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Savory Seedlings

This week I hovered over my sown seeds every few hours looking for any signs of life. A time or two, I came just short of getting out a hand lens. Maybe I’m a little impatient? These are all Southeastern native plants that I sowed in January to try to give them the cold period they need before sprouting. I’ve kept them on my unheated porch, where temperatures typically fall into the 40s or 50s at night. That may not be cold enough (or enough cold) for some of them, especially with the early warm nights we’ve had. We’ll see.

Where did I get seeds of native plants, you might ask. At the Southern Piedmont Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society‘s December seed exchange, a propagation class at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, in the gift shop at the UNC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, from a couple of gardening friends, and by collecting some from plants I already have. Seeds of native plants aren’t always easy to come by, but it is worth it to try to find them.

Here’s what I planted:

winter sown seedsButterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida)
American vervain (Verbena hastata)
Hoary skullcap (Scutellaria incana)
Whorled-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis major)
Firepink (Silene virginica)
Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Forked bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum)
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)
Browneyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
Spurred butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum)
Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla)
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

So far the spurred butterfly pea and the wild quinine have sprouted (yay!!), but the tray otherwise looks about the same. I’m looking forward to lots of beautiful natives for my woodland and butterfly gardens, though.

A little more satisfying at the moment is the green shooting up at the windowsill inside. I decided at the beginning of January that I would get back to my herbal roots — herbs (and miniature roses) are the reason I got interested in gardening in the first place so many years ago — so I ordered lots of herb seeds from Richter’s and Baker’s Creek, and picked up a few Botanical Interests packets from Pike’s.

I tried to choose things that might have a shot at growing in part shade, and also that had at least two or three potential uses. I’ve never grown herbs for medicinal reasons before, but this year I added a few of those as well.

Seedlings on the Windowsill

Here’s what’s coming up:

Basil, Dark Purple Opal
Basil, Greek Yevani
Bronze fennel
Thyme, Lime
Summer savory
Winter lemon savory
Creeping savory
Wild basil
Vietnamese mint
Lemon beebalm
Salad burnet
Wild strawberry
Cranberry hibiscus
Mexican Sour Gherkin
Agastache, Apricot Sprite
Nasturtium, Alaska Red Shades
Zinnia, Lilliput Mix
Tong Ho
Clary sage
Milk thistle
Dragonhead balm
Balsam, Camellia Mix
Sweet four o’clock
Marigold, Legion of Honour
Tassel flower, Irish Poet

That’s a long list for me! I’m fairly certain I’ve never had so many seedlings, and I still have more packets on the way.

We have several weeks until our last frost date (April 15), so keeping them all alive until then will be a challenge. They look too wet in this photo, don’t they? And too thin? This is most sun I can give them…maybe I should buy lights. Ugh, the concerns of a plant parent.

Did you start any seeds this year? Any favorites?

Saving the Salvia and Optimara Dali Babies

Optimara Dali and Babies

When there’s ice and snow outside, you have a little more time to poke around and investigate the goings on of your houseplants, don’t you? What’s that new bump, and why did that leaf yellow, etc. Today it was spider mites on Salvia elegans ‘Frieda Dixon’ first thing. It didn’t surprise me too much since I had noticed them before. I’ve taken her to the sink a few times and sprayed the leaves off, then soaped and rinsed them again. It seems to set the mites back, but apparently it’s not enough to keep them away for good. Frieda Dixon, by they way, is a salmon-flowered pineapple sage. I bought it at the end of the season (just because I happened to find one) and brought it inside to over-winter. It smells so good, and the flowers are such an interesting shade — I hope it blooms inside for me, but we’ll see. Meanwhile, I’ll keep spraying the insects off and taking advantage of the sweet scent as I do. Fragrant plants make winter bearable.

But the find of the morning, and a much more fun one at that, was this: African violet babies! I had bought Optimara Dali a few months ago, and as soon as it reached full bloom for the first time, I knew I needed more of them. The particular shade of orchid-violet is unusual, and it looks smudged on. How did I make it through life before this plant? So, I broke off a leaf and put it in water on the windowsill for a few weeks. When it had roots, I punched a little hole in the bottom of a 3-oz. solo cup, filled it with potting soil, and tucked the rooted leaf in there. Looking back, I should’ve taken the time to mix in some vermiculite, because the peat mixture is a little too wet. But I don’t water it until it is quite dry, and fortunately Dali is tolerant and forgiving — the best kind of plant for me!


