Margot And Grandpa Make a Garden For The Elf Man–A Story

Because Grandpas can’t hear an elf man but a little girl can.

One nice summer day, Margot’s momma and daddy had to go somewhere important. Grandma needed to go to a meeting. Margot’s momma said, “Now, Margot, you and Grandpa can play in the yard together. Please try to keep Grandpa out of trouble.” Grandpa had a funny look on his face.

Grandpa and Margot held hands and walked around, looking at all sorts of nice flowers and a mirror on the fence that looked like a window but it wasn’t.

mirror

The two of them planted some flowers in pots. Grandpa asked Margot to water some flowers. He had a watering can that was just her size. Time went by.

watering can

Margot wanted some rocks to play with, so she and Grandpa gathered up some pretty ones from here and there. Margot said, “I want to make a mountain and a road. She put the rocks near the corner of the deck.

rocks

Grandpa said, “I think I would like to go inside and have a cup of coffee. Would you like something, Margot?”

“No,” Margot said, “I want to make a mountain for the elf man.”

Grandpa said, “That’s nice, I’m sure he will enjoy it.”

Grandpa went in the house and got his coffee. He thought, “I was told to not leave her alone, but there is a big fence all around the yard and she’s busy playing with rocks. What could go wrong?” He sat down in his chair and picked up his morning paper.

There was a big, loud,
BANG
Grandpa said, “AWWWW, Man,” and walked out the door.

Outside, Margot was squatted down, looking under the deck. She was talking very quietly. Grandpa glanced around and that was when he saw that his brand new flower pot had been broken. A rock sat next to the pieces

elfman 1

Grandpa quietly said, “What has happened here? Now who could have done this?”

Margot stood up, looked at grandpa and said, “The elf man did it.”

Grandpa asked, “Where is the elf man?”

“He’s under the deck. I was talking to him. He said he’s sorry he broke your pot. He was trying to make a garden just for him and the rock was too heavy. He’s really sorry and he doesn’t want to get in trouble.”

Grandpa smiled gently and said, “It’s all right. He won’t get in trouble. Elf men are special. We will have to be nice to him.”

Margot smiled and squatted down to look under the deck. “He said it is all right, mister elf man….what? …OK, I’ll tell him.”

She stood up and looked at Grandpa. “He said that he is sad because he doesn’t have a garden to play in.”

Grandpa looked at Margot

He looked down at the space under the deck

He looked at the broken flower pot.

He looked back at Margot, smiled gently, and said, “Then why don’t we make a garden for the elf man?”

Margot jumped up and down and clapped her hands. “Yayy,” she said, “the elf man will be happy.”

Margot watched as Grandpa got a bag of potting soil.

“But Grandpa…” she said, “The flower pot is broken.”

“It’s all right,” said Grandpa, “The elf man left us this rock to fix it with.”

Grandpa put the broken part of the pot inside the pot and propped it up with the rock. It looked like this:

elfman 2

Grandpa put potting soil into the pot and patted it down. He put more potting soil into the pot and mashed it down hard.

elfman 3

“There,” said Grandpa as he finished putting the soil into the broken pot. “Now it will all hold together.”

“I think the elf man will like it,” said Margot.

elfman 4

“But,” said Margot, “but how is the elf man going to get up into his garden?”

Grandpa put his finger up to the side of his head and thought about it. “How about if we put something there for him to climb up on?”

“He would like that,” said Margot.

“Ok,” said Grandpa. Here’s a vine for him to climb up on. It’s called a ‘sedum.’” Grandpa planted it in the pot over the rock.

elfman 5

“Yes,” said Margot, “He can climb up that vine. He will like that.”

Grandpa said, “I guess we will need a tree. I have a nice one, it is called a ‘jade plant.’” The jade plant looked like this:

elfman 6

Margot stood on a stool and helped Grandpa plant the tree. He showed her how to pack the soil around the roots so that it wouldn’t fall over. “oooooh,” said Margot, “now the elf man can climb up into the tree and see all around.”

elfman 7

Grandpa looked at the garden. “Maybe we need to find him a dead tree trunk to sit on and a rock. Would the elf man like that?”

“Oh, yes, elf men love having dead trees to rest on and rocks to climb on.”

So Margot and Grandpa walked around the yard and found just the right dead tree and just the right rock. They put them into the garden in just the right places.

elfman 8

Grandpa and Margot found a couple of other plants to put into the garden. Grandpa said, “the one on the right is called a ‘jewel of the nile,’ the other one is something I picked up at the store. I don’t know it’s name, do you?

