Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: How Long Can a Dead Lemon Cypress Look Alive?

Yes, really.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

There Are Marigolds and Then There Are Pot Marigolds

These are not your grandma's marigolds. But wait, she probably grew these too! While I love the traditional marigolds and have never had a single year of gardening that didn't include them of one sort or another, there's another "marigold" that I adore even more. The pot marigold.

Calendula officinalis 'Flashback'

Calendula is commonly known as "pot marigold," and while it's classified as a short-lived perennial and sometimes a hardy annual, in my Zone 5b it's definitely an annual. I've never had a single plant survive winter here. They're pretty good at self-seeding though, so there's that.

Photo by H. Zell
And speaking of their seeds, those look like dried up worms to me. Each flower head has an abundance of the short curved seeds, so there will always be plenty for next year. I've not caught any birds eating them, but I don't know why they wouldn't.

Calendulas are one of the edible flowers, giving salads color, and wereoften used as a saffron substitute and in soups and stews, which probably contributed to them being known as "pot marigolds." Calendula has also been used to provide color to some cheeses and can be used as a fabric dye.

Some pharmacological studies have suggested that Calendula has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Because of this, you'll find it as a common ingredient in products used to treat certain skin conditions.

Calendula is also a host plant for several species of moths, meaning you might find caterpillars on the foliage at some point. I've never found them to do much damage in my garden though.

There are several Calendula cultivars available to be grown by seed, including the one I grew last summer - 'Flashback' from Renee's Garden Seeds - as well as the straight species. Some of those include:

Lemon Cream™
'Pacific Beauty'
'Deja Vu'
'Triangle Flashback'
'Orange King'
'Pink Surprise'
'Geisha Girl'
'Ball's Improved Orange'
'Golden Emperor'
'Fiesta Gitana'
'Tangerine Cream'
'Bronzed Beauty'
'Solar Flashback'
'Candyman Orange Dwarf'
'Mandarin Twist'
'Gold Star'
'Bon Bon'
'Strawberry Blonde'
'Indian Prince'
'Orange Porcupine'

You can buy seeds online from these sources:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Burpee Seeds
Renee's Garden Seeds
Botanical Interests
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Eden Brothers
Swallowtail Garden Seeds

I promise this isn't an Osteospermum, even though it strongly resembles it.

Calendula officinalis 'Flashback'

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's Houseplant Appreciation Day! (+ a book giveaway)

Yes, it's pretty, but...
It's the middle of winter and I guarantee you I'm not doing any gardening out there in the frozen tundra right now. I know the entire eastern half of the country is shivering, but with all due respect to those of you in the south that think you've got it bad, I invite you to spend a few days with me.

It will be two more months before I can even begin to think about what I might do in the gardens outside. But I've got more than enough green going on right here in the house. Those who know me know that I live in a jungle during the cold months of the year. I haven't taken a head count of my houseplants, but it's a lot. Trust me.

Today happens to be Houseplant Appreciation Day and whether you've got one houseplant or one hundred, it's always good to be reminded of why it's beneficial to grow plants in your house (whether it's winter OR summer!).

Nothing adds a spot of color to a cold winter's day like amaryllis.
(Hippeastrum 'Temptation')

  • Plants provide oxygen. Remember those oxygen bars that were so popular back in the '90s? You could go in them and breathe super-oxygenated air and it was supposed to provide all sorts of health benefits for us oxygen-deprived humans. Well, plants take your CO₂ and convert it to oxygen, so whether it's beneficial or not, you've got fresh oxygen right from the source when you have living plants in your house. Fresh is better, right? 

  • Bromeliads like it shady when they grow outside, so they make an ideal houseplant.

  • Plants clean the air.  Certain plants are known to actually rid the air of toxins. We live with all kinds of artificial chemicals wafting through the air, coming from the carpets on our floors, cleaning solutions, and plastics everywhere. NASA conducted a study to see if plants could help rid the air in an enclosed space of various toxins and found that growing just one plant for every 100 square feet of living space could do just that. There's a long list of plants that help us in this way, but here's a list of just a few that are exceptionally good at it:

    • Peace lily 
    • Snake plant 
    • English ivy 
    • Dracaena spp.  
    • Anthurium 
    • Chrysanthemum 
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum) is a real workhorse when it
comes to cleaning the air.

  • Plants relieve stress. How many of us enjoy taking a walk through a garden, through the woods, through a park, when we're stressed about something? Studies have shown that environments that have live plants help reduce blood pressure and provide a sense of well-being when compared with those that don't have them.

  • This staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) likes it in our bathroom, where the humidity
    levels are naturally higher than in other parts of the house.

  • Plants help people work better.  Again, studies have shown that working in an environment that has live plants will increase your productivity and creativity.

    Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.) in my office, as featured in
    Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants

  • Plants help fight disease.  Plants raise the humidity levels in the air around them, and who can't use a little more humidity during winter? Those of us who have to have our heat on during this time of year know just how dry the air can get. Higher humidity levels lessen your susceptibility to colds.
Orchids are one of the air cleaners and their beautiful blooms can last for several months.

One of my favorite houseplants (and one of the easiest to grow) is the Norfolk Island Pine. I got my biggest one a few years ago when I was participating in a program by Costa Farms. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Costa Farms is the largest houseplant grower and distributor in all of North America. Go to a big box store and you'll find that most of the houseplants offered there come from Costa Farms.

This Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), which isn't a pine at all,
was about two-thirds the size it currently is when I got it just a few years ago.

I was fortunate to get to see their home base in Miami, Fl., a few years ago and seeing all those gorgeous plants being grown in ginormous quantities was amazing. I learned a lot about the company and how they do things, which just served to make me more appreciative of how the majority of my houseplants get from there to here.

Now that you know that houseplants are good for you, doesn't that just make you want to run out and get one? (Or two or three?) And if you aren't really sure just how to display your houseplants, let me offer a suggestion that has lots of ideas for how to do that - my book.

Amazon chose Indoor Plant Décor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants as one of their Top 20 Books of 2013 in its category. I'm not sure exactly what the criteria was for that honor, but co-writer Jenny Peterson and I like to think it's because it's got oodles of ideas for how to use houseplants that enhance your particular home decor style, whether it's Classic Elegance, Cheap Chic, World Beat, Peaceful Zen, Modern Eclectic, Haberdashery, Traditional Mix, or Vintage Vibe.

Enter to win a copy of Indoor Plant Décor

I'd like to give a signed copy to one of my readers, so if you want to enter to win it, here's what you need to do:

1. Leave a comment to this blog post telling me your favorite houseplant


2. Fill out the Rafflecopter form with your contact details so I'll know how to get ahold of you if you're the lucky winner. I'll also use Rafflecopter to randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You have until midnight EST next Sunday night (January 18, 2015) to enter, but do it now so you don't forget! Good luck and go appreciate your houseplants! It's their day!

Instructions for how to make this succulent wreath is one of eight DIY
projects in Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants.


If you would like to purchase a signed copy of my book, just click here. A link for purchasing is also on the right side sidebar on my blog. To purchase an unsigned copy at a discount through Amazon, click here.

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