Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Flowers Coming 2011

From top:
'Tropical Bronze Scarlet' Canna
'Sunstastic' Scaveola
'Plentifall' Trailing Pansy
'Black Velvet' Petunia

Greenhouse Grower is a trade publication targeted at commercial greenhouse growers. These flowers were editor's choice award finalists based on performance at last spring's California Pack Trials. The criteria is based on how well they looked in a six pack or 4"pot on the garden center bench versus a product already on the market. The next set of trials for these plants was during Field Trials this past summer. It takes a lot for a variety to win both tests.
The big winner for 2010 appears to be 'Black Velvet this past summer. I'm sure Black Velvet will capture the imagination of the gardening world. Because, as its ad campaign declares, "Everything Goes with Black'. If you're lucky to see it at your garden center, catch it before they're gone.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gardening 101: The Series Begins

When I moved from my subtropical paradise garden in Sydney, Australia to Kansas in 1978 at age 13, I was devestated. We had moved with my father's job and the only saving grace was it was a two year assignment. That was 30 years ago. Long story.

Then that's when my garden saviour Jim Crockett came into my life. Jim had started Crockett's Victory Garden, a new gardening show, on PBS which became today's Victory Garden after his passing. The show and accompanying books were so successful because it very simply taught people how to garden. Today's show has lost its soul because each week it serves up magnificant gardens barely ever discussing the basic tools to create something beautiful in your backyard.

Yeh, yeh, yeh I know its defenders would say the producers use the over the top stuff to inspire and teach a lesson each week. But I'm sorry, on the water gardening show, they used examples including the Dupont's Longwood Gardens fountains. This travelog stuff takes up too much airtime. I didn't make up the travelog stuff. I found an interview with Michael Weishan, the preceeding host, where his spin on his departure was they wanted the show to go in different directions. He said the show was starting to look like any other garden-oriented cable show. This struggle is even documented in Wikipedia.

Then there's revelance. If I see one more rerun showing how to grow five varieties of moss in my backyard, I'll scream. And I know I'm an aussie, but if you take me out to another California story, I'll scream louder. Somewhere I read in the blogosphere, he's based in CA to be able to run his worldwide design business and host the show. Surely they could have found a new host who's dedicated solely to the show. See what I mean about losing its soul.

Fast forward to tonight. My blogging coach, a good unpaid friend, told me I should watch Julie & Julia for blog inspiration. Don't tell anyone I was netflixing with my headphones on. But the lead character in a true story commits herself to cooking every recipe of Child's megabible cookbook in one year. Since Crockett and Childs were contempories on PBS at the same time, I think its only appropriate for me to follow up with the Crockett book and others, guest bloggers and my own experience to show you how to garden in the midwest for a complete year.

If you believe you are beyond the basics, just ignore the Gardening 101 postings and hopefully you'll be inspired by the other more relevant to you subjects. Just like Julie , I'll have no idea how many will be reading but the 101 pieces will always be ready if somebody finds the blog and wants to know how to grow a beautiful garden in the midwest.

I'll start the postings in Faebruary. Subscribe today and I can assure you this is going to a fun ride

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Patrick's Picks: Poinsettias

Poinsettias now seem synonymous with the holidays, but we owe their existence as we know it to one man: Paul Ecke. Ecke, founder of the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, CA, was single-handedly responsible for hybridizing what had been a large gangly Mexican shrub into today’s potted poinsettia. Poinsettias are now the best-selling flowering plant in the world, and Ecke Ranch remains the industry’s heavyweight. Seventy percent of all rooted cuttings ordered by U.S. greenhouses come from Ecke; the company has 50 percent market share worldwide.

One of the highlights of my career was providing marketing communication consultation services to Ecke’s company—an experience that completely changed my perception of poinsettias. I always thought of them as mangled plants in plastic sleeves sold at local big box retailers, but Ecke showcased a stunning plant in many colors and forms with a broad range of decorating possibilities. So my family began a new Christmas tradition after my visit by going to a garden center to select plants for gifts and home. My recent mission was to find the most exciting colors and forms at Kansas City area garden centers for this holiday season.

Family Tree Nursery greenhouses in Kansas City, KS grow 44 varieties in eight pot sizes, totaling more than 22,000 plants for their three retail locations. Holly Ingle, the nursery’s head grower is a big fan of an early variety series with large, oak leaf-shaped bracts and foliage named Christmas Carol. In red, pink and white cultivars, it's a dark green-leaved variety, so the bracts are really set off against it. She says “I think it's very showy."
For those of you interested in something more unusual, Holly also likes Jester. "Traditionally, it has always been an interesting red, with its pointy, serrated bracts. It looks like it's off to a party!” she says, adding that there’s now a pink, too.