Margo said, “I think it’s name is ‘Fred.’”

She helped Grandpa plant the new plants in just the right places

Elfman 9

“There,” said Grandpa. “This is turning into a nice garden for the elf man.”

Margot looked concerned. She glanced up at Grandpa and said, “but, Grandpa, what if he wants to go fishing?”

Grandpa put his hand up to his forehead. “Oh, No,” he said, “How could I have forgotten about how much an elf man loves to fish. What will we do? Wait a minute. I’ll be right back.” Grandpa went into the house and came out with something in his hand. “Look,” he said, “Grandma was going to throw this away. It’s our lucky day.” He had a mirror. “What do you think, Margot? It’s not a real lake, but I think it will do.”

Margot smiled and said, “It’s all right, silly Grandpa. Don’t you know that everything is real to an elf man? If he wants it to be a lake, it will be a lake.”

Grandpa put the mirror into the garden.

elfman 10

“How’s this?” he asked.

Margot studied it from the front. She went around to the other side of the garden and looked. She pointed and said, “I think the elf man would like the lake better if it was back here.” So they moved it

elfman 11

“That’s much better,” said Margot. “Now he can sit under the tree and go fishing. But…”

“I know,” said Grandpa, “It needs grass around it and a rock for him to sit on.”

“Grandpa, sometimes you can be smart.” Said Margot.

They walked around the yard and found some moss that looked just like grass. They put it around the lake.

elfman 12

They found just the right rock for the elf man to sit on and they put it in just the right place. “There,” said Margot. “He is really going to like that.”

elfman 13

“But, Grandpa…He doesn’t have a path to get to the sitting rock and the lake.”

“Oooookaaay,” said Grandpa, “Let’s make him a pathway. We can line it with shiny rocks.”

“Yes, Grandpa. He will like that.”

elfman 14

“Look,” said Grandpa, “I have some aquarium gravel to use for the pathway so the elf man won’t get his feet dirty.” They put the tiny rocks into the pathway and smoothed it out. Margot reached out and walked up the path with her fingers. She smiled.

“It’s easy to walk on, Grandpa. I tried it out. The elf man will like it.”

elfman 16

Margot and Grandpa worked on the garden for a while longer. They got everything just as they thought the elf man would like it. They stepped back and looked at their creation. Grandpa put it near a flower bed. “The elf man will like this,” said Margot.

Margot knelt and peered under the deck. She whispered something, then, after a moment, Grandpa heard her whisper again, “Ok, I’ll tell him.”

She stood up and said, “Grandpa, the elf man wants us to walk around the yard so we won’t see him go to the elf man garden.”

So, Margot and Grandpa walked around the yard for a few minutes. Then they went back to see if the elf man liked his garden. Margot bent over the garden and whispered something. She waited, listening, and then whispered again, “Ok, I’ll tell him.”

“Grandpa, the elf man wants you to move the garden over there.” She pointed. “Oooookaaay,” said Grandpa. He moved the garden.

elfman garden

 

Later, Margot said, “Grandpa, I know an elf man poem. Would you like to hear it?”

“Yes, Margot, I would,” said Grandpa.

Margot put her hands on her hips, looked up at Grandpa, and said,:

I met a little elf man once
Down where the lilies grow
I asked him why he was so small
And why he did not grow.

He cocked his head
And with his eye
He looked me through and through.
I’m quite as big for me he said
As you are big for you.”

“That’s very good,” said Grandpa. “Now, I think I’ll have some coffee.”

–poem by John Kendrick Bangs–

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12 Steps To Install An Easy and Successful Flower Bed in Fifteen Minutes. No Digging Required!

My wife asked me to plant a small flower bed in the front yard. I was feeling tired and lazy on a Sunday afternoon. The dirt in the front yard is brick hard and I really didn’t feel like digging any holes—plus, I knew that the flowers wouldn’t do well there anyway. The only good part was that she had already bought the flowers so I wouldn’t have to go to the store.

instant 1

How do you plant flowers in brick hard dirt?

I looked around at all my “yard stuff” leftovers and grinned. I took the rake out front and raked the pine straw back to the shape I wanted for two beds, one larger than the other. The larger bed looked like this.

instant 2

I raked the pine straw away from the area to be planted.

