High voltage color and plants that thrive – even with neglect – Los Angeles Daily News

Pink rock orchid

tip of the week

If you want to double the life of your vase bound roses, or any other cut flowers, for that matter, you will need to add a floral preservative, available at nurseries and florist shops, to the water. While most roses can hold their own in a vase for around a week, the addition of floral preservative to their water can give you a full extra week, if not more, of cut rose longevity.

If you wish to make your own preservative, try one of the following mixtures, courtesy of chemistry.about.com:

• 2 cups lemon-lime carbonated beverage such as Sprite or 7-Up, ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach, 2 cups warm water

• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon sugar, ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach, 1 quart warm water

• 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, ½ teaspoon household chlorine bleach, 1 quart warm water.

The bleach acts as a disinfectant, keeping bacteria and fungi from growing in the water or on the stems. To keep water hygienic, it is also important that none of the leaves on your stems are submerged in water so bottom leaves on each stem should be removed. Finally, make sure stems are cut at the diagonal, since surface area of diagonal cuts is greater than that of horizontal cuts, facilitating enhanced uptake of floral preservative. Warm water similarly insures more effective and rapid diffusion of preservative into the stems.

While horticulture, in its purest sense, is a celebration of our ability to manipulate the environment to the extent that we can grow any plant anywhere — yes, you can grow oranges at the North Pole, albeit in a very well heated and well illuminated greenhouse — gardeners derive special satisfaction from plants that grow in their own backyards without any attention at all.

Despite an incredibly dry winter, notwithstanding the rainfall of two weeks ago, I am especially delighted at the crops of flowers two of my plants are showing. Neither plant was watered more than once a week, and neither received any fertilizer throughout the winter, and both are thriving now. One is a pink rock orchid (Dendrobium kingianum), acquired nearly a decade ago, and still in its original 6-inch plastic nursery container. The other is a stellar geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum ‘Vancouver Centennial’).

Let’s start with the pink rock orchid. It stands in my garden in close proximity to a lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla), an upright rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and a ‘Judy Garland’ floribunda rose. It is thus shielded from direct sun but receives excellent ambient light all the same.

This orchid is indigenous to the tropical coast of northeastern Australia. In its habitat, it is most often found sprawling over limestone rock and is therefore labeled a lithophyte (litho = rock, phyte = plant). Roots are shallow and pseudobulbs — bulbs that grow above the soil surface — allow it to endure periods of stress without deleterious effects. This has been powerfully demonstrated in my garden by its ability to thrive despite a maintenance regime that included a minimum of water and a dearth of mineral nourishment for many months.

Incidentally, the flowers of this orchid species, in addition to the classic rosy pink, may also appear in white, mauve or purple, depending on the variety. Pink orchid flowers have a delicate but discernible fragrance and a bouquet of them, settled in a vase, will perfume the air of kitchen, bath or bedroom.

Now let me sing the praises of the stellar geranium. Although popularly classified as a geranium, it is actually a Pelargonium, close kin of true geraniums, which nearly always have pink or blue flowers with foliage that is more delicate than that of Pelargoniums.

What are commonly known as fish or zonal geraniums, Martha Washington geraniums and ivy geraniums are, in fact, Pelargoniums, and their colors include white, purple, orange and red as well. What makes stellar geraniums special is their small stature. They do not exceed 1 foot in height, unlike most of their Pelargonium relatives, which have a reputation for a disorganized habit of growth, whether in a vertical or horizontal direction.

Stellar geraniums also have clusters of starlike blossoms, complemented by evenly cut, crown-shaped, felt-textured leaves. As a bonus, ‘Vancouver Centennial’ has attractive bronze-red foliar coloration to go along with its red-orange flowers. In my garden, it grows among daylilies (Hemerocallis x hybrida) and Dalmatian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana).

Having mentioned ‘Judy Garland,’ it is worth lingering over this pleasant rosebush for a while. In the manner of floribunda roses generally — and the iconic ‘Iceberg’ is their most well-known representative — ‘Judy Garland’ is a strong cultivar that is virtually impervious to diseases and insect pests. It blooms several times throughout the year. Once a flowering flourish is over, the sooner you go about removing spent flowers, the sooner another wave of blooms will begin.

‘Judy Garland’ is a yellow-orange blend that will occsionally, depending on its mood, become infused with red or scarlet tones. Blooms may be single or form in clusters of up to 10 flowers. The bush itself is shapely and does not produce rank growth.

You can fertilize once a year with Epsom salts and every month or two with rose food, or just keep a constantly decomposing layer of mulch under your floribundas as I do, and they always will be the picture of health, with near flawless flowers and deep green leaves.

I need only add that ‘Judy Garland’ is more fragrant than most floribundas and, of course, does wonderfully in cut flower arrangements.

I recently spotted an African daisy that bears the name Osteospermum ‘Voltage Yellow.’ It grows into a mound that is just over 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide. This is definitely a high-voltage selection that will bring reverberating vibrancy to the spring garden.

For more information about area plants and gardens, go to Joshua Siskin’s website at www.thesmartergardener.com. Send questions and photos to Joshua@perfectplants.com.


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