corn.
  • In a small bowl combine cilantro, lime juice, oil, salt, and red pepper; toss with vegetables to coat.

Serve atop grilled fish, pork or barbecued chicken, or as a chunky salsa with tortilla chips.

Serves 6

Recipe note:
To cut corn kernels from the cob, first cut a small piece off of its tip to form a level base.  Stand the cob up on this flat side, holding the stem end.  Use a sharp knife to cut from top to bottom, slicing off about 3 rows of kernels at a time.

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