I had been grinning earlier because I realized that I had four bags of this garden soil. It had been on special at four for ten bucks at the box stores the week before. This is really some pretty good stuff—it seems to be a mix of decomposed wood products and it stays where you put it. I’m sure that it needs fertilizer and lime, but I’ll get to that shortly.

instant 4

Instead of digging down, I’m going to build up.

I had enough of the garden soil to pile it up to a depth of about five inches. I have found that if I do this, the earthworms will work under it and till it into the bad dirt for me. At any rate, the plants will grow in these mounds of  manufactured garden soil.

instant 5

I pile up the soil. The worms will till it in for me.

I used the back side of the rake to smooth the top of the mound. I want to maintain a four or five inch thick pile of soil. I’ll bet I use the back side of the rake as much as I use the tines. It is a versatile tool.

instant 6

Smooth lightly. The depth should still be four to six inches.

I like to use a time release plant food when I install a flower bed. This gives us months of steady feeding and is really a time saver. There are many different kinds of time release food, but remember, I was into just using what I had on hand.

instant 7

Time release fertilizer will make the plants take off and go

A lot of people ask me how much fertilizer to use. With the time release I find it easier to just point at a picture and say, “It should look like this.”

instant 8

Time release fertilizer, spread properly, will look like this

Now I was ready to plant. It had taken exactly six minutes to get the planting beds ready. I now had to plant about sixteen three-inch pots of begonias. I pulled the plants out of their containers and pinched the tops out before laying them into a carrying tray. (If you want to know why I pinched the tops out, Click Here to read my very popular article on the basics of pruning.) Anyway, here’s the picture of pinching a tip from a begonia.

instant 9

pruning is important

I have the plants ready to put into the soil. I can now dig a hole with my fingers—It’s more “forming” a hole because I promised “no digging.”

instant 10

It sure is easy with good garden soil

I put the plant into the hole and pack the soil firmly around and over the root ball. Note—try to have the plant in the soil at the same depth as it was growing in the pot. There are some exceptions to this rule but it is usually not good to plant too deep.

instant 10

It sure is easy with good garden soil

With two minutes to go I quickly scatter the straw back over the planting area. Sometimes I will spread the straw first and then plant  through it but I liked the way the pictures looked without doing it that way.

instant 12

At this point, “just add water.”

It is no trouble at all to call Sweetie out to take a look at the flower bed as I turn on our special sprinkler to water the area. These plants will be grown in and be beautiful in just a few short weeks. (If you like my home-made sprinkler, Click Here to get the assembly instructions. It is the best sprinkler ever.) I always try to heed the advice of my father-in-law, Bob Hicks, who said, “John, always remember—‘Happy Wife, Happy Life.”’

instant 13

Happy Wife, Happy Life And it only took 14 minutes and 58 seconds

Good Luck with your flower bed.

If you wish to see more of my wonderful writing, two of my books are available from Amazon in print or as ebooks. Here are the links:

Sweetie Drives On Chemo Days, Click Here

Requiem For a Redneck, Click Here

What’s Wrong With My Gardenias? Yellow leaves, spots, rust…

Most people enjoy the beauty and fragrance of gardenias. My mother loves gardenias and that’s good enough for me. Gardenia plants are usually quick growers and easy to care for, but they do suffer from a few problems that crop up now and then. One of the reasons I write the johntheplantman articles is to answer frequently asked plant questions. A conversation came up on Facebook the other day and I am including it here. The conversation is edited and names changed for privacy.

Gardenias are beautiful and fragrant but they do have some peculiarities.

Gardenias are beautiful and fragrant but they do have some peculiarities.

Sandra: Why are my gardenias turning yellow?
Roberta: Uh, oh, If it’s just a few leaves, they’re probably all right. If it’s all turning yellow, is it too wet?
Jo Ann: They almost died last year from the snow so they’re still fragile. A few yellow leaves and some with ‘rusty’ spots…
Dekie: johntheplantman can help you. I learned about it yesterday.
Jo Ann: johntheplantman, please help me save my gardenias! Any tips? I already know about wooden nickels.

I’ve been dealing with these and other problems with gardenias for years. I remember my grandmother telling me about the problems years ago. She was old (a young 70) and I was young then. (Now I am about to enter my seventies and I don’t think it’s old any more) Here’s a picture showing some of the problems:

What's wrong with my gardenia plant?

What’s wrong with my gardenia plant?

