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Everybody out! May 9, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Whew, today our friend Ben and I finally managed to haul all the plants out of the greenhouse and onto the deck for the summer. We love to create a lush, tropical paradise of plants to sit among, with cannas, gingers, huge clumps of clivia and massive pots of pelargonium (zonal geraniums) with extraordinary foliage, variegated Boston fern, cymbidium orchids, amaryllis, and numerous other plants anchoring the display. In one corner a large container water garden holds sway, full of plants and fish. Tucked among the stalwarts are the brilliantly colored tender perennials—coleus (Solenostemon cvs.), ‘Margarita’ chartreuse sweet potato vine, lantana, begonias.

We’ve been trying to work more edibles into our deck display every year. This year, three fig trees, an experimental container-grown tomato (one of our ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes), Swiss chard, frilly heirloom kale, curly-leaved parsley, and numerous decorative lettuces have found their way into troughs and pots among the ornamentals. So have two bay trees, two rosemaries, a Gotu kola, variegated Cuban oregano, numerous scented geraniums, a pineapple sage, a lemon verbena, variegated garlic chives, and mercy knows how many other herbs. Oh, almost forgot our coffee and lime trees. 

The greenhouse is not entirely abandoned. The orchids (except for the cold-hardy cymbidiums) and cacti and succulents live there year-round. So do our enormous clump of lemon grass, our three ‘Violetta’ artichoke plants, a backup water garden, some hanging plants, and the new terrarium we’ve just planted in anticipation of the arrival of a pair of anoles. But we did move the earthworm composter outside for the season; during the warm months, it’s situated in the shade of the eaves behind the greenhouse.

I should note that our little German shepherd pup Shiloh was an enthusiastic participant in these procedures, trotting ahead of our garden cart as OFB hauled the heavy plants deckwards. (I nixed his suggestion that Shiloh should pull the garden cart so he wouldn’t have to push it.)

I should also confess that our transfer was far from perfect. Plants that didn’t make it well through the winter were left in the hospital section of our in-ground greenhouse bed for further observation. (“That Key lime is dead!” “No it’s not!” “Yes it is!!!”) And we do need to pot up more of the plants we moved out, despite our attempts to keep up with this. Some of the cannas and the lemon verbena are screaming for larger quarters. Hopefully, we’ll get to that next weekend.

Meanwhile, as long as true confessions are in order, I might as well ‘fess up to a big one. In years past, OFB and I had made a huge effort to make gorgeous container combinations, creating large containers planted with exquisitely complementary plants for a splashy deck display. Then last year we got too busy. We’d bought the plants, we just didn’t have time to put them together. So instead we created arrangements of the clusters of containers that mimicked the effect of planting them together. We thought this stopgap measure really worked, and it left us the flexibility to recombine the plants in different ways if we decided our original combinations could be improved on. This year, we had fully intended to plant large containers with the individual plants we’d so carefully selected. Maybe we still will. And maybe we won’t. They look awfully good as is.

         ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

When life hands you pink lemons, make pink lemonade. March 31, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening.
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A plant is threatening to outcompete the orchids as star of the greenhouse this week. Our friend Ben’s variegated lemon (Citrus limon ‘Eureka Variegated Pink’) is sending up scads of new leaves and flower buds in a show of spring fever worthy of my own.

Now, this is a handsome plant at any time, with its white-edged glossy green foliage. But the new leaves are amazing: white, green, and pink. Borne in clusters at the ends of the stems, they look like exotic blooms themselves. And the flower buds are pink as well! Hopefully, they’ll open with that heavenly orange-blossom scent that can carry across the cavernous interior of a commercial greenhouse; our friend Ben is looking forward to the effect in the much more modest 10-by-16-foot Hawk’s Haven greenhouse.

This plant’s biggest show is still to come: the fruit. The lemons have variegated peels, yellow with green stripes. And the flesh is pink! Just think: natural pink lemonade, no yucky dyes. But our friend Ben thinks the effect would be even greater if you added pink lemon slices to regular lemonade, water, or any clear beverage for contrast. I look forward to finding out.

Starting to think you’d like a variegated lemon tree of your own? We got ours from one of our friend Ben’s favorite nurseries, Edible Landscaping in Afton, Virginia (www.eat-it.com). Our friend Ben has followed the career of Edible Landscaping’s owner, Michael McConkey, since he was a teenager writing articles for Organic Gardening magazine about filling his family’s backyard with all sorts of fruits and nuts. Like Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Michael was lucky enough to make his teenage passion his adult vocation.

If you’re in the Afton area and able to visit the nursery, you’ll find that the whole staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Our friend Ben got a wonderful tour a couple of years ago when visiting friends in Charlottesville. I learned a great deal about rare and exotic fruits, and was even given a sample or two to taste. If you can’t make the trek to the nursery, the catalogue is the next best thing. You’ll quickly see that Edible Landscaping is a big believer in shipping plants in containers—big containers—rather than bare-root. The plants themselves are sizeable and robust. If you’re used to receiving wimpy plants in the mail, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise!

Speaking of pleasant surprises, our friend Ben was surprised at how well the variegated lemon did over the past growing season on the deck and in the greenhouse over winter; container citrus can be a bit tricky here. But then I read that this particular lemon prefers to be kept on the dry side. Aha!

When the only way to water the greenhouse is to haul water the length of your property in gallon milk jugs like our friend Ben does, watering is not a favorite activity. It tends to be, shall we say, put off. So any plant that can thrive on neglect is that much more appealing. And when it’s a stunner to start with and has a cast-iron constitution, it’s earned its gold star status with me!