The manager of operations for the Heartland Nursery and Garden Center in Lee’s Summit, MO, Kevin Keilig says his favorites include a strong, heavily branched variety named Cortez Burgundy. The flowers (bracts) may not be as large as some varieties, but there are plenty of them, they last a long time and the dark burgundy makes for a dramatic impact. Kevin’s next choice falls in the “love it or leave it” category. The Winter Rose series is known for ruffled, semi-double bracts that look something like a rose bloom. The first cultivar, ‘Dark Red,’ generated a lot of excitement at its introduction because it retains colorful bracts for up to six months. Winter Rose Peppermint has the ruffled flower form with red and white speckled bracts. Any in this series could be an intriguing choice, good as a party conversation starter or a distinctive gift.

Heartland is also following the recent trend of combining poinsettias with euphorbia Diamond Frost. Proven Winners branded this combination of two plants in one pot as DiamondPoint™, and Kevin says both will flower well past the holidays. You can also bring in your Diamond Frost from the garden next season, shear it back and enjoy a beautiful houseplant all winter.

With all the choices, selecting a poinsettia can be overwhelming. Before you set off for the garden center, check out for a history of the plant and the Paul Ecke Ranch. Knowing more about how these beautiful plants came to be and all the options out there will surely enrich your own family tradition.

Patrick Muir is a Johnson County Master Gardener. He can be reached at or visit his blog at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

3 Holiday Plants Beyond Pointsettias.

The Christmas Cactus is actually a tropical epiphyte from the rain forests of Brazil. An epiphyte is a plant which relies on another plant for support but not for nutrients. Despite the high rain fall, water falls off quickly so that they are dry most of the time. This plant is made for hanging baskets to showcase the pendulus flowers. Be forwarned, if there is a great dip in humidty levels, the blooms will fall of the plant but the plant will be ok. Creating flower in following years requires similar treatments to pointsettias.

Cyclamen are my best bet when it comes to beautiful and bold plants for the holidays. In red, pink and white, the blooms remind me of butterflies in mid flight supported by gracefull stems atop a bed of dark green leaves. What a description if I do say so myself.
To extend the bloom length, place in a cool room with indirect light.

FYI, I believe a bold red cyclamen is so much impactful at Valentines's Day. It can look great for over a month in cool locations compared to a bunch of Central American roses that might last three or four days before drooping over. There is a hard pink cyclamen for this area but I haven't seen it growing.

Moth orchids are a class act in my book. Yes they are graceful throughout the year as seen in homes, businesses and on the pages of of style magazines. But I think a pure white in an elegant cache pot makes a wonderful gift that can last for months. Orchid care is so easy and watering correctly is a big part of it. I had a Saturday ritual of placing the plant in the sink under a spray faucet for ten minutes. BTW, the watering three ice cudes a week orchid campaign is a bunch of BS. P Allen Smith should be ashamed of himself. Like he needs the money and he's pushing a product that will not bloom again.

Poinsettia Paperweight ca 1850 - 1870

At a New Jersey art museum on last night's Antiques Roadshow, the program spotlighted glass paperweights including the above poinsettia paperweight. Crafted at the New England Glass Company, the poinsettia image is made from glass embedded in the paperweight. The appraiser said it was created anywhere between 1850 and 1870. The completed work demonstrates craftmanship of the highest order.
Knowing poinsettia history like I do, it occured to me poinsettias didn't arrive in the marketplace until around the same time. So a brief history from the Paul Ecke Ranch website follows. Joel Robert Poinsett was appointed as the first US ambassador to Mexico from 1825-1829 by President Madison. During his appointment to Mexico, he became enchanted with the red blooms of a tall shrub he found in the Taxco region.
He had his own hothouse at his plantation in Greenville SC and sent cuttings to be propagated during those ambassador years. From these plants, he sent cuttings to botanical institutions and friends , including John Bartram of Pennsylvania. Mr. Bartram sent cuttings to Robert Buist, a Pennsylvanian nurseyman who distributed the plant under the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrmia (literally "the most beautiful Euphorbia ). However, it wasn't referred to as a poinsettia until 1836. The people at Ecke believe this history makes the introduction perfectly clear.
So back to the paperweight history. Since Ecke is certain of the 1836 date paired with the accuracy of Antiques Roadshow's estimate of an age from 1850 to 1870, then the paperweight was certainly crafted between 15 to 35 years after the plant's introduction to this country. Just like Poinsett, someone at the New England Glass Company must have been enchanted by the beautiful red blooms of what was at the time a relatively obscure Mexican tree. And in an incredibly short amount of time, an anonymous artist captured its beauty to be shared with future generations in the confines of an important art institution.