The first thing we see is yellow leaves. Yellow leaves on any green plant immediately shows a lack of nutrients—mainly nitrogen. This does not necessarily mean that we need to fertilize, though. Roberta’s comment above asking if it was too wet was a good one. When the plants are too wet, a root fungus could set in and the plant cannot bring nutrients into its system.

Gardenias are funny in this department. They do need the nitrogen. If you study the picture you will see a few totally yellow leaves but you will also see a yellow cast and yellow veining in other places. This is definitely a lack of nitrogen—but what causes it and how do we treat it?

Gardenias are picky in that they like to have their nutrients presented to them in a most particular manner. My grandmother told me to stir up the soil around the drip line of the plant, mix 3 tablespoons of Epsom salts with a gallon of water and then pour the mixture around the plants. I tried it. I found out that the old lady knew what she was talking about. The plant regained its vigor and color. I found later that I could also pour the Epsom salts mixture over the leaves and get even better results.  Try it.

A week after applying the Epsom salts, you will want to mix up a balanced water soluble plant food like Miracle Grow and pour it over the plant and around the plant’s roots.

Now, let’s look at that leaf a little closer.

Close up showing fungus on gardenia

Close up showing fungus on gardenia

Notice the hole in the leaf that has brown margins. Below and to the left you will see a leaf with a stripe that is brown fading into yellow. These are signs of a leaf fungus. There is probably nothing you can do to restore the infected leaves, but you can spray with a fungicide (not insecticide) that will keep the fungus from spreading. A fungicide with Daconyl is a good one. A good organic fungicide is sulphur, and your nurseryman may be able to suggest something else.

I don’t have a picture of it, but sometimes the gardenia plant will become covered and spotted with a black powder. If you look on the undersides of the leaves you will more than likely see evidence of aphids. It seems that the aphids excrete a substance which attracts and supports the fungus life. In this case, you need an insecticide and a fungicide. It is most difficult to get rid of aphids on gardenias. Check with your extension agent or a University near you.  With any insecticide you use, remember the bees.

If you really want to get organic with aphid control, you can import some ladybugs. Ladybugs eat aphids like pie. I think Auburn University has done some research on ladybug availability. I’ll have to check on it unless one of my wonderful readers beats me to it.

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man. Do try the Epsom salts. You will get almost instant gratification. Of course, you may be one of those people who find “instant gratification” a bit too slow. Sorry about that.

One of the reasons I have been gone from this blog for a while is that I have been finishing off and polishing my new book, Sweetie Drives on Chemo Days. It is a funny, optimistic, and inspirational account of dealing with cancer. You may read about it here.

Humor and Optimism help the cancer victim.

Humor and Optimism help the cancer victim.

Trucking Buddies find Giant Insects

An accidental visit to the lovely Cheekwood Botanical Garden in Nashville was most interesting. After viewing the bonsai show we walked through the  gardens. One of the most striking exhibits was of “Big Bugs”—sculpture by David Rogers. If you like bugs there is some fun information on the Cheekwood website (Click Here).

Praying Mantis sculpture by David Rogers

Praying Mantis sculpture by David Rogers

I enjoyed studying the praying mantis and then looked off in the distance to see what looked like space invaders from War of the Worlds.

In the distance-could it be invaders from outer space? Read on.

In the distance-could it be invaders from outer space? Read on.

The garden path meandered through lovely flower plantings. I was delighted to see this sign which backed up my practice of telling people that an electric fence is, indeed, appropriate in the landscape garden.

A 12 volt electric fence in the garden reduces damage from deer and/or dogs

A 12 volt electric fence in the garden reduces damage from deer and/or dogs

The gardener had even set out a special sign to give a reason for the fence. I didn’t need one. I knew.

Yes, the fancy garden has an electric fence

Yes, the fancy garden has an electric fence

We walked on, enjoying the lovely day.  And then I came across the “space men” which turned out to be a granddaddy long legs spider.

giant spider

I think the sign said that this is not really a spider

I realized that I had been enjoying the signage and that perhaps I should share:

Is a daddy longlegs really a spider?

all about daddy longlegs

The artist, David Rogers, took good advantage of the reflective qualities of water as he placed his dragonfly in just the right spot.

9

giant dragonfly over a lake

giant dragonfly over a lake

And, of course, there was a sign for the dragonflies.