African Violet IsaBelle

This is IsaBelle, one of two African violets in Optimara’s Southern Belle series. IsaBelle’s pink flowers are bell-shaped — did you know African violets could have blooms like that? I didn’t! Her leaves are dark green with a lightly serrated edge and red underside. Flower stems are dark, almost black, with white buds that turn pink as they age and open. She’s prettier than your average African violet!

IsaBelle African Violet

At my house, IsaBelle sits in a south-facing window with deciduous trees that block the direct sun in the summer. She loves the extra light she gets when the leaves fall in November — her heaviest bloom for me is in late fall/early winter — but she blooms sporadically all year long.

Do you find these dainty bells irresistible? Try this: Sign up for Optimara’s Violet Alerts at, and they will send you emails letting you know when a shipment of random varieties will arrive at retailers in your area. I’ve collected several pretty African violets by following those leads. Word to the wise, though, you have to get there quick because the special ones — and that includes the Southern Belles — sell out fast!

If you’ve never grown African violets, but would like to, the African Violet Society of America has the information you want.

Cheap Thrills

Oncidium Orchid, probably Sharry Baby

There’s room—even on the messiest desk—for a new orchid, isn’t there? Pike’s Nursery has several of these chocolate-scented Oncidium marked down from $30 to $10 right now. How could I pass that up?

There’s no label, but the one I bought looks and smells like ‘Sharry Baby’. I will treat it the same way I do that one, with a thorough watering about once a week, monthly fertilizer, and filtered sun. From my experience, Oncidium are among the toughest orchids, and they’re easy to grow. The blooms last for weeks.

Deep violet-red flowers flutter with any little disturbance, giving these (and other Oncidium) the common name Dancing Ladies.

And the heavenly scent! It’s a little like chocolate and vanilla mixed together, and it’s kind of addictive. I have to stop what I’m doing just to get a sniff every now and again.

They dance, they smell good, and they perform for a long time. That’s quite a lot of enjoyment for $10.

Oncidium Orchid, probably Sharry Baby

Begonia ‘Phoe’s Cleo’

Begonia ‘Phoe’s Cleo’ in bloom at the McMillan Greenhouses at UNC Charlotte

Logee’s says about this rhizomatous begonia cultivar that it is perfect for a windowsill, growing to about 12 inches high. It will enjoy spending the summer out of doors in the shade, but bring it inside before the temperatures drop below 60°. The pretty pink flowers arrive in winter.

Tempted to eat it for lunch…

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)

I‘ve been watching a tiny little bud with a tiny little spur get fatter every day for the last week or so. This morning, turned toward the window, and almost completely hidden by a big schlumbergera, was this Peach Melba nasturtium bloom!

This scrawny plant was an experiment from last October. I had stuck a sprig of nasturtium in a flower arrangement. As each type of flower faded, I pulled them and threw them away, but this particular sprig started to root!

I’ve tried to start nasturtium from seed for the windowsill garden several times since reading many years ago in Peter Loewer’s “Bringing the Outdoors In” that you could do that…and that you would have winter blooms.

For me, though, nasturtium seeds don’t like to sprout at all if the temperatures are warm, and to get blooms before winter is over, I would have to start the seeds when it’s still fairly warm here. At least that’s what I’ve always supposed, because the seeds do not sprout in early fall indoors. Even seeds that fall in the garden at the end of the season tend to wait until the cool of early spring to sprout.

Since my little cutting rooted, I stuffed the long, thin water roots into a pot of soil and started watering it regularly. The mature leaves all turned yellow and fell off, just like the leaves outside. I would have pitched it, but there was always a least a tiny bit of green to encourage me. None of the new leaves got very big, but they’re still cute. In my south facing window they always want to press right up against the glass for all the sun they can get. And maybe they like the cooler temperatures there as well.

I couldn’t recommend the nasturtium as a houseplant, per se, but if you love them as much as I do, you might enjoy trying this. I don’t know when I’ve been more excited to see a bloom.

Merry Christmas

Amaryllis 'Merry Christmas'

You’re looking down the throat of an amaryllis with me. This one is called Merry Christmas, but even though I potted it in early October, it didn’t bloom until now. I would rename it Happy Valentine’s Day, but no one’s asked me.

Amaryllis 'Merry Christmas' in bud

An amaryllis is welcome whenever it blooms, though, and intense red is a nice jolt of energy on a cold and windy winter morning.

Pale Orange Schlumbergera

I took lots of shots of this pretty bloom trying to capture its pale color and translucence, but never succeeded.

schlumbergera green

It is so delicate and full of light in person…you’ll just have to take my word for it.

slumbergera red

I auto-“enhanced” a few of the shots in iPhoto. It didn’t help to bring out the qualities of the bloom I was after, but maybe they’re more striking like this?

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