I love watching dragonflies on the lake

I love watching dragonflies on the lake

I had seen sphinx-like statues in other gardens. This one commanded a nice view of the shade garden

Garden Sphinx

Garden Sphinx

And a sign that told me some things I hadn’t known:

about the garden sphinx

about the garden sphinx

One of my favorite pictures was this one of Sweetie in a bird cage. What they say is true, “The caged Sweetie didn’t sing.”

Yep, a caged Sweetie don't tweetie.

Yep, a caged Sweetie don’t tweetie.

For David Rogers’ website, CLICK HERE

Thank you for visiting John the Plant Man

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Trucking Buddies Stumble Upon a Bonsai Show

Dekie was studying the road atlas. She said, “Look, here’s a mention of what looks like a small botanical garden. Maybe it would be fun.” We had spent the night in Nashville on our way back to Georgia from the trip to Iowa—not because it was Nashville, but because it was a good place to stop. I’m always game for a garden and we went looking for it.

Heading South

Heading South

I’ll admit that we are a bit naïve and unaware at times. Neither of us knew that Cheekwood was a magnificent museum and garden on the U.S. National Register of Historical Places. I plan to write at least a couple of articles on this adventure. It was quite an experience for a Georgia boy and his sweetie. After paying a parking fee and another admission fee, we looked around and found that members of the Nashville Bonsai Society (or whatever they call themselves) were setting up a very nice show just for us.

A wonderful bonsai show was being set up just for us at Cheekwood

A wonderful bonsai show was being set up just for us at Cheekwood

My wife is intrigued with bonsai and I basically shape plants for a living so we were happy to walk through and study the beautiful trees. I love the way an old pine trunk looks after years of training:

This is probably a Japanese Black Pine

This bonsai is probably a Japanese Black Pine

One of the more tedious techniques for shaping the plants is wrapping and bending wire to get the desired shapes. Copper wire is heated to gain stiffness and is then wrapped carefully around trunks and limbs.

bonsai tree limbs wrapped with specially treated copper wire

bonsai tree limbs wrapped with specially treated copper wire

The bonsai process is totally detail oriented. At first glance we see and appreciate the overall shape of the tree. On closer inspection, though, we notice deeper and deeper layers of detail such as in this carefully formed and aged tree trunk.

A carefully sculptured and nurtured bonsai tree trunk

A carefully sculptured and nurtured bonsai tree trunk

We were enjoying the tree below when an “old guy” started telling us about it (to me “old guy” is my age or older and should usually be listened to and venerated). He told us that the tree had been found and transplanted from a nearby mountaintop by one of their members who had served as a bonsai apprentice in Japan. I asked him what it was like to be a bonsai apprentice and he replied, “There is little or no pay, they work you like a slave and they don’t feed you.” I remember the part about getting fed.

A wind swept tree from the top of a  mountain

A wind swept tree from the top of a mountain

Dekie is working on a juniper cascade at home and she was interested in the overall shape and size of this specimen.

A bonsai in the classic "cascade" shape

A bonsai in the classic “cascade” shape

I have decided that the next plant I purchase for myself will be a Hinoki cypress—which is really not a cypress but a “cameacyperus” or false cypress. Here is a picture of a bonsai Hinoki. I also like them when they are allowed to get big.

Hinoki cypress bonsai

Hinoki cypress bonsai

I was rather taken with this three-piece arrangement. The artist will spend quite a bit of time adjusting all three of the components to just the right placement and orientation.

bonsai arrangement on a formal stand

bonsai arrangement on a formal stand

A good thing to know is that these arrangements are NOT house plants and that they are NOT static. The plants are usually grown outside or in a greenhouse and moved inside the home only for short-term display.

bonsai arrangement on polished driftwood

bonsai arrangement on polished driftwood

You may wish to play around with bonsai. I wrote an article a few years ago that is rather popular. Click here for ‘how to start a bonsai’

Another popular article, click here for “Pruning as an art form, the basics of pruning”

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

From Wikipedia on where the Cheek’s money came from:

”Christopher Cheek founded a wholesale grocery business in Nashville in the 1880s. His son, Leslie Cheek, joined him as a partner, and by 1915 was president of the family-owned company. Leslie’s wife, Mabel Wood, was a member of a prominent Clarksville, Tennessee, family. Meanwhile, Joel Cheek, Leslie’s cousin, had developed an acclaimed blend of coffee that was marketed through Nashville’s finest hotel, the Maxwell House Hotel. Cheek’s extended family, including Leslie and Mabel Cheek, were investors. In 1928, the Postum Cereals Company (now General Foods) purchasedMaxwell House‘s parent company, Cheek-Neal Coffee, for more than $40 million.[2]

How do I trim mixed flower plantings to keep them from getting leggy and spindly?

Pruning is an art form. One of the best ways to practice your pruning techniques is by taking care of your mixed flower plantings as the summer progresses. (You may wish to look at my most popular article of all time, “Pruning as an Art Form” Click here).

One of my clients loves her window boxes which we plant in coco fiber lined wire containers. Last year about the end of May she told me how good the planters looked and I remarked that we needed to trim them up so that they wouldn’t get leggy and spindly. She wouldn’t let me touch them and, sure enough, they got all stretched out and leggy and falling over. This summer—the end of May—the window planters looked like this:

A beautiful window box but to stay beautiful it needs to be trimmed

A beautiful window box but to stay beautiful it needs to be trimmed

I remarked on how pretty the window planters were and she said, “We need to trim them up this week. I don’t want them to get all ugly like they did last year.” I was impressed. Someone was paying attention! I find that the tailgate of my truck makes a wonderful portable work table. Here’s one of the planters before cutting:

Window planter before trimmimg

Window planter before trimmimg

We were just in time to do the project. Some of the begonias were getting all stretched out and falling over.

stringy begonia needs pruning

stringy begonia needs pruning

If we cut the tops out of these plants, the remaining stalks will get much stronger and the plant itself will branch out and produce many more flowers. Even though it pains you to cut off some of the flowers, you may rest assured that you will get many more in return.

Pruning the begonia properly causes it to branch out and become stronger

Pruning the begonia properly causes it to branch out and become stronger

Plants that trail and vine tend to bloom only on the ends of their stems. If we cut them back a bit they will branch out and therefore will have many more stem ends to bloom from. On this bacopa below, I’m just going to grab a handful and whack it off,

I just cut the trailing plants off by the handfull

I just cut the trailing plants off by the handfull

I love petunias but if they aren’t pruned back several times during a season they will just not perform satisfactorily. They become leggy, stretched out and funky looking. (“funky looking” is a technical term).

petunias need periodic  pruning throughout the growing season

petunias need periodic pruning throughout the growing season

Sometimes with petunias I just grab a handful and cut it off. These plants will branch out and start blooming again in two weeks.

trimming petunias helps them to branch out and stay pretty

trimming petunias helps them to branch out and stay pretty

I cut the dragon wing begonias way back, being careful to make the cut right above a leaf axil. This is where the new growth will come from

prune dragon wing begonias just above the new growth

prune dragon wing begonias just above the new growth

I was being careful to cut enough to do the job but not so much that I would freak the lady out, but she surprised me by saying, “I don’t think you’re cutting enough off.” Then she asked me to show her how to do it. The pile of cuttings on the ground at her feet attests to her aggressiveness. I was impressed.

pruning them to perfection

pruning them to perfection

Below is a picture of a planter that has been properly pruned. It will grow back stronger, healthier, and more floriferous.

A well-pruned window planter

A well-pruned window planter

An article you may find interesting “Mixed flowers in a wire basket with coco fiber” Click Here

And another one on “Plants in containers for summer color” Click Here

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Hanging Baskets, Window Boxes, Raised Flower Beds, Progress Report

Yesterday—Saturday, May 31– was a good day to go check on a few of my regular clients. It was a good day in that, other than a couple of frost-damaged sprinkler heads, all was well and as it should be. I started the day checking out Dot Fletcher’s window boxes that we had planted in April. They were amazing:

Window box with begonias and petunias planted in coconut fiber basket and grown in for one month

Window box with begonias and petunias planted in coconut fiber basket and grown in for one month

I plan to prune them this week so they won’t get all straggly. Here’s another one.

begonias and bacopa in a window box

begonias and bacopa in a window box

I really like the way the window box on the corner looks with its base of manicured loropetalum. These planters are made with coconut fiber. I wrote an article about the planting process a couple of years ago,

How to plant a mixed color window box for summer color

Window box with begonias and petunias. Loropetalum at base

Window box with begonias and petunias. Loropetalum at base

The next thing I got to do was check out the coconut fiber hanging baskets at Betty’s house. They are doing well.

Mixed flower hanging basket in coconut fiber container--grown in one month

Mixed flower hanging basket in coconut fiber container–grown in one month

The plants really like the fiber containers. They take a lot of water but are well worth the effort. We used lots of time-release fertilizer when we planted. I wrote an article about these baskets about a month ago:

Click here. Make a beautiful flower creation with a wire basket and coconut fiber.

Mixed flower hanging basket in coconut fiber container--grown in one month

Mixed flower hanging basket in coconut fiber container–grown in one month

In the afternoon I went downtown to check out the irrigation system for D’Ann. I love her name. There were some problems with the sprinklers, but not bad. I enjoyed seeing the progress she had made on planting her front yard perennial garden. I like it that she doesn’t get in a hurry.

front yard perennial with brick raised beds in May

front yard perennial with brick raised beds in May

I wrote an article last October about the installation of D’Ann’s garden. Click Here to see it

 There’s one other garden that I never wrote an article about. It’s on a hillside at the base of a retaining wall. Cathy Reese is a most accomplished gardener and I installed this for her

Raised perennial bed with landscape timbers at the base of a retaining wall

Raised perennial bed with landscape timbers at the base of a retaining wall

When I went back to check on it a few days ago she had put lots and lots of plants in it.

Cathy's raised perennial bed.

Cathy’s raised perennial bed.

Thanks for visiting Johntheplantman. Tell your friends about it. One other good thing to do in June is to build a really neat sprinkler. Click Here for Directions

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Divide and Repot the Plants in Your Mother’s Day Hanging Baskets for Extra Quality and Quantity

Can you imagine how many flowering hanging baskets are sold for Mother’s Day presents in the United States? If I had to guess, I would say maybe a mazillion, more or less. Most of the baskets that you see on the market are of excellent quality, too. Here is a picture of the dragon wing begonia baskets that I bought for my mother, sister, and sister-in-law.

Mother's Day hanging baskets need dividing and re-pottine

Mother’s Day hanging baskets need dividing and re-pottine

Now, in order to turn out a mazillion good looking baskets on a tight production schedule, the commercial growers will use about four or five mazillion plants. The beautiful baskets that we purchase from the florist or nursery will more than likely have several individual plants in them. I looked under the foliage and counted four begonia plants in each of these baskets. I took the planting out of the basket and found that it was almost root-bound. It is unlikely that this planting would perform well for the entire summer without copious amounts of water. The plants just need more room.

The plant is almost root bound and needs dividing and repotting

The plant is almost root bound and needs dividing and repotting

I very carefully worked my thumbs and fingers into the root ball to break it in half.

Carefully break the root ball into two pieces

Carefully break the root ball into two pieces

I took each half of the planting and carefully split it further, ending up with four healthy, well-rooted plants.

The begonia planting has been divided into its four original plants

The begonia planting has been divided into its four original plants

My sister-in-law, Sheila, wanted a nice potted plant on each side of her entry steps so we decided to use two of the plants in each pot. The plants will love the extra room and will grow large and lovely in a short time. I was given two 12-inch clay pots. We filled them partially with potting soil and then I sprinkled Osmocote (a time-release fertilizer) over the mixture. The fertilizer is one of the main secrets to success.

Add a time release fertilizer that will keep the plant well-fed all season.

Add a time release fertilizer that will keep the plant well-fed all season.

I chose the tallest plant and set it to the rear of the pot.

Arrange the plants carefully for maximum effect

Arrange the plants carefully for maximum effect

We placed another of the plants to the front, looking for a bit of symmetry, and Sheila held the plants while I packed potting soil around them. With larger plants like these, this is a two-person job.

It is good to have a helper when planting the larger flowering plants

It is good to have a helper when planting the larger flowering plants

I would ordinarily prune these plants (see my article, “The basics of pruning”) but we decided to stake them instead and let them do their own thing.

Staking and loosely tying the plant will help it to root in nicely.Staking and loosely tying the plant will help it to root in nicely.

Staking and loosely tying the plant will help it to root in nicely.

My sweet wife, Dekie, helped me clean up the mess. She is well familiar with my magnificent messes.

Every now and then I get help with my messes.

Every now and then I get help with my messes.

Dekie really liked the planters.

These plants will be beautiful in a couple of weeks and should last all summer

These plants will be beautiful in a couple of weeks and should last all summer

If you do prune your begonias, you may wish to check out a related article on rooting the begonia cuttings

And here’s another article I wrote a while back about planting containers for summer color.

Thanks for visiting Johntheplantman

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

A Tribute to the Lenten Rose

What all can I think of to say about this wonderful plant that blooms for Lent, just as its name promises? It tolerates shade, deer don’t eat it, it blooms when the human psyche most needs it, it’s easy to grow, perennial, and it increases its population by free-seeding.

Lenten rose (or 'hellebore')--a true harbinger of spring

Lenten rose (or ‘hellebore’)–a true harbinger of spring

As the cold, the snow, the freezing rain and the dark days of winter begin to change to more acceptable weather, I look for the flowers of the Lenten rose—also botanically known as hellebores. In most cases the blooms hang down, preparing to drop their seeds at their feet. I stretch out on the warming ground to get a picture of the open flower against the sky

Looking up at the Lenten rose flower with the sky blue background

Looking up at the Lenten rose flower with the sky blue background

Lenten rose makes a very practical and pretty under-planting for plants that perform later in the season. Here is a grouping of hellebores in front of hydrangeas and acuba. The combination works well.

planting of Lenten rose, hydrangea, and acuba. A good mix for shady places

planting of Lenten rose, hydrangea, and acuba. A good mix for shady places

The hellebores also work well in larger natural areas. It is not common for a plant to colonize an ivy bed but the picture below is proof positive of the possibility. Lenten roses are available in several pastel colors as well as white.

Lenten rose naturalized in the middle of an ivy bed under a maple tree.

Lenten rose naturalized in the middle of an ivy bed under a maple tree.

A year or two after the initial planting of the Lenten rose you may start to notice the appearance of seedlings around the parent plant. The seedlings should be left in place for a while to mature and then may be transplanted. If you wish, however, you may just leave them in place and they will form a colony.

lenten rose seedlings appear a year or so after the momma plant is installed.

lenten rose seedlings appear a year or so after the momma plant is installed.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

What Happened to My Pretty Christmas Plant?

For the past few years, at Christmas time, The Home Depot here in Rome, Georgia (and I assume elsewhere) has been stocking some impressive Christmas plants. These come in the form of well-grown and healthy rosemary and “Stone pine” plants. Here’s a picture of the display

Well grown plants with a Christmas tree shape on sale for the season

Well grown plants with a Christmas tree shape on sale for the season

To my way of thinking, these plants are a bargain in that they will perform well in outdoor planters for the winter, they will give a Christmas feeling to their location, and with care, they will live for years.  But…But…They will not maintain their shape for years.

The plants that we bought at Home Depot have been carefully shaped as they grew so that they would end up looking like a Christmas tree. This doesn’t mean that they will always grow in that shape—that is, not unless they are properly pruned to maintain their shape. The process uses the principles developed in the growing of Bonsai plants.

A few weeks ago, one of my clients—I’ll call her Susan because that’s her name—asked me, “What happened to my Christmas plants that I put on the front porch last year?” I went around front to check them out and this is what I saw:

After a year the stone pine had lost it's Christmas tree shape and had grown out of bounds

After a year the stone pine had lost it’s Christmas tree shape and had grown out of bounds

Here’s the analysis: 1.The dead that you see in the tree is a natural replacement of needles that we see in any pine tree. 2. the wild looking growth coming from the top of the plant is the natural growth of the plant. I told Susan that with cleaning and pruning the trees could be brought back into shape within a year but with Christmas approaching she made me a gift of them. I’m going to have fun with those trees. I’ll guarantee it.

I was given a couple more of those trees about three years ago and I stuck them in the back of my “plant hospital”. I had gotten one of them out some time around the first of September after three years of total neglect. The stone pine was about five feet tall and strung out all over the place. I’m going to make a wild topiary out of it, so I cut the tips and cleaned it up. A month and a half later the tips look like this

New growth coming out short and pretty a month or so after cutting

New growth coming out short and pretty a month or so after cutting

I’m sure that the stone pine has to be one of the most bonsai-friendly plants ever and I’m going to work on my collection and report back next Christmas.

In the meantime, if you’re interested, your assignment is to read the following suggested articles on pruning and start your own plant-shaping experiment. What plant will you start with? Let me know

Turn overgrown plants into nice topiaries

Pruning For Betty, Japanese Maples, Topiaries, and Bonsai

Pruning an overgrown topiary

And one of my most popular articles:

Pruning as an Art Form—The Basics of Pruning

 

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man. Remember the next time you want a good read you need to try “REQUIEM FOR A REDNECK”, a kindle ebook from Amazon that features John the plant man with his Georgia mountain friends. It’s quite the adventure. Check it out, buy a copy, and tell ALL your friends about it.

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